Russian media roundup: The FSB announcement that the Russian plane crash in Egypt was indeed the result of a terrorist attack was the leading news story of the week. Also, truckers’ protests and the 2015 APEC Summit have started to attract the attention of the Russian media.
President Barack Obama, center left, has his arm around Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto following a group with leaders of the 2015 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Manila, Philippines. Photo: AP
The problem of international terrorism continues to dominate the media agenda within Russia. The leading news was that the Russian passenger jet downed in Egypt was the victim of a terrorist attack. That was followed by continued reaction to the terrorist attacks in Paris and news of a deadly new terrorist attack in Mali, where six Russians died. In addition, the APEC Summit in Manila also attracted the attention of Russian media.
The APEC Summit
The APEC Summit, held in Manila on Nov. 18-19, was attended by a Russian delegation led by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Initially, President Putin was scheduled to fly to the Philippines; however, in the middle of the month, officials announced that a tight schedule would not allow him to visit the summit.
The media have noted that, as in the case of the G20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey on Nov. 15, the trade and economic agenda was partly overshadowed by the problem of international terrorism. The pro-government Channel One positively assessed the results of the summit for Russia, emphasizing the productive bilateral meetings held between the Russian leader and the heads of Thailand and Vietnam.
They noted that these Asian countries could become major tourist partners of Russia, especially against the background of the “closing” of the traditional destinations of Egypt and other North African countries.
Moskovsky Komsomolets discussed rumors as to why Putin did not travel to Manila, sending the prime minister in his place. The publication noted various versions – from fear for his own safety, to the desire to send to this important meeting the more liberal prime minister, who gets along better with Western leaders, especially with Barack Obama.
However, as the newspaper emphasized, the most likely reason was that Putin did not wish to be distracted from current serious challenges, including terrorism, by participating in the rather uneventful program of the APEC Summit.
The business newspaper Kommersant focused on the statements of Obama at the summit. The U.S. president, for the first time, called Moscow a “constructive partner” in the talks on Syria. The publication considers this a great achievement for Russia, as well as a signal of a possible warming of relations between Russia and the United States, at least when it comes to the struggle against common enemies.
However, experts interviewed by the newspaper did not quite agree with this, considering this a mere “change of tone,” and not a fundamental change of position.
Russia officially recognizes crash in Egypt as a terrorist attack
For a long time, the Russian authorities have not officially recognized the reasons for the catastrophe over the Sinai as a terrorist attack, urging the public to wait for the results of the official investigation. Finally, on Nov. 17, at a meeting with President Vladimir Putin, the head of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), Alexander Bortnikov, announced that it was, indeed, the result of a terrorist act.
Russian journalists believe that the leadership of the country has been aware for a long time of the fact that this was a terrorist attack, but remained silent. In the press, there were discussions as to why such a strategy had been chosen, and actively discussed the implications of the Russian president declaring a hunt for terrorists.
A blogger at the radio station Echo of Moscow, Karina Orlova, believes that the delay in the announcement was related to fears of mass protests occurring in the country. Frightened and angry people can suddenly demand a response from the authorities, and in particular, with regards to the operation in Syria. After some time, and after the tragic events in Paris, the reaction of the Russian population was not so tough, according to the author.
The pro-government TV network Channel One repeated the official version: The delay was due to the need for a thorough investigation of the disaster in Egypt. The TV channel also highlights the fact that the Russian authorities will take all measures to find and punish those responsible, with Channel One noting that it was looking forward to international cooperation in anti-terrorist activities.
The business newspaper Vedomosti explored the consequences of recognizing that this was a terrorist attack. Thus, the newspaper’s analysts are saying that Russia is clearly taking after the example of the United States in its anti-terrorism strategy. After all, Putin said that Russia regards this attack as an attack on the country itself, and intends to invoke Article 51 of the UN Charter (the right to self-defense) against these terrorists.
Anonymous sources in diplomatic circles consider this to be a controversial decision, because for many years Russia has condemned similar behavior by the United States.
The terrorist attack in Mali
The capture and execution of hostages in the Radisson hotel in Bamako (the capital of Mali), which ended in the death of 21 people, including six Russians, caused great interest in the media, which reiterated the need to consolidate international efforts in the fight against terrorism.
Moskovsky Komsomolets reminded its readers that recent actions of terrorists led to the deaths of 231 Russians, and this is a heavy blow to the country. The newspaper quoted Russian officials, some of whom have called recent attacks an “inhumane crime” and expressed condolences to the bereaved families.
The business newspaper Kommersant said that the attack in the former French colony was another blow against France and its influence in the region. Since 2013, France has been providing assistance to Mali in the military-technical sphere, and the capture by terrorists of a large soft target in the capital city means that, among other things, France has not fully accomplished its obligations.
Loss of power in Crimea
In Crimea, a state of emergency was declared due to the failure of power transmission lines that supply electricity from Ukraine to the peninsula. According to media reports, this was due to the deliberate blowing up, by unknown persons, of the supporting structures of these power lines in the Kherson Oblast, which left nearly 2 million inhabitants of the region without electricity.
Crimean authorities have opened a criminal case on this incident, involving the blowing up of power transmission towers, and they are convinced that the Ukrainian leadership is to blame for this, due to their inaction.
The online publication Gazeta.ru quoted Sergey Aksenov, the head of Crimea, who argues that this was a “concerted action” involving the Ukrainian security services. The publication also noted that the peninsula would not be able to quickly solve this problem, due to the absence of its own energy resources. As a result, they are expecting not only blackouts and water supply shortages, but also interruptions to telephone and Internet communications. The experts interviewed by Gazeta.ru noted with regret that energy independence of Crimea from Ukraine is something that will come only in the distant future.
The business newspaper Kommersant emphasized that the demolition of transmission towers in Kherson Oblast was an unpleasant situation, not only because it left without electricity many residents of Kherson Oblast itself, but also because it undermined the reputation of Ukraine as a supplier of electricity to the peninsula (for which Ukrinterenergo now receives more than $12 million annually from Russia).
The publication also expressed doubts about the plans of the Russian authorities to solve the energy problems of the peninsula by 2016 by launching the first stage of an energy bridge from Krasnodar, via a cable network underwater through the Kerch Strait.
The opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta wrote about the long-standing conflict over the power lines in the Kherson Oblast. The electric power lines for a long time have been subject to attacks by supporters of the “Blockade of Crimea,” which were most likely the people who organized the blowing up of the transmission towers.
According to Novaya Gazeta, these people were also interfering with the work on restoring the power lines by blocking access to the objects. The publication stressed that this disruption of energy supplies has strongly damaged the image of Ukraine in Crimea, and will contribute to further breaking of relations between Kiev and the peninsula.
Russia’s striking long-distance truckers
Since mid-November, a truckers’ protest has been taking place in Russia. The reason is the implementation, starting on Nov. 15, of the “Platon” (pay per ton) system, which involves charging fees for vehicles with maximum permissible weight exceeding 12 tons. It is expected that the funds thus collected will be used for road maintenance and the improvement of transport infrastructure.
However, among truckers, the “Platon” has caused widespread condemnation and indignation, with drivers considering this a banal form of collecting additional tax revenues from their work. Now, in addition to licenses and permits, they are being forced to pay extra for distances travelled and tonnage, and in case of violations, they face significant fines.
In particular, the truckers are outraged by the fact that Igor Rotenberg – one of the richest and most influential businessmen in Russia – worked on the development of this controversial project.
The strike reached a peak last week in Dagestan, one of the troubled regions of Russia, when a large convoy of protesting truck drivers and their rigs gathered, threatening to head to Moscow and block traffic in the capital city, if their demands were not heard by the authorities.
The opposition Novaya Gazeta published a report from the scene of the truckers’ strike. The protesters are claiming that the authorities are ignoring them and are not letting the press cover the events.
— Новая Газета (@novaya_gazeta) November 20, 2015
The tweet above says, "Truckers from the Saratov Oblast have been protesting for two weeks."
Most of the biggest cargo carriers are registered in the south of Russia, and thus Dagestan has become the center of this protest; after all, entire villages live on proceeds from the transportation of products to other regions. The publication noted that the strike would also affect the country’s food supply, because already there are delays in the supplies of vegetables and fruits coming from the south.
A blogger at the radio station Echo of Moscow, the politician Gennady Gudkov, fully supports the position of truckers, considering the “Platon” system pure highway robbery, and an attempt to cash in on the work of ordinary people. Gudkov believes that Russians should be grateful to these drivers for their courage and civic protest, because it means that civil society in Russia has not yet lost everything.
The online publication Gazeta.ru wrote about the protests in other regions of Russia, even though these are much less intense than in Dagestan. In most cases, the publication noted that the police are dispersing the protesters, as these protests interfere with normal traffic.
Gazeta.ru also published the reactions of the authorities, who do not intend to give in to the protesters and refuse to abolish the “Platon” system. It should also be noted that the pro-government media have provided very poor coverage of this protest.
Quotes of the week:
Russian President Vladimir Putin on the terrorist attack in Egypt: “The murder of our people in the Sinai was among the bloodiest of such acts in terms of the number of victims. We will not be wiping the tears from our hearts and souls. This will remain with us forever. However, this will not prevent us from finding and punishing the perpetrators. We must do this without any statute of limitations, and identify them all by name. We will look for them wherever they are hiding, we will find them anywhere in the world – and punish them.”
Vladimir Markin, official representative of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, on the power failure in Crimea: “For nearly 20 years, they had done everything to force the Crimeans to run away from them, and now they are doing everything they can so that the Crimeans hate them completely.”
Opposition leader Alexey Navalny on the “Truckers March on Moscow” and the “Platon” system: “This undertaking is a good idea, but it certainly should not only come from Dagestan, but also from all regions of the country. I feel confident that this would lead to the legal or factual ending of the “Platon” system. As I wrote on this issue earlier, nobody has any need for this, except Rotenberg.“
Yevgeny Fyodorov, member of the State Duma, on the organizers of the trucker protests: “The ‘fifth column’ of the government has passed the baton to the ‘fifth column’ in the streets – the so-called rebels of Navalny.”