Russian media roundup: The new German military doctrine, the 2016 U.S. presidential race, and the upcoming Russian parliamentary elections all made headlines last week.

A new German military doctrine sees Russia as a “rival” and a “challenge” to Europe. Photo: RIA Novosti

The release of a new German military doctrine naming Russia as a “rival” and a potential “challenge” to European security attracted the attention of the Russian media. In addition, Russia’s journalists and commentators continue to keep a wary eye on developments in the U.S. presidential race, where Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton is turning her Republican counterpart Donald Trump’s views on Russia into a political campaign issue.

Germany names Russia as a rival

In the near future, Germany will be adopting a new military doctrine known as the “White Paper,” which will articulate the country’s vision of security and defense issues. This document has already led to mixed reactions in the Kremlin, as Russia has been moved from the “partners” category, and placed on the list of “rivals.” Moreover, Germany now views Russia as a “challenge” to the security of the European continent.

Also read: "25 years after reunification, Germany must make tough choice about Russia"

The analytical website Aktualniye Kommentarii says that Russia’s placement in this new “rivals” category is part of an ever-growing immersion of Germany into NATO. This includes greater German connection with the organization’s military activities, such as the creation and deployment of a new NATO battalion in Eastern Europe. The publication also emphasized the apparent contradiction between this new doctrine and recent statements made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel about the possible lifting of sanctions on Russia, and the need to gradually normalize relations with Moscow.

The business newspaper Kommersant believes that the reactions of the Russian media have been too emotional in interpreting the provisions of the new document, which uses the term “challenge” rather than “threat” (as many Russian publications had originally reported). In addition, in another section of this document, it mentions the importance of maintaining a dialogue with Russia for the EU’s own security and prosperity, although it does state that Russia is no longer a partner, but a rival. Kommersant notes that the “White Paper” has already been criticized inside Germany itself, and so it is too early to say what wording the final version of the document will contain.

The pro-government newspaper Izvestia sees “the hand of Washington” in this German document. The United States is putting pressure on its European partners to the point where even Germany cannot ignore the influence of Washington. The term used - “rival” - clearly does not reflect the real state of affairs, say Russian parliamentarians. Rather, it reflects the German Chancellor’s towing the line, and the submission of Germany’s foreign policy establishment to the interests of U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration. However, Izvestia sees nothing new in this – de facto, Russia and Germany have long ceased to be partners.

The U.S. presidential campaign

Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton’s comment last week - “If Mr. Trump gets his way, it’ll be like Christmas in the Kremlin” - has intensified discussions in the Russian media on the presidential race in the United States.

The pro-government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta, quotes the Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, who mocked Clinton’s statement. The publication stressed that Moscow would never interfere in the internal affairs of other states, and the election results in the U.S. are entirely the business of American citizens. There will be no cause for celebration in the Kremlin, no matter which candidate wins.

The business newspaper Vedomosti believes that it is too soon to write off the other Democratic Party candidate, Bernie Sanders. It is possible that he will pair up with Clinton, as her vice-president; after all, he is very popular among those demographic groups of voters that are hostile to Clinton – the young and the independents.

In order to win over these categories of voters, Hillary needs Sanders. Moreover, this left-wing politician and populist might be able to strengthen her position in the upcoming competition against the populist Trump.

Recommended: "Would the Kremlin prefer Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?"

Corruption scandal in Vladivostok

One of the largest metropolitan areas in the Russian Far East – Vladivostok – continues to be plagued by political scandals. The mayors of this city are regularly under investigation or on trial. This time around, Mayor Igor Pushkarev is in the center of a major corruption scandal involving urban construction contracts that has potential national political implications.

In a piece for Moskovsky Komsomolets, political scientist Alexander Kanev commented on this issue. He believes that, unlike other criminal cases against previous mayors of Vladivostok, the present clearly has the character of a conflict at the federal level. A special department of Russia's Investigative Committee immediately took up Pushkarev’s case, and he was quickly flown to Moscow, which means this is bigger than an intra-regional rivalry.

Most likely, according to the expert, this is due to the upcoming elections. In preparation for these elections, the state authorities are seeking to demonstrate progress in the fight against corruption, and in parallel, also weaken the local elites.

The business newspaper Vedomosti, on the other hand, sees a potential regional rivalry in the case against Pushkarev. From this perspective, the governor of the region Vladimir Miklushevsky, who has had a long-standing conflict with the mayor of Vladivostok, might have played a key role in the initiation of these proceedings against Pushkarev, who was a popular politician, often aggravating the federal authorities. In contrast, Miklushevsky was always loyal to Moscow. Now, with the upcoming elections to the Duma, Moscow definitely wants to avoid any unnecessary conflicts among the local elites, according to Vedomosti.

Failure of the primaries of the liberal opposition

In preparation for the upcoming elections to the Duma, Russia’s unified liberal opposition (known as the Democratic Coalition) held primaries on May 28-29. However, these primaries were disrupted due to a hacker attack on the website that was being used by people to cast votes for candidates. The personal details of supporters of the opposition parties were published on the Internet.

As a result, the preliminary voting procedure was canceled, and now the PARNAS Party, headed by opposition leader Mikhail Kasyanov, will approve the final list of candidates for the elections. The cancelation of the primaries highlighted the problem faced by opposition parties hoping to participate in the upcoming Duma elections. After all, this is hardly the first event hinting at problems within the opposition. Earlier, the Democratic Coalition virtually collapsed, after several major movements left it, including the supporters of Russia's opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner Alexey Navalny.

Fyodor Krasheninnikov of the business newspaper Vedomosti stresses that the opposition groups do not have sufficient resources to compete at the national level and to fight for voters against state-backed candidates. Formally, the primaries failed due to a hacker attack, but in reality, the opposition should have immediately recognized and admitted that it did not have the support of the people (about 16,000 people registered online to vote, which is insignificant when one considers the size of Russia). As long as the opposition groups work in Russia with the fear of a possible reaction on the part of the Kremlin, their full-fledged existence and development in the country is impossible.

The independent media outlet Slon published an article by political scientist and expert on electoral processes Gregory Golosov, who believes that the troubles in the opposition were provoked, and are part of a finely-crafted game by the Kremlin to exacerbate conflict within the opposition’s ranks and “bury” the opposition early. The September elections, against the background of an economic crisis and the absence of any foreign policy successes, could present the authorities with some unpleasant surprises, activating protest-minded members of the electorate. The members of the ruling elite are well aware of the problem, and their task now is to neutralize, and ideally, to completely discredit the opposition, which, as recent events have shown, they are able to achieve.

Also read: "What do the Kremlin and the Russian opposition have in common?"

The online publication presented different versions of what really was behind the breakdown of the opposition primaries. One possible explanation is the unacceptability of the results of the voting to the party leadership. According to preliminary results, for example, the leading vote-getter was Vyacheslav Maltsev, an ultra-radical and populist regional politician. 

Such a winner would present a big problem for the Democratic Coalition, and especially for Kasyanov and other leaders of PARNAS. However, does not exclude the fact that pro-government structures were somehow involved in the attack. This offered another reminder to voters that “having ties with the opposition groups was not safe.”

Quotes of the week:

Opposition leader Alexey Navalny on the failure of the primaries of the Democratic Coalition: “The executive heads of PARNAS should resign after this. Shame, discredit, and sabotage.”

State Duma member Irina Yarovaya on the new military doctrine of Germany: “Even the very proposal to declare Russia as a threat to Germany – after the recent re-publication of Hitler’s Mein Kampf – appears ominous.”

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen about the challenge from Russia: "The Kremlin's new policy began long before the crisis in Ukraine and will occupy us for a very, very long time to come."

Germany’s White Paper about the rivalry with Russia: “Without a radical change, in the long run Russia is a challenge in terms of security for our continent”