Russia Direct presents the latest roundup of the most discussed events by Russian media during last week.

A man walks through the site of an explosion at a warehouse in China's Tianjin on Aug. 13, 2015. Photo: AP

During the past week, the Russian media focused on the improved diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S. as well as the nature state censorship in China after the explosions in Tianjin. In addition, the Russian media focused on several domestic news stories, including an attack by Orthodox activists on an art exhibition in the center of Moscow.

Kerry’s visit to Havana

The Russian press actively discussed the restoration of diplomatic relations between Havana and Washington. On August 12, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited the Cuban capital of Havana for the first time in 70 years. This event aroused great interest among Russian journalists.  

The business publication Kommersant explained the role that third parties played in the normalization of relations, noting in particular the role of the Vatican. Moreover, the publication also emphasized the continuing conflict between the two governments, while noting Russia’s confidence in the continuation of “special relations” with this island nation.

At the same time, the opposition Novaya Gazeta pointed to the fact that the restoration of diplomatic relations is a special achievement of the administration of President Barack Obama, who embarked on a course of engaging Cuba in dialogue starting at the end of 2014.

Meanwhile, the pro-government Rossiyskaya Gazeta noted that, despite the apparent rapprochement between the U.S. and Cuba, many contradictions remain, including on the issue of Cuban dissidents who are sponsored by the United States, as well as on the issue of mutual financial claims.

 Read also: Did Russia lose Cuba to the Americans? 

The Manezh attack by Orthodox activists

Last week, activists of the Orthodox organization “God’s Will,” known in Russia for their radically conservative views, caused serious damage to exhibits being displayed in the Manezh Exhibition Center as part of “The Sculptures We Do Not See” exhibition. 

The exhibition presents a collection of works of three major Soviet sculptors of the 20th century – Vadim Sidur, Nikolai Silis and Vladimir Lemport. Activists from “God’s Will” rushed into the exhibition and carried out a real pogrom, damaging several works by Vadim Sidur, which they considered as blasphemy and an insult to the feelings of believers.

The Russian media has condemned the actions of this organization.

Thus, the opposition Novaya Gazeta directly calls this action vandalism and considers the activists themselves as blasphemers, who are not willing to even attempt to understand the Christian origins of the sculptor’s works.

The website of the Echo of Moscow radio station calls the activists “pathetic” and expressed horror at the lack of adequate response from the security services of the Manezh, considering that for Dmitry Enteo, the leader of the organization, this is one more attempt at energetically promoting himself.

The business publication Vedomosti expressed hope that the authorities would impose penalties against the activists for violations of the public order and the destruction of cultural property.

The publication quoted Mikhail Fedotov, head of the Presidential Council on Human Rights, indicating the potentially criminal actions of Enteo’s activists, and saying that their activities were similar to the barbaric behavior of militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS), an organization that is banned in Russia.

 Recommended: Putin's Orthodox conservatives vs. Russia's unorthodox liberals. 

Incident with the ​​sister of Russian model Natalia Vodianova

Another scandal that arose last week was a conflict involving the sister of well-known Russian supermodel Natalia Vodianova. The 27-year-old Oksana Vodianova suffers from autism and cerebral palsy, and needs to be under constant supervision by her mother or an attendant.

During one of her walks with her attendant, the young woman went into the Flamingo Café in Nizhny Novgorod for a short rest. The café’s staff rudely asked that she leave the premises because her presence “scared off customers due to her unhealthy external appearance and behavior.”

It was quite likely that this conflict would have remained at the level of mutual accusations and litigation between the family and the café, had not such a well-known personality as model Natalia Vodianova been involved.

The media in Russia simply exploded with articles and comments in support of the suffering young woman, stimulating discussions about tolerance in Russia as a whole.

The business publication Vedomosti, although condemning the actions of the owners of the café, expressed bewilderment over the reaction of the Russian authorities.

These authorities have called on the Investigative Committee to look into the event. The Investigative Committee has already filed charges under Article 282 of the Criminal Code of Russia (violations of human dignity). The publication considers this as a disproportionate measure, stressing that it is impossible to achieve justice through knowingly unjust decisions.

The pro-government Channel One also expressed indignation at the behavior of employees of the café, noting that this case can serve as an example for many families that have members suffering from discrimination. These families should now be able to fight for their rights.

The newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets presented the opposite point of view on this issue. Unexpectedly and suddenly coming to the defense of the café was the well-known writer and politician Eduard Limonov, who points to the disproportionate punishment that the café owner is being threatened with (5 years in prison). Moreover, Limonov believes that Russia should create separate institutions for people with disabilities, as they are “unpleasant to look at.”

Explosion in a production plant in China

On August 12, an industrial area of ​​Tianjin, China was shook by a series of powerful explosions that killed over 100 people and injured more than 700. The Chinese authorities announced a large-scale evacuation, making every effort to deal with this accident.

The business publication Vedomosti attempted to tabulate the losses this disaster caused. After all, Tianjin is a major center of the automobile industry, and this accident caused serious damage to already built cars parked in the production yards. The publication noted that this was a severe blow to the entire industrial zone of Tianjin, which, in addition to having direct production facilities, is also a major logistics hub.

To emphasize the scale of this tragedy, in another article, Vedomosti noted that Tianjin is the fourth-largest port in the world, and in terms of total cargo turnover, it handles the same volume of goods as almost all Russian ports combined.

The newspaper also drew attention to the censorship imposed by the Chinese authorities on numerous publications, which had disclosed the details and wrote about the consequences of the explosion.

“The Chinese cyberspace administration closed 18 websites and suspended the work of another 32, accusing them of spreading panic,” according to Vedomosti.

The website of the Echo of Moscow radio station also reported on the censorship imposed by the Chinese authorities, who are blocking entry onto the Internet of any unofficial information that is discovered, including by blocking accounts on Facebook.

Meanwhile, the pro-government Channel One TV network reported on the numerous victims and missing persons, as well as Russia’s readiness to provide, upon request, the necessary assistance needed for disaster management. Channel One noted that there is a real danger that these and surrounding areas will suffer from chemical contamination.

North Korea threatens US and South Korea

The annual military exercises held jointly by the United States and the Republic of Korea, which are to start this week, have triggered an aggressive response from the leadership of North Korea (DPRK). Pyongyang announced that the country is ready to stand up for itself, including by means of “defensive and offensive weapons, unknown to the world.”

 Related: Why Cold War-style military exercises of Russia and NATO are heating up. 

Russian media doubts that the DPRK has such weapons, while at the same time believing that a provocation from North Korea cannot be avoided.

The business publication Kommersant commented on the series of recent mutual provocations on the border between the two countries, quoting a specialist on this region, Konstantin Asmolov, who claims that the Republic of Korea has also assumed an unconstructive position, constantly blaming its neighbor for everything, with often unproven accusations.

The website of the Echo of Moscow radio station indicates that Pyongyang has several reasons to feel irritated – in addition to the military exercises, the North Korean regime is dissatisfied that sanctions against it remain in place, and are even being made tougher, which greatly contributes to increased tensions on the peninsula.

The pro-government Rossiyskaya Gazeta asks its readers not to discount the allegations being made by North Korea, pointing out that this country not only possess nuclear weapons, but also the means for their delivery. According to the newspaper, this could involve a modification of the KN-08 ballistic missile, which North Korea first announced to the world in 2012.

Quotes of the week:

Alexander Stepunin, press attaché of the Russian Embassy in Cuba: “Restoration of relations [with the U.S.] is a victory for Cuba. The country has fought a long time for the United States to adopt a fair attitude towards it.”

John Kerry: “[Washington and Havana] have made ​​a courageous decision to stop being prisoners of history.”

Dmitry Enteo on the controversial exhibition in the Manezh Exhibition Center: “We want this exhibition to be closed, so that the law on the protection of religious feelings is actually adhered to, so that the main exhibition center in the country does not display such a dirty and crude mockery of Jesus Christ and of the saints.”

Mikhail Fedotov, Head of the Presidential Council on Human Rights, in a response to Enteo about the destroyed exhibition: “No one is allowed to destroy cultural valuables. This is a criminal offense. These actions are criminal acts, and we are not talking here about one, but about the violations of several articles of the Criminal Code. Please don’t act like the ISIS barbarians do.”

Statement by the State Defense Committee of North Korea, “The army and people of the DPRK are not the same as they were in the past, when we had to resist U.S. nuclear power with a machine gun in hand... North Korea is an invincible force, which has the latest offensive and defensive weapons, not yet known to the world.”