Russian media roundup: The annual BRICS Summit in India, Vladimir Putin’s visit to Turkey, and the second round of U.S. presidential debates all made headlines in Russia last week.
Indian girls on a scooter watch the poster of BRICS with the photographs of their leaders, in Goa, Oct. 13, 2016. Photo: AP
On Oct. 15-16, the BRICS countries held a summit in Goa, India, at which Russian President Vladimir Putin held several bilateral meetings, including talks with Indian leader Narendra Modi and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.
On Oct. 10, Istanbul hosted the World Energy Forum, which was attended by Russian President. In itself, Putin’s visit to Turkey is important because it suggests the two nations have a serious desire to continue on the path of restoring dialogue, which began a few months ago.
Finally, the fast approaching finale to the presidential race in the U.S. is leading to growing interest in the Russian media, especially with regard to the role that the candidates are giving to Russia and Putin. The second presidential debate was perceived ambiguously in the media.
BRICS Summit in India
The business newspaper Kommersant noted with regret that the BRICS, as a group, is going through hard times: initially, the members were a counterweight to the West and its dominant political and economic model of the world, but over time, the internal differences and the complexity of each individual country have made the task of developing an alternative world order virtually impossible.
Quoting Russian experts, Kommersant stressed that the unity of the organization was being hit hard, not only by the internal problems of South Africa and Brazil, but also by India-China friction and the more obvious drift of Delhi towards the West and cooperation with the United States. The BRICS, of course, will not fall apart or wither away. However, claims of building a world order and large-scale institutions will be placed on the back burner for now.
The pro-government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta, to the contrary, writes about the positive attitude of the participants of the summit, where a friendly atmosphere was created by the host country India. The meetings with BRICS colleagues apparently were positive for the Russian leadership. After all, during the press conference, President Putin was in good spirits and open to many questions from journalists. Problems exist in the BRICS grouping, but these are capable of being solved. Such contradictions are typical for any organization.
The online publication Gazeta.ru believes that the BRICS “are no longer the same.” This summit has once again confirmed that the locomotives of this group are Moscow and Beijing, while the other members have to be “pulled” along into the overall agenda. At the same time, all attempts to unite in times of crisis and to intensify trade and economic cooperation keep failing dramatically, and bilateral trade continues to decline. At the same time, there is a chance that Brazil will drop out of this organization, because of the recent change in political leadership. For the new president of the country – the conservative Michel Temer – the BRICS Summit in Goa seemed to be interesting only as a place to rest from the political turbulence back at home.
Putin’s visit to Turkey
During Vladimir Putin’s meeting with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, the two leaders signed an agreement on the Turkish Stream – a natural gas pipeline to Europe that bypasses Ukraine. This document was in limbo a long time, and its signing is very important for Russia.
The pro-government TV network Channel One noted that this agreement was a “breakthrough,” and serves as evidence of the return to normal of Russian-Turkish dialogue. Channel One evaluated the entire trip in a very positive way, since the signed agreement strengthens the position of Russia as an energy supplier. In addition, the parallel dialogue with OPEC countries to reduce oil production was well received by the global energy market. Channel One noted that the main loser here is Ukraine, which had recently assured the Europeans that the Turkish Stream was nothing more than a Russian bluff and blackmail attempt, and that they would not be able to implement this ambitious project.
Mikhail Krutikhin, an expert with the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, is not so optimistic about the prospects of the Turkish Stream. Many questions remain unanswered, including the final cost of the project, sources of funding, the final route of the pipeline, as well as the size of the price discount for Turkey as a consumer of Russian gas. Moreover, Turkey, in principle, does not need gas from Russia - it has enough suppliers. The European part of this project is still far from being realized. Given the deep crisis in relations between the EU and Russia, it’s too much to expect that the European authorities will easily approve decisions on the implementation of the Turkish Stream by EU member states.
The business newspaper Kommersant also noted that the issue of the “European Thread” of the pipeline remains unresolved. In this regard, the Turkish Stream has become, in fact, a bilateral project with potential for expansion. There are no formal obligations for a second branch in this document. Some experts believe that Russia and Turkey are just using the project as a mechanism to put pressure on the West and as a “great bargaining chip” with their Western colleagues.
Also read: "Russia-Turkey: Pipe dreams"
The second presidential debate in the United States
The business newspaper Vedomosti, quoting Russian and American experts, called these debates very personal, filled with the most “bile” in history. For the Republican Donald Trump, who lost the first verbal duel to the Democrat Hillary Clinton, this debate was crucial. In many ways, the Republican managed to restore his positions, this time being clearly better prepared and much more energetic. At times, he even managed to disorient Clinton. The second round can be considered a victory for Trump, although neither he nor Clinton succeed in winning undecided voters to their side.
Alexander Konovalov, expert at the analytical portal Aktualniye Kommentarii, on the other hand, believes that Hillary looked more professional and convincing in the second debate. Trump is used to making a show out of everything, and here he was true to his tradition, focusing on his accusations of Clinton’s lies. Clinton, of course, has lied many times, but Trump not only refuses to publish his tax returns, but also became the focus of yet one more scandal involving women. A combination of these two factors could have extremely negative consequences for the Republican politician in the elections. However, it is still too early to talk about “burying” Trump’s election chances.
The independent Slon called this debate “the most evil yet”: A permanent transition to real personal attacks and hatred became the distinguishing feature of the second round of the presidential debates. The debate promised to become a public flogging of Trump, because right before the debate, an incriminating recording was made public, in which the Republican spoke about women in a degrading manner.
However, Trump suddenly managed to turn everything to his advantage, since he managed to pivot from his most vexing issues, and hit Clinton in the most painful places. “In general, the second debate can be considered a victory for Donald Trump - he skillfully squashed a ruinous issue, which could have buried him politically, and remains in the game,” according to Slon.
President Putin’s scheduled meeting with Francois Hollande
On Oct. 19, Vladimir Putin was scheduled to visit Paris, where he was to meet with President Francois Hollande, as well as open a Russian spiritual and cultural center. Officially, the trip was postponed due to scheduling conflicts. However, there is speculation that a controversy arose concerning the visit’s agenda: The French side insisting on placing discussions about Syria, and the unacceptability of Russia’s military operation in Syria, while Moscow was prepared to only discuss a bilateral agenda and cultural aspects.
Moreover, recent statements by the French leader, casting doubts on the possibility of reaching agreements with the Russian Federation on anything, also put a negative spin on such a visit.
Moskovsky Komsomolets wrote that, in Moscow, they were extremely unhappy with the tone in which official Paris started talking about Russia. Until recently, they were talking about the need for dialogue, the value of bilateral contacts and close ties among the Russian and French people. The rhetoric had changed dramatically towards the hostile side, and started focusing on the international agenda, and Paris decided to aggravate the situation. Under such circumstances, the Kremlin was forced to cancel Putin’s trip, as its agenda clearly threatened the chances of any possible reconciliation.
The business newspaper Vedomosti, quoting Russian experts, explained that Putin is not interested in what would have become an extremely unpleasant visit for him. Paris made a number of harsh statements and was prepared to repeat them in person, but in the Kremlin, no one has a desire to make a trip just to receive a “public flogging,” especially on the Syrian issue.
Besides this, Moscow, in general, sees no point in discussing Syria with the European capitals, for it has only one counterpart on this issue – Washington.
The online publication Gazeta.ru links the problems in bilateral relations and harsh words of Hollande with the upcoming presidential campaign. Hollande cannot play the “Russian card” as his main opponents, including the ultra-right, hold contrary positions – wanting constructive dialogue with Russia and an end to sanctions. In addition, the experts believe that in this case, Hollande succumbed to U.S. pressure, demonstrating his lack of independence in foreign affairs.
However, according to Gazeta.ru, a failure in one direction can give a fresh start to another one – a possible meeting between Hollande, Putin and Merkel in Berlin, the details about which were made known after the cancellation of the Paris visit. This is likely to give the parties an opportunity to discuss the settlement of another conflict – Ukraine.
Expert commentary of the week
Sergey Sudakov, analyst and specialist on American affairs, professor at the Academy of Military Sciences, on the second round of debates in the United States:
In the second debate, Donald Trump looked better, even though Hillary Clinton’s camp did their best to spoil the Republican’s position, by publishing an incriminating recording, made many years before, just a couple of days before the debate. However, Trump took this blow, and even hit back hard in response, making it clear that, while in his case, this was only a question of spoken words, Hillary’s husband – Bill Clinton – was involved in real unsavory stories. We should understand that when it comes to such scandals, it is actually impossible to find “compromising material” on Trump, but Hillary has plenty of them. The story of the emails – this is just the tip of the iceberg, because Mrs. Clinton was never known for her “political purity” and faithfulness, and this is what the Republican candidate drew people’s attention to.