Media roundup: Last week, the Russian media focused on the findings of the Dutch MH17 report and the escalation of Russia’s Syrian campaign.

Russian Air Forces Mi-24 helicopter flying over the Hmeimim airbase. Photo: RIA

On Oct. 13, the Netherlands published the results of its investigation into the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 over Ukraine, making this the most discussed news item of the week in the Russian media. Other news stories making headlines included the escalation of the Arab-Israeli conflict and, of course, the ongoing Russian military operation in Syria.

The MH17 report

The Russian press actively discussed the published data in the MH17 report, comparing these with the results of the investigation carried out by the Russian military-industrial holding company Almaz-Antey, the company that manufactures the BUK missile systems. This holding company also presented its report on Oct. 13.

The main conclusions made by the Dutch investigators are that the Boeing was shot down by a BUK missile from a series of BUK missile systems in service in both the armed forces of Ukraine and in the separatist militias of Donbas. In addition, they found that, “The moral fault lies with Ukraine, which had failed to close its airspace to passenger airlines during the period of hostilities, as well as having, at the last moment, changed the flight path of the Boeing to a less safe one.”

A columnist at the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, Yulia Latynina, said that Dutch experts have uncovered an “open secret,” because they submitted nothing new or sensational. The author accuses the Dutch commission of inaction, considering the “pathetic unanimity” of the common positions of the Netherlands and Almaz-Antey, which both suggest that the Boeing was shot down by a BUK missile.

“The Kremlin can break out the champagne,” sums up the author, directly pointing out that the results of the Dutch investigation have vindicated Russia of any wrongdoing.

One of the writers of the business newspaper Vedomosti, Nikolai Epple, says that the findings of the investigation are neutral and have nothing to do with sensationalism; then again, the Dutch commission was not charged with such a task. The publication notes that the reference to Ukraine as the main culprit in this disaster is a very significant statement, which now has to be dealt with by the international community, together with positions on how exactly the Boeing was shot down.

The publication also notes that Russia should more actively cooperate with the investigation, to demonstrate its innocence; however, the country has not yet demonstrated such readiness.

A writer for the pro-government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Maxim Makarychev, says that although the report does not indicate the principal perpetrators of the catastrophe, it nevertheless explains many of the technical details (which side of the aircraft was damaged, what was its probable distance from the explosion, etc.). Moreover, the publication emphasizes, the report on many issues confirmed Russia’s position, as well as the conclusions reached by Almaz-Antey.

The newspaper also notes that these conclusions made by the Netherlands have obviously extremely disappointed Kiev, which continues to put forth the idea of holding ​​an international tribunal on the Boeing incident.

The aggravation of the Arab-Israeli conflict

Last week, there was a significant worsening in the relations between the Israelis and Palestinians. After months of calm, the situation in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict zone once again escalated, and a new threat arose in the form of a civil protest started by the Palestinians (known as an intifada). As a result of 23 attacks, seven Israelis were killed and more than 70 were injured. On Oct. 15, the UN Security Council even held a meeting to discuss the recent escalation of the conflict.

Business newspaper Kommersant, with reference to Russian and foreign experts, points to serious contradictions caused by rumors about Israel’s intention to stop allowing Muslims to visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which had provoked the unrest among the Palestinians, especially among the young people.

The newspaper notes that mutual accusations coming from leaders of the Israelis and Palestinians are clearly not conducive to reaching a settlement, and that the international community, through the UN Security Council, has not taken any concrete measures. There remains a slim hope that John Kerry, who is already planning to visit the Holy Land, will help mediate this situation.

Maxim Artemiev, writer at the independent newspaper Slon, links the aggravation of the Arab-Israeli conflict with the effects of the “Arab Spring” – many secular regimes in the Middle East have fallen, giving way to chaos and proliferation of radical Islamic groups. It is this “radical front” which has now also reached Israel – and the Islamists are actively working with Palestinian youth.

The website of the Echo of Moscow radio station published the words of the President of the Russian Jewish Congress Yuri Kanner, who believes that those Arabs living in Israel and having their representatives in the Knesset, should initiate cooperation with Israeli authorities, in order to prevent any further escalation. Their duty should be to not allow the spreading of extremism amongst the Arab population in Israel.

The Russian military operation in Syria

The ongoing Russian military operation in Syria remains a matter of controversy amongst journalists. This time, the discussions have shifted to the issue of possible cooperation between Moscow and Washington in the fight against terrorism in Syria. For now, the scenario of a sudden warming in relations between Russia and the United States, against the backdrop of operations in Syria, is highly unlikely, according to Russian media.

The tabloid Moskovsky Komsomolets believes that the United States is clearly waiting for the right moment to come to a final decision on its position on Russian operations in Syria. If these are successful, then the Americans could always put aside their differences and start working together against terrorism, but if Russia fails – then they could always say that nothing else was to be expected anyways, and that removing Russia from international isolation is still very far away.

A columnist at the opposition Novaya Gazeta, Kirill Martynov, is convinced that the operation in Syria is the Kremlin’s desire to establish, finally, good relations with the West. However, this hope of the Kremlin did not materialize – instead of the lifting of sanctions and a joint fight against terrorism, Russia’s moves were condemned by world leaders, who made it obvious that Russia was not fighting the right groups.

The newspaper says that this is a temporary phenomenon, and that in fact the United States and other Western countries are interested in cooperation with Russia on Syria; however, they want to get more concessions from the Kremlin on a wide range of issues.

A writer at the Echo of Moscow radio station portal, Yevgeny Kiselev, is much less optimistic in his assessment – the West categorically does not like the message that Vladimir Putin is sending about Syria, and it is not making any bones about it. World leaders have spoken out against Moscow’s operation, accusing the Kremlin of supporting the Assad regime, fighting against the moderate opposition, as well as violating of the territorial integrity of neighboring states. One of the harshest critics, notes the website, has been Turkey, which just recently was considered as an ally of Russia.

Sacred texts and the “Law on Extremism”

On Oct. 15, Vladimir Putin submitted to the Russian State Duma a bill that has the potential to resonate with the Russian population – one that would protect fundamental religious writings from charges of being extremist materials. The need for this bill emerged after a major political scandal – a court on Sakhalin Island found certain passages from the Koran as being extremist materials, which led to a negative reaction from the Muslim community in Russia, and in particular, from one of the most controversial regional leaders – the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov.

In a dispute between the protection of religious feelings and court injunctions, the Russian president took the side of the faithful. Maria Ozerova, writer at Moskovsky Komsomolets, reminds readers that discussions about “extremism” and “extremist” have been going on for a long time in society, because their definition in the legislation is extremely vague. The newspaper notes that the new law supplements existing rules, while at the same time protecting the sacred texts of Christians, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists from possibly absurd legal attacks.

The independent Slon is quite positive in assessing the initiative, considering that the “ecstasy of the struggle against extremism will at least have some limits placed on it.” The newspaper notes that, of course, it will be very easy to turn even this law against anyone, anywhere – but the very logic of this proceeding is supported by the media publication.

At the business newspaper Vedomosti, they also believe that the bill will have a positive impact on the fight against extremism in Russia, but they are not sure that in real practice of law, these rules will be correctly applied. Experts at the newspaper believe that there are many pitfalls when it comes to definitively withdrawing sacred writings from the list of extremist literature.

VTB Forum “Russia Calling!”

The economic forum “Russia Calling!”, organized by Russia’s largest financial holding company, VTB Capital, was held last week. The Russian press was not so interested in the panel discussions that took place, or the statements made, as with the total number of major Russian company executives and government officials that were in attendance.

In particular, journalists discussed assurances that there is no economic crisis in Russia, and the appeal made by the head of one of Russia’s largest companies – VTB – Andrei Kostin, to reduce credit financing to small and medium businesses.

The opposition Novaya Gazeta believes that such events can no longer cope with their main task – to reassure all economic actors, including the public, by conducting a kind of “verbal intervention.” The publication says that the government is too attracted to making questionable statements and is divorced from reality. The situation with small and medium-sized businesses in Russia is already highly distressing, even without this comment, says the newspaper.

The business newspaper Kommersant focused on the speech that Vladimir Putin made at the forum, noting his obvious desire to attract foreign investors to Russia. The publication noted that Putin gave detailed answers to questions posed at the forum by foreign delegates, trying to explain the recent rather complicated economic decisions (including pension reform and issues involving the movement of capital).

The pro-government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta leads in terms of the optimistic scenario of economic development, voiced by the Ministers of Economy and Finance. The ministers are predicting an annual growth of the GDP of 4.4 percent, as well as the presence of incentives for successful economic diversification. The publication said that, in reality, there was just one thing that top government officials said nothing about – the price of oil. On the world market, the price does not depend on Russia, and the Russian authorities are very optimistically forecasting its level at not less than $55 per barrel.

Quotes of the week:

Konstantin Kosachev, head of Russia's International Affairs Committee of the Federation Council, on the Dutch MH17 report: 

“The most important (and even though this is very little, it is encouraging), is that the report made by the Dutch did not go along the path of political expectations – but rather focused on technical questions, many of which, as before, still remain unanswered. However, there remains one political issue – so what about the sanctions? Who will bear responsibility for this destructive step taken so quickly, and on the basis of unverified data, which during 15 months, even a commission of experts could not confirm? And this is the question, to which I would like to receive an answer as soon as possible.”

Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister of Russia, on the goals of the Russian Federation in Syria:

“By the way, it does not matter to us, who will be at the helm. Do we not all wish to ensure that ISIS does not rule the Syrian Republic? Is that not right? However, this should be a civilized, legitimate government. These are the things that we need to discuss.”

Ramzan Kadyrov, President of Chechnya, on the protection of sacred books from legal charges of extremism:

“Such a decision can be made only by the national leader, showing the same concern for the faithful of all religions, and enjoying the strong support of the entire multinational population of Russia.”

Andrey Kostin, Head of VTB, on loans to small and medium business in Russia:

“If today’s small and medium businesses are not in demand in the country, seeing that there is no level playing field for them – then what is the point of lending money to them? This will lead to an increase in bad debts. Where there is consumption, there is a demand – and there will be money, and if there is no consumption and demand – why fill the economy with cheap money?”

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny in response to Kostin’s statement:

“It would be good to have only Rosneft and VTB operate in Russia. Who the hell needs the others! Then it will be possible to conduct normal business, which is ‘in demand in the country’.”