Russia Direct presents a media roundup covering Eastern economic forum in Vladivostok, Russia’s potential involvement in the fight against Islamic State and Refugee problem in Europe.


A vigil in support of the refugees crisis abroad as some hundreds of people gathered at Belfast city hall, Northern Ireland, Monday, Sept. 7, 2015. Vigils were held across many city's in Ireland for the 'Humanitarian tragedy', following Belfast's vigil a special meeting of the council, was held. Photo: AP

Russian media focused on international affairs last week, with coverage of the refugee crisis unfolding in Europe and Russia’s potential involvement in the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS).

The press also covered the economic forum in the eastern city of Vladivostok, praising the format of the conference but rapping planners for mismanagement of the event. Reporters also covered anti-government protests in Moldova and the Beijing military parade held  to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Refugee problem in Europe

Last week, all major publications in Russia covered the worsening refugee crisis in Europe.

Pro-governmental Channel One reported that EU border countries are being overwhelmed, describing chaos and confusion. The channel showed terrible living conditions for refugees and how the immigration services of such countries as Hungary or Serbia (which have become staging posts for refugees on the way to Germany and Austria) have been unable to cope with the huge numbers of people.

Business newspaper Vedomosti observed that Russia could be of greater assistance to its European partners in accommodating the refugees. So far, Russia has not involved itself in these issues, partly due to a belief that the issue of Middle Eastern migrants is unlikely to affect Russia but also due to its clumsy and slow migration service.

The independent Slon wrote that Russian propaganda is exaggerating the problems with refugees to distract attention from difficulties in Russia and to focus on the West’s failures and weaknesses.

Russian troops in Syria

Rumors about Russian contingents participating in Syrian military operations have been circulating for months in spite official Russian denials. Last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said publicly that an increase in Russian military personnel and equipment in the region could lead to further escalation of the conflict.

The Russian press reacted ambivalently. Kirill Martynov, one of the authors of the opposition Novaya Gazeta argues that Russia does intend to execute a significant intervention in the Syrian conflict, forcing the West to step away back from the Ukrainian crisis and from the problem of sanctions in return for Russian pursuing operations against the ISIS. The author suggested Putin will bring such an idea to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 15.

Alexei Melnikov, a blogger for Ekho Moskvy radio station, expressed his indignation about the possible presence of Russian forces in Syria. The website said this could only be permitted by a political system that is rotten to the core, in which all important decisions for the country are made single-handedly and in secret, and society is afraid to express its discontent.

Business paper Kommersant interviewed experts with opposing opinions on this subject: Some said they are certain Russian operatives are already in Syria, while others said they think Russia’s involvement has been blown out of proportion, and may amount to little more than the presence of Russian military advisers and trainers in the Syrian army.

Beijing Parade

On September 3rd, a large military parade was held in Beijing to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Numerous governmental heads were  present at the parade, including Russian President Putin.

Opposition paper Novaya Gazeta wrote that the magnificent military parade and demonstration of modern weaponry was aimed at consolidating society in the context of the worsening economic situation in China.

Pro-governmental Channel One points to the absence of leaders from western countries at the parade, including the U.S. The publication thinks that this is a sign of a lack of respect, while simultaneously calling Putin a “most honored guest”, whose visit reflects the growing relationship between Russia and China.

Business daily Kommersant analyzed the decision by the Chinese leadership, made at the time of the parade, to reduce the army’s headcount by 300,000. The newspaper observed that it fits in with the reform program of the People’s Liberation Army, which is aimed at modernizing and bringing it into line with contemporary challenges.

Unrest in Moldova

On Sept. 6 protests broke out against the government of Moldova. The protesters, whom different estimates put at between 25,000 to 100,000, demanded snap elections.

Independent Slon reported the arrest of several leading members of the opposition, including the leader of the party Nash-Dom – Moldova. The publication observed that the protesters are unhappy about government corruption and demanding euro-integration.

Business daily Kommersant wrote about the background to events on the central square in Chișinău: Both the opposition and the government have been preparing for the protest since the beginning of August. The leadership of the country and the city made several attempts to prevent the crisis (rejecting a price increase for electricity and gas, conducting an information campaign, etc), without results.

Tabloid Moskovsky Komsomolets wrote that the protesters are divided into two groups. One, under the slogan “Dignity and truth,” is the government’s resignation. The other block, which is being led by Nash Dom – Moldova, is demanding the resignation of the general attorney. The newspaper also noted other political factions, including supporters of the country’s accession to Romania.

Eastern economic forum in Vladivostok

Last week the Eastern Economic Forum took place in Vladivostok. The forum brought together businessmen, investors and politicians — primarily from the Asia-Pacific region — interested in developing Russia’s Far East.

Populist Moscovsky Komsomolets wrote that the forum’s unique format brought together a wide variety of interested parties, but noted the event was plagued by organizational shortcomings. The tabloid observed that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most important announcement at the forum (concerning Russia’s talks with Western countries over its potential involvement in a campaign against Islamic State in Syria) was irrelevant to the Far East.

Business daily Vedomosti was angered by the forum’s poor organization, pointing to failures in accommodating delegations, logistics, journalists’ accreditation, and so on down to the absence of name badges for participants. Meanwhile, Official Rossiyskaya Gazeta observed that the format has great potential, and that its participants outlined ambitious plans.

Quotes of the week:

Russian President Vladimir Putin on the possible involvement of Russian forces in the Syrian conflict: “We see what is taking place at the moment: American aviation is striking certain targets. So far the airstrikes have not been highly effective. But to say that we are ready to [join forces] today is, as yet, premature."

U.S. Department of State on the rumors about Russia's military build-up in Syria: "The secretary made clear that if such reports were accurate, these actions could further escalate the conflict, lead to greater loss of innocent life, increase refugee flows and risk confrontation with the anti-ISIL coalition operating in Syria."

Maria Zakharova, official representative of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the refugee crisis: “What you are seeing in Europe today are the repercussions or even direct results of the “illness” which the entire world needed to begin healing several years ago.”

UK Prime Minister David Cameron about the refugee crisis: "This is clearly the biggest challenge facing countries in Europe today. We have already provided sanctuary to more than 5,000 Syrian refugees in Britain… but given the scale of the crisis and suffering of the Syrian people it is right we do much more. In doing so, we will continue to show the world that this country is a country of extraordinary compassion, always standing up for our values and helping those in need."