Russian media roundup: The failed coup in Turkey and the terrorist attack in Nice are generating new discussion about the future of counter-terrorism cooperation and how to counter instability emanating from the Middle East.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, right, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, second left, lay flowers at the French Embassy in Moscow, Friday, July 15, 2016. Photo: AP
Last week, the Russian media actively discussed the implications of the terrorist attack in Nice and the failed coup attempt in Turkey. In addition, the media focused on U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s meeting with President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow, where they discussed the future of bilateral cooperation in Syria and Ukraine.
The coup d’état attempt in Turkey
The coup attempt against Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan on the night of July 16 generated significant media attention, leading to speculation about who exactly was behind this rebellion, as well as questions about how the Turkish authorities might react. One thing is clear, though – this is the first military rebellion in the history of modern Turkey that ended in failure.
Aktualniye Kommentarii published an article by well-known journalist Maxim Shevchenko, who emphasizes that for Russia, the defeat of the military plotters and the victory of Erdogan is a big relief. No matter how tense Moscow’s relations are with official Ankara today, with a military coup, dialogue would be even more strained. In Turkey, the military is traditionally oriented towards the U.S. and NATO, rather than the “East,” where Erdogan is trying to develop cooperation.
According to Shevchenko, it is quite possible that certain Western powers were behind this attempted coup, as well as the recent terrorist attacks in Istanbul. The West may not like the independent and unpredictable policies of the current Turkish president and could be looking for ways to destabilize the government.
The business newspaper Kommersant interviewed a specialist on Turkey, Ruslan Pukhov, for his views of the coup. Pukhov is confident that the main consequence of this coup will be the elimination of Turkey’s great geopolitical game in the region. Although Erdogan won, he could not fail to understand that his country is now split - his policies have brought Turkey to the brink of civil war.
In such a situation, says Pukhov, the Turkish leadership will make no claims to regional leadership and or attempt to spar with its neighbors, including Syria, Russia and Armenia. Pukhov also believes that this coup attempt could play into the hands of Russia, as it will make Erdogan more amenable to Moscow’s suggestions.
Historian Maxim Artemev, writing for the independent media outlet Slon, believes that the coup was doomed to failure. In the modern world, in a democratic country, you can no longer just go and overthrow the president by capturing a bridge, a TV station or other public infrastructure. The old revolutionary schemes and tactics no longer work, and the quick reactions of the president and the Turkish prime minister, who mobilized the supporters of the current leadership, put an end to the plans of the conspirators.
However, for Erdogan, this is a hollow victory, because it has split the country and discredited its military, which will make it difficult to prove Turkey’s reliability to its major partners, including the U.S., the EU, and neighbors in the Middle East. In addition, the coup will likely have a negative impact on the economy and tourism.
Terrorist attack in Nice
The attack on Bastille Day in Nice, which killed more than 80 people, including two Russian citizens, again led to a wave of articles written in the Russia media about the need to coordinate actions in the fight against terrorism. Moreover, most publications underlined the changing face of terrorism, pointing out that explosives are no longer needed by terrorists to accomplish their aims.
Moskovsky Komsomolets surveyed a number of terrorism experts, who largely believe that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS) is gradually changing its tactics to more dangerous and insidious ones, including ones that don’t require conventional explosives. This greatly complicates the fight against terrorism, because the use of available tools does not require any effort from the part of terrorists, and can be applied at any time and in any place.
The independent Slon printed an article by opposition journalist Kirill Martynov, who talked about the future of Europe and the EU in the light of the terrorist attacks in Nice. The formerly relaxed and secure Europe is quickly becoming a part of history: the outlines are forming in Europe of a new battlefield of values, which need to be defended - and probably not peacefully.
In addition, this turbulence is helping ultra-right parties grow in popularity, which have the potential to put an end to the European project. For Russia, the most important thing in this story is the question of survival of Europe as a values-oriented society, because the future of Russia itself also depends on this.
The analytical portal Aktualniye Kommentarii published an article by the well-known writer Mikhail Weller, who blames recent terrorist attacks on the policies of multiculturalism and tolerance. Until European governments finally recognize the presence of Islamic migrants as a problem in their land, and begin taking real drastic measures, the French will continue being “killed, shot, blown up, and cut up.”
The meeting between Kerry and Putin
On July 15, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Moscow, where he held talks with President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The focus of their discussions was cooperative actions in Syria, as well as the prospects for resolving the Ukraine conflict. The media reported that Kerry came to Russia with a proposal for joint actions of the two countries in their fight against ISIS and Al-Nusra in Syria.
The opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta expressed skepticism about the possibility of coordinating the efforts of the Russian Federation and the United States in Syria. In addition to the high level of distrust present among the parties, there are the differences in strategic objectives, in particular with regard to the future of the current Syrian leadership.
The proposed American plan does not suit Moscow, because by creating unequal conditions for actions of the U.S. Air Force, it would effectively be giving the U.S. a “veto” over Russian air operations. Complicating the adoption of such a plan is the fact that even a plan that favors the interests of the U.S. would be perceived by many American hawks as a concession to Moscow. Therefore, it is also unlikely that it would be approved even in America.
Analyst Vladimir Frolov (of the independent media outlet Slon) has a different opinion. He believes that the current U.S. initiative is the first real chance to start an actual, not fictitious, joint fight against terrorism in Syria. It certainly has its flaws, but it gives the maximum number of benefits to both sides.
The fact that this agreement could be signed is shown not only by the “shuttle diplomacy” of John Kerry, but also by contact between U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Putin. Both leaders have started being much less aggressive and confrontational in their statements. At the same time, the intensity of informal contacts has increased, which also indirectly confirms the prospects for future cooperation in Syria.
Meeting of the NATO-Russia Council
The renewed meetings of the NATO-Russia Council do not inspire optimism amongst Russian journalists and commentators. They view the most recent meeting, which took place on July 13, as having no real impact.
Thus, the opposition Novaya Gazeta called this meeting the “dialogue of the deaf,” explaining that the parties have diametrically opposed visions on how to deal with the most important issues, including Ukraine. Against the backdrop of the negative outcomes of the NATO Summit in Warsaw, at which decisions were adopted on the further expansion of the Alliance’s military capabilities and capacity, it is clear that dialogue simply cannot develop normally.
The pro-government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta, with reference to the statements made by the Russian Foreign Ministry, also emphasizes that “nothing fundamentally new” was voiced at the meeting. There were no breakthroughs, despite the numerous practical initiatives on the part of the Russian side. Though such meetings have thus far been unproductive in character, the Council is still a “needed mechanism.”
Moskovsky Komsomolets also highlighted the lack of progress in the dialogue, even as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg spoke about the “usefulness” of this meeting. The Russian side considers the decisions adopted at the NATO Summit in Warsaw as “aggressive and excessive,” which will lead to confrontational relations between Russia and NATO and a return to Cold War thinking. The main stumbling blocks at the meeting were still Ukraine and NATO’s eastward expansion, and achieving mutual understanding on these is not expected, even in the long term.
Also read: "The NATO Warsaw summit: Back to the future"
Political shake-up in Britain
The composition of the new British government, headed by Conservative Theresa May, was a topic of discussion in the Russian media. Cameron was forced to leave his post as prime minister after the Brexit referendum, which voted in favor of the British withdrawal from the EU. Now the new government will have to negotiate with Brussels the terms of the Euro-divorce.
Russian media discussed the political experience and prospects of May, as well as the appointment that caused the greatest uproar – the appointment of Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London, as the new UK Foreign Secretary.
Slon calls Theresa May the “British Merkel,” pointing out her extensive political experience and traditionally tough positions on many key issues, including, for example, migration. However, this is unlikely to help May find compromises acceptable to all, and to solve the enormous problems facing Britain today. This is not just about Brexit, but also the ever-increasing rifts occurring in British society as a whole, and the Conservative Party in particular.
Moskovsky Komsomolets discussed the role of Boris Johnson as the new Foreign Secretary. The publication underlined the ambiguities in the character of the former mayor of London – with all his politically incorrect and scandalous antics, he nevertheless enjoys high prestige among the majority of the population, and not only because of his charisma, but also due to his professional qualities as a leader.
However, the appointment of Johnson will bring nothing good for Russia – Boris Johnson is known for his tough stance towards Russia, and has repeatedly made unflattering statements, not only about Russia, but also about President Vladimir Putin.
The business newspaper Kommersant recalls that May has always taken a tough stance on migration and the fight against terrorism, something that will largely determine her behavior in setting foreign policy. Negotiations with the EU will be a big test, and very likely, these will not end favorably for Britain. At the same time, it is possible to confidently predict the strengthening of the London-Washington alliance, given the traditional pro-U.S. stance of May. In this light, Russia should not wait for any improvement in relations.
Quotes of the week:
Theresa May, the new UK prime minister, on the British referendum to leave the EU: “Brexit means Brexit.”
Maria Zakharova, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, on the terrorist attacks in Nice: “The massacre in Nice is a horror movie turned into reality… And I repeat again: let’s stop fighting against ‘hybrid threats’ and take on the real ones. And let’s do this together, because we are so similar, when we die as a result of the actions of terrorists and extremists.”
Vladimir Putin, in his address to the French people: “The crime in Nice, in which there are many dead and injured, including several Russian citizens, was committed with a special cruelty and special cynicism.”
Turkish President Erdogan on the coup: “Those who attempted a coup will pay the highest price.”