RD Media Roundup: Iran's nuclear program, the escalation of the conflict in Yemen, and the West’s boycott of the 70th anniversary of Victory Day were the focus of the Russian media last week.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is also Iran's top nuclear negotiator, waves to his well wishers upon arrival at the Mehrabad airport in Tehran, Iran, from Lausanne, Switzerland, Friday, April 3, 2015. Photo: AP
Events in the volatile Middle East continue to provide the major stimulus for changes to Russian foreign policy, led by Iran’s historic nuclear deal with the world’s great powers. In addition, the ongoing crisis in Ukraine is now casting a shadow over Russia’s planned celebrations for Victory Day on May 9, as many world leaders take steps to distance themselves from the Kremlin by opting not to visit Moscow next month.
Iran’s nuclear deal
The stepped-up negotiation activity surrounding the Iranian nuclear program launched a lively discussion in the Russian media. In particular, Alex Polukhin, a columnist for the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, draws parallels between Russia and Iran, believing that Western sanctions will have an even more devastating effect for Russia, because the country is initially more integrated into the world economy than Iran is.
There is also another view of the situation: Echo of Moscow analyst Georgy Mirsky notes that the agreements reached in Lausanne are nothing short of a political victory for Obama and the entire moderate American leadership.
Kommersant, which positions itself as an independent newspaper, offers a look at the situation through the eyes of Israel and its leadership, quoting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “The agreement, based on the framework agreements reached, threatens Israel’s survival. ... Such an agreement will not block the Iran's path to a nuclear bomb, but rather pave it.”
The conflict in Yemen
Discussions about the armed conflict in Yemen and the participation of the coalition led by Saudi Arabia are continuing. The opposition paper Novaya Gazeta talks about the internal contradictions in the country, noting that many analysts forget about the “third force” in the conflict - the separatist regions of the country’s south, which, after a long calm during Saleh’s rule, again joined the struggle for power.
At the same time, the business daily Vedomosti attempts to analyze why Saudi Arabia is participating in the conflict. “Saudi Arabia uses the conflict to weaken the Shiites and form an anti-Iranian coalition,” the newspaper states.
Moscow’s Victory Day parade without the participation of world leaders
With just over a month to go until Victory Day in Moscow, Russian media are actively discussing the refusal of many of the world's leaders to attend celebrations in honor of the victory over Nazi Germany. The reluctance of even the former allies in the anti-Hitler coalition to come to Moscow is obviously linked to the growing tensions between Russia and the West.
The independent media outlet Slon gives the floor to Mikhail Zygar, editor-in-chief of the Dozhd TV channel, which characterized the gesture by the West as a sign of Russia’s complete isolation and a lack of respect for Vladimir Putin personally. Maria Zakharova, a Russian Foreign Ministry representative, gives her response to Zygar at the website of the Echo of Moscow radio station. She believes that the problem is not so much “isolation” as it is “Washington’s Herculean effort in assembling a coalition against Moscow.”
Diplomatic war of words in the Czech Republic
The Russian media also actively discussed the war of words between the president of the Czech Republic Milos Zeman and the U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic Andrew Shapiro. In an interview, Ambassador Shapiro criticized Zeman for his decision to visit the Victory Day parade in Moscow in May, to which Zeman reacted very harshly, saying that he “cannot imagine the Czech ambassador in Washington advising the American President where he should go,” and that he would not allow “any ambassador to interfere in his overseas itinerary.”
The popular Moskovsky Komsomolets discuses this U.S. diplomatic blunder as well as other ones, the Echo of Moscow radio station criticizes Shapiro, and the pro-government Rossiyskaya Gazeta covers the details of the incident, offering what many might construe as hidden praise for Zeman’s decision.
Russia’s culture wars: "Tannhauser"
The unconventional theatrical staging of the "Tannhauser" opera at the Novosibirsk Theatre caused a flurry of indignation in the conservative part of Russian society and has already led to a change in the theater’s management. The main accusation against the theater’s management is the lack of respect for believers’ religious feelings.
Last week, there were several meetings in support of freedom of speech and against censorship. The business daily Vedomosti provides detailed coverage of this. The popular Moskovsky Komsomolets published a long interview with Russia’s Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky who sees the "Tannhauser" opera as "unlucky."
The performance of “Tannhauser” originally was a classical opera by Richard Wagner, a German composer of the 19th century, and was remade by the young Russian director Timothy Kulyabin, who brings the action into the current time. Tannhauser the knight turns into the filmmaker Heinrich Tannhauser, who shoots a film about Jesus Christ’s unknown period of youth, in which he falls in the grotto of the pagan goddess Venus, where he gives himself to carnal pleasures. A poster appears on the stage – a movie poster, allegedly shot on the stage, depicting Jesus positioned between huge female legs. According to the script, after the film's release, the director was bombarded with indignant public opinion that rejects him and consigns him to exile.
The new Federal Agency for Ethnic Affairs
The initiative to establish the Federal Agency for Ethnic Affairs in Russia, proposed in March of this year, was finally legalized. This week, Igor Barinov (Deputy Chairman of the Duma Defense Committee) was named to head the agency. The business newspaper Vedomosti analyzes Barinov’s personality, while the popular Moskovsky Komsomolets discusses the Agency’s key activity areas with experts, focusing on its potential ability to resolve ethnic disputes in Russia.
Quotes of the week
Alex Polukhin, a columnist for Novaya Gazeta: “A regional power under the leadership of a charismatic leader announced its intention to sprinkle some corners of the world political map with radioactive ash, fell under international interest-free sanctions in this regard, and just five years later, perceives a breakthrough prospect for lifting at least a part of them."
Mikhail Zygar, editor-in-chief of the Dozhd TV channel: "This holiday will also be spoiled, we know it in advance. It is now clear that the brilliant day of May 9, 2015 will go down in history, just like the Olympics of 1980, as one of the most resonant and offensive boycotts in the country's history."
Maria Zakharova, Russian Foreign Ministry representative, in response to Zygar about the presence of world leaders at Moscow’s Victory Day parade: “I am confused here by this disdainful word “only.” I understand the author’s logic: He wanted to justly point out that compared to previous years, the composition represented by the leaders of countries has changed dramatically. You see, using the particle “only” in relation to China and India is somewhat arrogant, and in relation to the CIS countries, which were directly involved in ensuring this victory, is unfair.”
Vladimir Medinsky, Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation: "The Ministry has no claims against the director: He is a creative person, “that is the way he sees it” and he is entitled to his own interpretation, even if it is, to put it mildly, controversial. Art history is woven from cases where the most talented creators went “too far” in their search, as it seemed to their contemporaries. Our complaint was addressed to the theater’s management, because the federal State Academic Theatre must show respect for the audience, the public, and for the city."