Media roundup: the Russian media last week was focused on three key events –  the visit of French parliamentarians to Crimea, updating of Russia’s naval doctrineand the MacArthur Foundation’s withdrawal from Russia.

Thierry Mariani (right), Member of the National Assembly and Co-Chair of the Association Dialogue Franco-Russe, and a delegation of French MPs tour the Museum of Sevastopol's Heroic Defense and Liberation  the Defense of Sevastopol Panorama. Left: Vladimir Konstantinov, Speaker of the State Council of the Republic of Crimea. Photo: RIA Novosti

Last week, the Russian media focused on three key events – the visit of French parliamentarians to Crimea, the updating of Russia’s naval doctrine, and the MacArthur Foundation’s withdrawal from Russia. In addition, the Russian media also covered a Russian billionaire’s endeavor to invest $100 million in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence in the universe.

French parliamentarians in Crimea

Last week’s visit of French right wing parliamentarians to Crimea was met with controversy in France and the world. For example, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that he was “shocked” by this trip, because it violates international law and it can be used as a tool of propaganda to justify Russia’s claims to Crimea.

Likewise, Russian media responded to this event with a great deal of support and enthusiasm. The opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta echoes Fabius. The newspaper writes that those who supported Crimea’s incorporation into Russia have already used the trip of the French parliamentarians as a propaganda tool.

For example, the newspaper quotes Alexei Pushkov, the head of the Russian State Duma Committee on Foreign Affairs, who was quick to describe this visit as a “breakthrough,” which  for the first time since Crimea’s accession to Russia  brought an official delegation from Europe. But this visit was not official, argues the newspaper, which furthermore accused the Kremlin official of spreading propaganda.

Meanwhile, Russian independent business daily Vedomosti quotes both Russian and French parliamentarians who agree that Russia and Europe should restore ties and external links, while shying away from sanctions and an information war. At the same time, the newspaper warns that the visit of French officials to Crimea might send a signal to other European delegations to visit Crimea.  

Kommersant Daily interviews the French parliamentarians who paid the visit to Crimea. According to the newspaper, the trip to Crimea produced a very positive impression on the French politicians, who changed their minds about Crimea after the visit.

At the same time, the newspaper points to the price that they paid for such visit: Ukraine is going to impose sanctions on the parliamentarians and will forbid them from visiting Ukraine.

Also read: "What's next for Russia and the Mistrals? 

Russia’s new naval doctrine

On July 26, the day when Russian Navy Day is officially observed, President Vladimir Putin signed new amendments to Russia’s naval doctrine in an attempt to adjust to the new geopolitical situation. According to the Kremlin, NATO expansion to Eastern Europe, Crimea’s incorporation into Russia and increased interest in the Northern Sea Route account for the necessity to amend the doctrine.

Russia media responded to this event immediately. Kommersant analyzes the doctrine in detail and explains why the Kremlin adopted new amendments to it. It explains that the doctrine describes four strategic fields – military-naval activity, naval transportation, naval science and natural resources exploration – and six regions – the Atlantic, the Arctic, the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, the Caspian Region and the Antarctic. At the same time, the newspaper gives voice to Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who sees the updated doctrine as an attempt to strengthen Russia’s naval positions in the world.   

Russia’s popular daily Moskovskiy Komsomolets provides extensive coverage from the celebrations of the Russian Navy Day in the city of Baltiysk in the Kaliningrad Region and pegs this event to the adoption of the amendments to Russia’s Naval Doctrine.

Meanwhile, Russian pro-government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta pays attention to the Kremlin’s intention to improve the Russian Navy’s potential in Crimea, strengthen it in the Mediterranean Region and defend its national interests in the Arctic.

MacArthur President Julia Stasch: "The recent passage and implementation of several laws in Russia make it all but impossible for international foundations to operate effectively and support worthy civil society organizations in that country." Photo: The MacArthur Foundation

The MacArthur Foundation leaves Russia

Amidst the search for foreign agents and fears of espionage, the MacArthur Foundation, the prominent NGO that supports research, civil society and security in the world, decided to leave Russia in response to the adoption of the “patriotic stop list” that included this organization.

Vedomosti quoted the official statement of the MacArthur Foundation that expressed its disappointment with the patriotic stop list, pointed out the independent nature of its activity and stressed that it hasn’t been involved in any political activity and didn’t receive any financing from U.S. authorities.  At the same time, the newspaper described in detail the rich and important contribution that the Foundation made to foster Russia’s science, research, civil society, human rights and security.

Meanwhile, some media, including the pro-government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta and the opposition Novaya Gazeta, just quoted the Kremlin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, who refused to comment on the closure of the MacArthur Foundation in Russia and said that it is not included in the Kremlin’s agenda.   

RBC Daily, an independent business media outlet, quoted the author of the stop list, Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the Committee on International Affairs at Russia’s Federation Council, who seemed to be happy about news of the MacArthur Foundation’s withdrawal, because he “hit the nail on the head.” According to him, the fact that Foundation decided to leave Russia after the announcement of the stop list without even attempting to defend its position, indicates that it “directly or indirectly” admits the questions and accusations addressed to the Foundation.

Also read: "Understanding the context of the Kremlin's post-Crimean ideology"

Russian oligarch’s investment in the search for extraterrestrial civilizations

Last week, a London-based Russian oligarch, Yuri Milner, announced his plans to invest $100 million in the search for extraterrestrial civilizations. Together with prominent cosmologist and physicist Stephen Hawking, he presented his project "Breakthrough Listen" to the UK’s Royal Society. The goal of the project is to find extraterrestrial civilizations through establishing and updating expensive equipment and technologies to receive and interpret possible signals from space.   

Many Russian media responded to this event with enthusiasm. For example, Karen Shainyan, the Chief Editor of Slon, an independent online outlet, welcomes Milner’s endeavor and points out the importance of such initiatives. Although some would see such an investment as a waste of money, in the long run, such a project will have big payoffs. “For those people who invest in such projects, the future has already come,” Shainyan writes.

Vedomosti describes the project in detail, give some background about previous attempts to find extraterrestrial civilizations and, finally, gives voice to one of the coordinators of "Breakthrough Listen", Geoffrey Marcy, professor of Astronomy at University of California, Berkeley. He also pins hopes on the endeavor and is going to dedicate the rest of his life to the search for aliens.

Novaya Gazeta’s columnist Yulia Latynina greets Milner’s project with optimism as well. According to her, it will generate good publicity for science and spread awareness about the necessity to invest in more important long-term projects. “One of the most important things that Milner does, from my point of view, is returning the status of celebrity to science,” she wrote.

Quotes of the week:

The official statement of the MacArthur Foundation about its withdrawal from Russia: “These laws, public statements by Russian legislators, and the vote by the Federation Council to include MacArthur on a ‘patriotic stop-list’ of organizations recommended for designation as ‘undesirable’ make it clear that the Russian government regards MacArthur’s continued presence as unwelcome.” 

Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Switzerland-based Russian exile and former oligarch, about Putin’s next presidential bid: “Putin is assumed to participate in the [presidential] elections and win, because any other scenario in their perception [those who sit in the Kremlin] will lead to a tribunal… It seems to me that the most likely scenario is exactly the victory of Putin in the 2018 election and in a year he will step down.”  

President Vladimir Putin about Russia’s new naval doctrine:  “For us, the status of a great naval power is a big responsibility both for our ancestors, who created the fame of Russia, and for future generations, whom we should bequeath a strong and modern navy.”