Russian media roundup: Russian journalists focused on the parliamentary elections in France, North Korea’s claims that it possesses the hydrogen bomb, and the anti-Muslim moves of U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Voters cast their ballot in the regional elections, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015, in Nice, southeastern France. Photo: AP

Heading into the final weeks of 2015, the Russian media kept a wary eye on three political developments – elections in France, the controversial presidential bid of U.S. billionaire Donald Trump, and tensions on the Korean peninsula – that might influence the course of Russian foreign policy in 2016.

Regional elections in France

On Dec. 6, the first round of elections was held in the regions of France, and the results showed there is strong support for the far right forces led by Marine Le Pen. These far right forces won in six out of 13 regions. However, the second round of the regional elections showed that Le Pen's party failed and lost support in those six regions where it initially won. 

All week the Russian media argued about the odds of the National Front to winin the second round of the lections on Dec. 13, but also the broad support for their ideas in the upcoming 2017 presidential elections. Interestingly, the vast majority of Russian observers confidently predicted defeat for the National Front in the second round.

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Yury Safronov, special correspondent for the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, said that regional elections for Le Pen’s party were, in any event, a grand success.

Most likely, the article’s author wrote, the ultra-right will not be able sustain their victory in the second round, but for them, this is not important – because the regional elections are rather about a show of force, and not about real power (in unitary France, regional structures are endowed with almost no power).

In this sense, the French electorate was sending a signal to the authorities, a very specific signal, about them being tired of the unresolved problems, and demanding that empty rhetoric be replaced with concrete actions.

The business and politcal newspaper Kommersant points to the presence of unity among the opponents of Le Pen – everything possible must be done to ensure that the National Front is defeated. To achieve this goal, former enemies have already put aside their differences and are ready to help each other. In particular, the Socialists withdrew their candidates in several districts, so that their votes would go to their competitors, the Republicans. The newspaper stressed that this is not the first time the National Front has lost, due to no fault on their part.

However, Kommersant's reporter Alexey Tarkhanov argues that Le Pen's defeat doesn't mean that she will give up. In contrast, the failure will encourage her to participate in the 2017 presidential elections and better prepare to the campaign, which should be seen as a warning sign.  

Gevorg Mirzayan, writing for the analytical publication Expert, links the success of the far-right not with their ideas, but rather, with a decline in support for the traditional political parties of France – above all, the right and the center-left forces. Hollande’s Socialists and Sarkozy’s Republicans have lost control over the formation of the agenda, and are unable to successfully provide answers to the growing challenges.

Ideologically, both parties have exhausted themselves, and on their background, Le Pen’s National Front, in any case, looks like a real “event of the season,” emphasizes Mr. Mirzayan.

North Korea announces it possesses the hydrogen bomb

On Dec. 10, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said that his country has nuclear and thermonuclear weapons, which it is ready to use to protect its sovereignty. While it has been known for a long time that Korea has a nuclear program, that fact that this “rogue state” now possesses a hydrogen bomb came as a surprise to the world.

The pro-government Rossiyskaya Gazeta, with reference to Russian and South Korean military experts, suggests that Pyongyang does possess some fusion technologies; however, the fact that no tests have been carried out, clearly indicates that their technology is not yet good enough to create a full-fledged bomb. The newspaper also noted that Pyongyang was probably intending to use the hydrogen bomb factor in negotiations over its nuclear program.

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Kommersant expressed doubts about the presence of fusion technology in North Korea. With reference to Russian experts, the newspaper reminds its readers that North Korea regularly uses the threat of nuclear weapons to obtain preferences during negotiations. However, recently the situation in the country has worsened, and in the international arena, people have become accustomed to the “nuclear threat from North Korea,” and so in the near future, no concessions are expected. That is what prompted the leaders of North Korea to utter a larger political bluff.

The online publication believes that North Korea is becoming a big headache for both Moscow and Beijing. Traditionally, China and Russia have been supporters of the North Korean regime, insisting on a diplomatic settlement of this issue – the nuclear program of the Kim Jong-un regime. However, Pyongyang has consistently undermined the activities of its allies in this direction, which cause them nothing but irritation. noted that North Korea did not carry out any test of the hydrogen bomb; however, we should not assume that country does not possess these technologies, and we need to closely monitor further actions of Pyongyang. 

Anti-Muslim remarks by Donald Trump

The course of the pre-election campaigning in the United States is closely being followed in Russia as well, and so the loud statements of presidential candidate and billionaire Donald Trump, and his proposal to limit the entry of Muslims into the U.S., has not gone unnoticed.

The pro-government Rossiyskaya Gazeta is confident that this will have no effect on the general support of the billionaire.

The publication cites recent polls, noting the highest level of approval for even such drastic measures on the part of the Republican electorate (according to the newspaper, such restrictive measures are supported by about 66 percent of the respondents who associate themselves with the Republican Party). The newspaper believes that the recent events in San Bernardino (shootout in California in which 14 people were killed) are playing into the hands of Trump, as well as the threat of terrorism as a whole.

The business publication RBC reported on the wave of criticism that befell Trump, not only in the U.S., but also around the world. One of the serious consequences for the billionaire occurred when the international group Anonymous hacked the website of the Trump Tower. At its accounts on Twitter and YouTube, Anonymous explained that threats against non-radical Muslims provoke distrust and radicalization, and that must be prevented.

The business newspaper Vedomosti also wrote about the critical statements made against Trump; however, they believe that this can work to the benefit of the candidate. With reference to Russian experts, the newspaper argues that in contrast to Obama, who appears too soft, Trump looks attractive and gives answers that are not forthcoming from the incumbent.

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“He has, despite his scandalous reputation, political instincts, and wants to win over the electorate at the expense of one of the main concerns of the Americans – security,” noted one of the experts interviewed by the newspaper.

The possible dismissal of Galina Shirshina, the opposition mayor of Petrozavodsk

The story is gaining momentum around the “last opposition mayor” – Galina Shirshina, the head of Petrozavodsk in the Karelia Republic, a region located in Russia's northwest. In the 2013 municipal elections, Shirshina won with the support of the opposition Yabloko Party, and has long been considered a model liberal opposition politician.

Despite many achievements and innovative management approaches, many Karelian politicians and businesspersons are not happy with Ms. Shirshina. In addition, she did not manage to get along with the head of the Republic – the pro-government Governor Alexander Khudilaynen.

On Dec. 10, members of the City Council initiated a motion for dismissal of the mayor for unsatisfactory performance, but many see in this decision the desire to get rid of an opposition politician in an important regional center.

The business newspaper Vedomosti noted that the small city of Petrozavodsk “is a city of surprises” for the federal government, which has long led a deliberate policy of “pacification” of its residents. Some progress on this direction has been seen – in most cases, the governors appointed by Moscow for Karelia do not cause negative feelings in the population. However, at the municipal level, the Karelians  wish to see greater independence in decision-making on issues of local importance. 

In this sense, the federal authorities should assume a coherent and thoughtful stance when it comes to the resignation of the mayor, as any conflict with the opposition mayor could spoil the reputation of the government in the run-up to the Duma elections in 2016.

The opposition Novaya Gazeta considers this story on the dismissal of the mayor, as a continuation of the events of summer 2015, when the Legislative Assembly of Karelia had voted for the abolition of the direct elections of the head of Petrozavodsk. In essence, Ms. Shirshina is the last mayor to be elected by the citizens, which makes her a major player in the city and in the country.

The analytical portal Aktualnye Kommentarii linked the initiative to remove Galina Shirshina to her conflict with Governor Khudilaynen. The portal’s expert Dmitry Fetisov believes that the governor is making a big mistake by going at this issue headlong, because he risks tremendous tensions arising if Petrozavodsk is left without its elected mayor.

Quotes of the Week:

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un“North Korea had become a powerful nuclear weapons state ready to detonate [a] self-reliant A-bomb and H-bomb to reliably defend its sovereignty and the dignity of the nation.”

Josh Earnest, White House spokesperson, on the North Korean H-bomb: “At this point, the information that we have access to calls into serious question those claims, but we take very seriously the risk and the threat that is posed by the North Korean regime in their ambitions to develop a nuclear weapon.”

First Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Defense and Security, Franz Klintsevich, about the hydrogen bomb of North Korea: “I think that, most likely, this is a bluff. Nowadays, there is practically no chance that anyone can create thermonuclear weapons in secret from the rest of the world.”

London Mayor Boris Johnson on Trump’s speech on crime in London and Muslims: “Crime has been falling steadily both in London and in New York – the only reason I would not go to some parts of New York is the real risk of meeting Donald Trump.”

Emilia Slabunova, member of the Legislative Assembly of Karelia from the opposition Yabloko Party, on the possible dismissal of Galina Shirshina: “It seems that we have a government (Karelia) that has not been working properly, and now has ceased working altogether, and is only thinking about how to get rid of Ms. Shirshina, and is hatching plans for this purpose.”

Galina Shirshina, Mayor of Petrozavodsk, on complaints about her work“I believe that this is an illegal decision, and I do not agree with the recriminations. In court, I will be able to prove my innocence.”