Media Roundup: Putin’s Direct Line, a controversial dance performance in Orenburg and the resumption of the S-300 Iranian missile deal made headlines last week.
The staff of the call center receive and process questions and messages for the annual live broadcast of Russian President Vladimir Putin's "Direct Line." Photo: RIA Novosti
The main newsmaker of the week was Russian President Vladimir Putin, who once again via his “Direct Line” call-in show, answered questions posed by the people of Russia. In addition, the Russian Foreign Ministry attracted media attention when it announced that it saw no obstacles in supplying Iran with Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems.
This time, the Russian president’s question and answer show was anticipated more than ever before, with a new record set for the number of questions posed to the president (in total, the head of state received more than three million questions). In the difficult domestic and foreign policy conditions that the country finds itself in, people were expecting definitive answers from the president.
However, as the media noted, the president did not meet these expectations. The business daily Kommersant noted that this time the President was unusually “cold” and sometimes even “obviously bored.”
Kirill Martynov, from the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, believes that the live broadcast showed a switch in focus by the Kremlin, from external to domestic policy. Ukraine, “Ukrainian fascism,” and relations with the West retreated to the background of economic and social problems in the country, according to the journalist.
The business publication Vedomosti interviewed a number of experts, who concluded that the restraint showed by the President, and the absence of his customary jokes and stories pulled from his life experiences is the result of the not quite favorable current political situation in the country.
In 2010, Russia, in joining the sanctions against Iran, had not fulfilled its obligations to supply the S-300 defensive missile systems. Russian media started asking questions about what had led to this change of policy, and what the consequences may be of such a decision.
Moskovsky Komsomolets reminds its readers that Russia’s reputation as a supplier of arms suffered considerably after the suspension of this contract, and now Russia is trying very hard to re-engage the Iranian leadership on this issue, given the new realities.
The pro-government Rossiyskaya Gazeta explains economic interests to be behind the decision of the Russian leadership, as well as the significant progress in negotiations achieved by the “P5+1” on Iran’s nuclear program.
The business media outlet Vedomosti talked about the “hidden targets” of the Russian decision, noting that the main player to whom the Kremlin was sending a message is Saudi Arabia, which is Tehran’s main rival in regional politics.
3. Dance of the bees
It seems that not a week goes by in Russia without some scandal in the artistic and creative circles. Not too long ago, there was the scandalous statement made by the performance of Wagner’s Tannhäuser opera in Novosibirsk, and this week all the attention was focused on the performance of students at a dance academy in Orenburg.
The “Dance of the Bees,” in which teenage girls performed highly suggestive dance moves on stage, caused a wave of discussions, for which journalists even learned a new word - “twerking.”
Opinions were divided: some believe that this twerking on stage of the Orenburg school is a mockery of morality and a dishonor of today’s youth, while others reacted to this event with irony.
To the first group belongs the official Rossiyskaya Gazeta, which published comments of the ultraconservative politician Vitaly Milonov condemning this choreography, and calling for tighter control over institutions of higher education.
The opposition TV Channel Dozhd also had a negative assessment of the performance, quoting a well-known choreographer Yevgeny Papunaishvili, who noted that in this case, it is “fully unacceptable,” and that he had a “very big question for the choreographer.”
“The play ‘Winnie the Pooh and the Bees’ performed in January is more business-like and gymnastic in nature, and no more sexual than a Pioneer acrobatic performance of ‘Death to World Imperialism’,” notes with irony the author of Kommersant.
4. Murders of opposition figures in Ukraine
Russian media outlets have reacted harshly to the series of political assassinations in Ukraine. This week, several opposition figures were killed (both politicians and journalists), including Oleg Kalashnikov, Olesya Buzin and Sergey Sukhobokov. All these people were prominent figures in Ukrainian politics, who, in recent years, clearly made their views known that they disagreed with the official line of Kiev.
Echo of Moscow draws parallels with the murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, and expresses indignation at how sluggishly European and American media, as well as politicians, reacted to the high-profile murders.
The pro-government “Channel 1” condemned the killings, noting in particular that all the dead had sharply criticized the activities of Kiev, and that it is very likely the threat of a similar demise looms over other opposition figures.
Moskovsky Komsomolets wrote about other political murders in Ukraine in recent years, including a series of “suicides” by politicians from the Party of Regions, headed by former President Viktor Yanukovych.
5. Agenda for the Russian opposition
Last week, the conference “Election 2015-2016: An Agenda for the Opposition” brought together representatives of the Russian opposition forces to discuss and possibly coordinate their actions in the upcoming elections (both federal and regional).
The business media outlet Vedomosti noted that one of the central themes of the conference was the strikingly high approval rating (about 86 percent) of the incumbent president. In such circumstances, the newspaper notes, the opposition will have a hard time winning votes.
The opposition Novaya Gazeta writes about the merger of the parties RPR-Parnas and the Progress Party of Alexey Navalny for joint actions in the elections. The newspaper notes that not everyone believes in the success of the combined forces, because many times in modern history, the general goals of the Russian opposition faded when coming face to face with the ambitions of individual leaders.
Quotes of the week
Kirill Martynov, Novaya Gazeta, on the Direct Line with Putin: “The Direct Line was conceived at one time as an element of television democracy, and to strengthen the legitimacy of a young, modern president, a partner of the U.S. in an antiterrorist coalition. By 2015, the thirteenth Direct Line has become a ritual and even, perhaps, a session in collective psychotherapy. The president, in good physical condition, is shown to the people. Seeing their leader seemingly confident, joking, one finds the soul somehow growing more peaceful.”
Sergey Zaporozhye, blogger at the Echo of Moscow, on the Direct Line with Putin: “The communications between Vladimir Putin and the Russian people leaves one with the impression that the President of the Russian Federation is living in some other country, but who sometimes comes to visit Russia.”
Sergey Lavrov on the delivery of the S-300 missiles: “We could not ignore the commercial and reputational aspect. As a result of the suspension of the contract, Russia has not received the large sums that were owed to it.”
Ivan Davydov, of Slon, on the Dance of the Bees: “The essence of the scandal is not in the desecration of the memory of the heroic Winnie the Pooh, and not in the fact that among the dancers were minors (by the way, it still is not clear, if the dancing girls were under sixteen years of age). It is just the fact that the Orenburg beauties had shown that the shaking of foundations could look very attractive. For this, of course, they should be punished.”
Oleg Lurie, Echo of Moscow, on the murders in Kiev: “Not one statement from Western politicians, public figures and human rights activists. Silent are Biden and Nuland, as well as Hollande and Mogherini. Not one article or blog post by Russian liberals and ‘human rights activists’. None of them talked about the need for, say, picketing the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow, or any other actions in support of the Ukrainian opposition, which is daily and methodically being killed off. Silent as mice are Navalny and Khodorkovsky, and Shenderovich and Sobchak and Venediktov. But oh, how loud was the public outcry, from Obama to Sobchak, when Nemtsov was killed. They were ever so quick in condemning that as a crime of ‘Putin’s Regime.’ Instantly – on that same day.”