Russian media roundup: Europe’s growing information war with Russia, the death of Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro, and a new move to make the Russian bureaucracy more effective all made headlines last week.

The Russian media paid much attention to the death of Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro. Photo: RIA Novosti

The primary focus of the Russian media last week was the growing information war between Europe and Russia. On Nov. 23 the European Parliament passed a resolution on “EU Strategic Communication to Counteract Propaganda Against It by Third Parties.”

This resolution aims at countering any propaganda hostile to the EU coming from Russia as well as from radical Islamist organizations, including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS). Russian media primarily viewed this move as a misguided attempt to regain momentum for the EU, which has already experienced a year of crisis, as well as a sign that Russia’s media efforts abroad have been effective.

The EU vs. Russian media

The new resolution on propaganda mentions Russia by name, as well as its particular institutions and mass media outlets, including RT (formerly known as Russia Today), Sputnik, Rossotrudnichestvo, Russky Mir Fund and the Russian Orthodox Church.

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Online publication Gazeta.ru underlines that this resolution won’t bring any fundamental changes. It is just a fact that obviously irritates Moscow, which is now loudly complaining about censorship, obstacles that are purposely created for the Russian media abroad and double standards. According to the publication, European parliamentarians exaggerate the propaganda potential of RT and Sputnik.

Meanwhile, Yulia Latynina from the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta argues that the European resolution is not connected with the Russian media and their activities, as they were simply used as a pretext to create the EU’s own very large-scale propaganda network. The European Union is in crisis and it has to respond to the new challenges, among which Brexit is the most important. Europeans are not sympathetic to Brussels and European bureaucracy in general.

The analytical portal Aktualnii Komentarii notes that Russia is unlikely to respond to this resolution with any serious counter-move. Experts believe that the resolution is a clear indicator that the big Russian media projects of recent years have been effective. At the same time, this is absolutely not a reason to obstruct the work of foreign media in Russia such as BBC, Voice of America and Radio Liberty. They all deliver an alternative view to Russians and no one intends to ban their work as mere propaganda.

Death of Fidel Castro

On Nov. 25, the Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro passed away. The Russian media paid a great deal of attention to this event, taking into account the traditionally warm relationship that connects Russia and Cuba.

Sergey Strokan from the business daily Kommersant believes that Cuba is entering a new era with Castro’s death. The time of the 20th century leaders is receding into the past, which creates a vacuum and demand for new politicians. Hard times await Cuba, but simultaneously, they also open up new, unexpected opportunities for the country.

Blogger Anton Nosik, who writes for the Echo of Moscow radio station's website, disagrees. According to him, Castro is a cynical politician who capitalized on the confrontation between superpowers during the Cold War, especially the Soviet desire to project power in the Western hemisphere.

Castro’s Cuba was dead long before the death of its leader. He is the only one to be held responsible for that, as he did not decide to undertake reforms after Soviet money stopped flowing into the country. Cuba without Castro is the same Cuba with him. The only difference is that now, it is going to be much easier for Cuba to shift its foreign policy orientation to the U.S.

The tabloid Moskovsky Komsomolets argues that there is no reasonto paint Castro in black and white. According to the media outlet, he was as controversial as the entire era of the 20th century. Castro was a revolutionary, dreamer and liberator while at the same time he was the dictator. He did not fulfill many of his promises, but he made the biggest world powers take into account the concerns and interests of the tiny island and its leadership. 

President Putin questions the academic roles of top bureaucrats

Whether it is possible to be employed within the bureaucratic administration while simultaneously being a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) is becoming a hot topic in Russia. Last year Russian President Vladimir Putin called on bureaucrats not to combine jobs in those two capacities, as it inevitably decreases the quality of the primary job.

On Nov. 23 Putin reprimanded the head of the RAS, Vladimir Fortov, during the working meeting of the Presidential Council for Science. Putin warned that he would fire those bureaucrats who had become academics and associate members of RAS despite the informal ban, which was allegedly violated by bureaucrats from the Interior Ministry, Federal Security Service, Health and Education Ministries, and Presidential Administration.

The business newspaper Kommersant notes that Fortov can’t be blamed for that, as he doesn’t have influence on the election process of the academics and associate members. That process is handled by several commissions, which operate in several stages.

The publication puts Putin’s initiative into question, because in some cases bureaucrats come into the administrative state job from the Academy. So there is no reason not to let them develop their scientific research further. Kommersant suggests that the bureaucrats are likely to suffer more than the academics in the management of the RAS.

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The tabloid Moskovsky Komsomolets argues that Putin’s announcement was rather unexpected for those gathering for the Presidential Council meeting. However, according to the publication, such a move of the president is quite logical, especially after notorious cases of fake academic degrees among bureaucrats of different levels.

Quite obviously, this issue irritates the president as it casts a shadow over the entire state administration. But its consequences remain unclear: Formally the president does not have authority to revoke the degrees and honors. Moreover, among those who violate this informal ban are parliamentarians whose mandates Putin also cannot revoke.

The lawyer and political scientist Anna Belovaya, interviewed by the Echo of Moscow radio station, supports Putin’s initiative to separate politics and science. She says that in the majority of cases, the bureaucrats’ desire to have a degree or hold a position in the RAS is just a matter of publicity, not a genuine desire to contribute to science. According to Belovaya, these bureaucrats work in the sphere of their research interests quite rarely.

Expert commentary

Daniil Parenkov, political scientist, lecturer at MGIMO University, on the problem of bureaucrats holding positions within the Russian Academy of Sciences:

On the one hand, the discussion of Putin’s initiative underlines the Kremlin’s desire to increase the effectiveness of the bureaucratic apparatus. On the other hand, it is an attempt to increase the authority of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Indeed, concurrent employment in the state apparatus and in a research institution is equally negative for both. In this context, Putin’s initiative is in line with the Kremlin’s overall line of improving the effectiveness and the image of the bureaucracy.