Russian media roundup: Britain’s decision to exit the EU and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to China made headlines in the Russian media last week.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, front left, and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, right, exchange documents after a signing ceremony in Beijing June 25, 2016. Photo: AP
Two big foreign policy events – Brexit and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to China – made headlines in the Russian media last week. On the domestic front, a package of new anti-terrorism measures and a corruption scandal involving a regional governor also attracted the attention of journalists and commentators.
The main international event of the week was, of course, the referendum in the UK, where citizens voted in favor of Britain’s exit from the EU. Almost no one predicted the victory of the Eurosceptics, and the Russian press discussed at length the possible consequences of the unexpected decision of the British.
The pro-government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta, referring to British experts, stresses that Britain is now facing a long period of political instability. The markets have already reacted, not in favor of London, and the lack of a clear response from the official authorities further exacerbates the situation.
In addition, the procedure for “divorce” with the EU is also not obvious, and will take several years, which only adds to the uncertainty. For the EU, the loss of Britain is, of course, a serious blow. However, as Rossiyskaya Gazeta noted, only the exit of France would be fatal to this union, where Eurosceptics have been gaining strength these past few years.
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Independent media outlet Slon published an article by analyst Vladislav Inozemtsev, who feels confident that, in every sense, it is the UK that will lose from Brexit, rather than the European Union. It is the British that will have to go through difficult times, once again having to re-enter the leading international organizations, while facing barriers of a political and economic nature in all directions.
Brussels can simply observe the sinking into the quagmire of this island state, which by its example will show the rest of the countries who want to leave the union what an exit will cost them.
Alexander Mineev, writing for the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, believes to the contrary that the EU can be seriously affected by the coming Brexit. Of course, the UK stands to gain the most, but one cannot underestimate the negative consequences for the entire group of EU countries.
This is not even about the alleged “domino effect,” but rather, the emergence of yet another crisis in the economic, social and migration spheres. This is another challenge for the European project, and the main task of the European bureaucracy now is to find an adequate response.
Putin’s visit to China
On June 24, President Vladimir Putin paid an official visit to China. The negotiations agenda with the Chinese leadership was intense – in addition to the bilateral economic and political agreements, the parties discussed the international agenda, including the situation in the Middle East and on the Korean Peninsula.
Three important statements were also signed – a joint statement of Russia and China, a statement on the strengthening of global strategic stability, and a statement on joint work in the development of cooperation in the information space.
The online publication Gazeta.ru, quoting Russian analysts, says that by these frequent meetings with China, Moscow is sending a signal to the West. It is too early to say that Moscow and Beijing are creating a new full-fledged alliance, despite all the progress achieved in this direction.
However, the Kremlin is trying to demonstrate that the Western direction is not the only option for Russia, and that it can find strategic partners in the East. Part of the turn to the East can be seen as a kind of blackmail of the EU and the United States, where as “redemption,” Moscow is seeking the rollback of sanctions against the Kremlin for its policy in Ukraine.
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The pro-government newspaper Izvestia also cites the opinion of Russian experts, while positively assessing the results of Putin’s visit. The experts explain that not only Russia needs China, but also that Beijing needs Moscow’s support as well.
A political crisis is brewing in the Asia-Pacific region, militarist sentiments are being strengthened, and Beijing’s relations with Washington are going through some hard times. In such conditions, China needs stability in relations, at least with one of the major players in the region, and this is contributing to the fast growth of Russian-Chinese relations.
New package of anti-terrorism amendments
At its last session on June 24, the State Duma adopted a number of amendments to the Law on Terrorism. The adopted innovations have resonated in society, due to the apparent new powers given to the security forces over the lives of ordinary citizens.
In addition to the introduction of provisions for “failing to report information about imminent terrorist attacks,” and increased sentences for certain crimes, the package of amendments includes a requirement for telecom operators and Internet providers to store all correspondence and calls made for a period of six months. At the same time, it requires to store information about the facts of calls and the sending of messages for additional three years.
This provision will require the creation of a completely new infrastructure, and the costs for implementing this could put mobile operators and Internet service providers on the brink of financial collapse.
The business newspaper Vedomosti, quoting Russian human rights activists, has noted the particularly wide scope for interpretation and implementation of this new law. Some of the provisions can be arbitrarily interpreted, and in this case, innocent citizens could be placed under monitoring. In addition, telecom operators and Internet providers will now be faced with serious financial problems, which will inevitably affect both the quality and the cost of services for citizens.
Moskovsky Komsomolets noted that the Duma did not even bother to hide the degree of security forces involvement in the development of the new legal innovations. The publication stresses that the amendments were prepared in great haste and without consent of the relevant committees of the Duma, and the majority of parliamentarians did not have time to thoroughly familiarize themselves with the newly adopted rules.
This package was a logical continuation of a number of other laws passed by the Duma before it adjourned for the summer, and that are aimed at “tightening the screws” and tightening control over society, Moskovsky Komsomolets reminded its readers.
The website of the Echo of Moscow radio station published an article by opposition politician Ilya Yashin, who harshly criticized the newly adopted amendments. Yashin believes that such strict control measures over society, coupled with the previous controversial legislative innovations of the Duma, call into question the very existence of Russia’s constitution and its guaranteed rights and freedoms.
Sooner or later, Yashin warns, the Duma will look at revising the fundamental laws, thus committing a silent coup d’état.
Kirov governor arrested for taking bribe
Another corruption scandal has shaken Russia: This time it was a nearly half-million-dollar bribe taken by Kirov Governor Nikita Belykh, a well-known liberal and representative of the political opposition. The governor was caught red-handed in a Moscow restaurant, according to the investigation. He received a bribe for providing protection to a regional businessman. The governor claims he is innocent. Russian media have reacted ambiguously to the arrest of Belykh.
The independent media outlet Meduza believes that this arrest and the campaign against the Belykh are directly related to the upcoming September elections to the Duma. The current authorities need visible results in the fight against corruption proclaimed by the Russian President, and Belykh became a perfect target for this.
The only liberal governor and supporter of anti-corruption whistleblower Alexey Navalny, and in general, a relatively disliked person, Belykh’s totally ascetic lifestyle has resulted in disapproval from a large part of the population. The Kremlin made a very precise blow – right before the beginning of the Duma elections campaign: “A rough and clumsy one, but very effective.”
The analytical portal Aktualniye Kommentarii expressed a different version for the possible motive behind the attack on Belykh. On the one hand, one cannot dismiss the political implications of arresting a governor. On the other hand, Belykh was not the candidate to be eliminated in this way.
He never was an implacable opponent of the Kremlin, and during the last few years, he was one of the most loyal officials, working almost exclusively on regional matters, not interfering into federal policy.
The publication suggests that the real reasons behind the recent high-profile campaigns against high-ranking officials lie in the economic sphere – the crisis is putting more and more pressure on the authorities, which can no longer close their eyes to the socio-economic problems of the population.
In such circumstances, corrupt governors are the main targets of the Kremlin, seeking to show that in hard times, political loyalty will not save you when it comes to large-scale corruption crimes.
The business publication RBC also talked about the motives of those behind the arrest of Belykh. RBC asked political analyst Evgeny Minchenko for comments on this issue. He believes that there is no other motive behind this arrest, besides the obvious corruption component.
Belykh, to a large extent, became an image project for those in power, loyal to the federal center and the only liberal politician, an incumbent governor, making it senseless to dismiss him on just political grounds.
Quotes of the week:
Opposition MP Dmitry Gudkov on the anti-terrorism package of amendments: “This law is a constitutional coup – they are proposing that children as young as 14 would be jailed for failing to report a crime, for participating in riots, and riots can mean anything the government wants it to mean. No more rights, the state can do as it sees fit.”
British leader David Cameron on Brexit: "The British people have voted to leave the European Union, and their will must be respected."
Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul on Brexit: “The big winner of Brexit is Vladimir Putin.”
Kirov governor Nikita Belykh on his arrest: “I am quite a successful official. And I really want to prove my innocence. I want to prove that I did not take bribes, do not take bribes, and never intend to take bribes.”