Russian media roundup: Turkey’s announced goal of bringing an end to Bashar al-Assad’s rule in Syria, Putin’s annual Federal Assembly address and the new Foreign Policy Concept of Russia all made headlines last week.

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives for his annual year-end Federal Assembly address. Photo: TASS

On Nov. 29 Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the key goal of the Turkish Euphrates Shield operation in Syria is to end Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Although the Turkish authorities tried to refute the statement and advised people not to interpret it too literally, these words provoked wide interest among the Russian media.

On Dec. 1 Russian President Vladimir Putin gave his traditional year-end address to the Federal Assembly. Rumors circulated that he might make significant announcements (such as a potential resignation of the government) and many media outlets followed the speech closely. However, the presidential address turned out to be routine and boring. The president touched upon a variety of domestic and foreign policy questions, stating once again that Russia is eager to avoid any conflict with other countries while maintaining its own foreign policy course.

On Nov. 30 the Russian leader also approved the document of the new Foreign Policy Concept of the country. It defines the key directions of Russian foreign policy as well as includes the approaches and methods used by the state to achieve its strategic goals in the international arena.

Turkey’s controversial Syria policy

Online publication Gazeta.ru explains that Erdogan’s statement threatens to once again put the state of Russia-Turkey relations at risk. Moscow hoped that Ankara would take a more moderate position on Syria, but the advances of the government forces near Aleppo have clearly pushed the Turkish leader to take a more aggressive approach to receive his “share of the Syrian pie.” Yet, according to some experts, this statement only represents “loud rhetoric” and it is unlikely to have any significant implications.

The business daily Kommersant points out that Erdogan’s statement may lead to an escalation of the conflict in Syria: The current situation is tense and any kind of aggression might have catastrophic implications. Experts do not exclude the possibility of a direct military confrontation between Syrian pro-government and Turkish forces. It is impossible that Russian forces would get involved in this potential conflict, according to these experts.

Putin’s address to the Federal Assembly

The business newspaper Vedomosti writes that the substance of Putin’s address was not as important as the emotional message it contained. The address was tedious, boring and lacked “spicy” statements and controversial initiatives. It included references to both previous achievements and current problems, but in terms of its tone, it recalled the era of Soviet stagnation.

According to the tabloid Moskovsky Komsomolets, the address was so boring because it aimed to “pacify” the audience. It was different from previous years because then the key message was different: its purpose was to “inspire.”

On the other hand, this year the logic of the presidential speech did not work to achieve its goal. The address contained hints of potential censorship, limitation of freedoms and state control over culture. In addition, one could find hints of ideological unification, which could potentially mean an attack on the dissident members of society.

The analytical portal Aktualnii Komentarii, on the contrary, thinks that even though the presidential address had a very “technical” nature, it sends very clear and important messages to both the elite and the population. First and foremost, these messages are related to the resolution of the economic crisis and the future development of the educational sector, which might potentially experience conservative reforms.  At the same time, Putin reassured the elite that new shifts and any type of “cleansing” are not planned in the future.

Also read: "Why Putin's Federal Assembly address was surprisingly bland this year"

Russia lays out a new Foreign Policy Concept

According to the information portal Lenta.ru, the need to form a new concept of the country’s foreign policy emerged long ago. The previous version of the document was approved in 2013 and Russia’s international position and foreign policy have radically changed since then. The new concept is more “reserved” in nature and adheres to the current state of global affairs. The main focus of the document is given to Russia’s sovereignty and its protection, to maintaining its own identity and introducing more flexible approaches to cooperation with other countries.

Vedomosti points out that the new version of the Concept is not much different from the old one. The changes are not significant and mainly concern Russia’s counter-terrorism activity, protection of sovereignty and expansion of the Russian media’s influence abroad. The new Concept turned out to be quite non-controversial because the current international situation required it.

Gazeta.ru thinks that some parts of the document contradict the recent statements of the Russian president. The Concept criticizes the expansion of NATO, the military buildup in the West and the general activity of the Western countries globally. At the same time, in his Federal Assembly address Putin spoke about the West quite neutrally, while pointing out the need for cooperation. Yet experts interviewed by the publication do not see any contradiction here. As they see it, the document is very realistic and pragmatic in its character.

Expert commentary

Vadim Samodurov, director of the Agency for Strategic Communications, comments on Putin’s address to the Federal Assembly:

Putin’s address had a “ritualized” feel to it. Contrary to what many political analysts were claiming, the address did not contain any ambitious statements and was much less controversial and provocative than ones made during previous years. Speaking about domestic threats, the President mentioned only vandalism.

So, the main goal of the speech was to show that the country has successfully addressed the majority of its problems: There are no significant challenges left to face and those minor problems that remain will be resolved in the coming future. “Keep calm, I have everything under control,” was the main message of the President.