Media Roundup: Last week, the Russian media focused on the highly anticipated speech of Russian President Vladimir Putin at the UN and his meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama.

President Barack Obama and Russian President President Vladimir Putin greet each other during a luncheon, Monday, Sept. 28, 2015, at United Nations headquarters. Photo: AP

The 70th anniversary session of the UN General Assembly in New York was the focal point of the Russian media, which sought to determine the possible implications of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s New York visit for Russia’s relationship with the West. A new controversy over Russian planes being banned from Ukrainian airspace also made headlines, as did the opening of a large mosque in Moscow.

The upcoming meeting between Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama

Last week it was reported that Putin and his American counterpart Barack Obama would indeed meet on the sidelines of the 70th anniversary session of the UN General Assembly. Syria is set to dominate the agenda of the meeting.

Business daily Vedomosti believes that Russia has finally managed to supplant the “Ukraine question” from the agenda of top-level gatherings. However, the newspaper is less confident that the country will be able to build on that achievement. Citing top Russian expert Fyodor Lukyanov, Vedomosti points to the deadlocked negotiations on Ukraine, yet highlights the prospect of finding common ground on Syria.

Opposition Novaya Gazeta bills the meeting as nothing less than a Cold War-like encounter, and believes that the fate of the world depends on Russia and the United States seeing eye to eye. The paper believes that the meeting is more important for Russia, but both sides could gain, particularly if the bilateral tension can be reduced to at least the level of mid-2014.

Pro-government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta refutes Washington’s assertions that it was Putin who initiated the meeting. The paper writes that the idea came from the United States, and that the statements by U.S. State Department officials were in breach of diplomatic etiquette. It also notes that Syria – not Ukraine - will be the central topic of the meeting.

Vladimir Putin’s speech at the UN

On Sept. 28 Vladimir Putin addressed the UN General Assembly. However, the media has been postulating about what the Russian leader will say for more than a month. But last week the speculation went into overdrive.

Business daily Kommersant analyzes Putin’s interview with U.S. journalist Charlie Rose for the news program “60 Minutes” in the run-up to the UN session. Putin hinted that his speech would touch upon the future of the United Nations, Russia’s vision of international relations and the fight against radicalism in the Middle East. The publication is in no doubt that the focus will be on Syria and the Middle East.

Echo of Moscow editor-in-chief Alexei Venediktov believes that Putin uses his UN address to try to reverse the trend in Russia-West relations. As Venediktov predicted, the Russian leader, indeed, focused on the challenges that can to unite Russia and the West. However, it remains to be seen whether the West succumbs to Russia’s entreaties and agrees to mount a joint response to the new challenges.

Moskovsky Komsomolets links France’s recent engagement in Syria with Putin’s forthcoming speech. The publication says that the West is trying to prevent Russia from taking the counter-terror initiative in Syria, and is therefore upping its efforts in the region [On Sept. 26 the French Air Force carried out air strikes against the positions of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS) – Editor’s note].

The opening of a new mosque in Moscow

On Sept. 23, after a decade of reconstruction, Moscow saw the reopening of its — and Europe’s — largest mosque. The ceremony was attended by Russian Muslim spiritual leaders and the heads of Russia’s predominantly Muslim regions (Chechnya, Tatarstan, Dagestan, Ingushetia), as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin and foreign guests, most notably Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the leader of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas.

Russian media also actively discussed the problematic situation of Islam in Russia, and the significance of opening such a major religious center in the very heart of Moscow.

Vedomosti noted that Moscow is home to around 2 million Muslims, and the opening of the renovated congregational mosque is the best way to eradicate extremist ideas among them. Mosques help spread traditional Islam, unlike preachers of radical interpretations.

The paper asserts that, in the fight between “good” and “bad” Islam, the Russian leadership is right to support the former, in which regard the Kremlin intends to pursue such policy not only domestically, but also abroad, most notably in Syria.

Russian radio station Echo of Moscow considers the grand opening involving senior officials and major foreign policy makers to be an excellent strategic move. One of the station’s bloggers writes that the government is trying to align the “religious balance,” since the “Orthodox discourse” has intensified of late, as have the activities of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Russian society must take into account the interests of religious minorities, because the stability of the country largely depends on them, underlines the author.

Ukraine closes its airspace to Russian aircraft

On Sept. 25 Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk announced that Ukraine was planning to close its airspace to Russian military and passenger aircraft.

The ban affects 25 Russian airlines, including the country’s largest carriers — Aeroflot and Transaero. Planes carrying passengers or cargo will be fully or partially prohibited from traversing Ukrainian airspace. The ban will take effect on Oct. 25. Russian authorities have already described it as an “act of insanity.”

Russian tabloid Moskovsky Komsomolets believes that the decision will impact Ukrainian citizens most of all, since, according to the publication, 70 percent of passengers served by Russian and Ukrainian companies between the two countries are Ukrainians. The paper also foresees tit-for-tat sanctions on the part of Russia, which would be an enormous inconvenience for citizens of both countries.

Independent media publication Slon believes that the decision stems from Kiev’s desire to finally take the offensive in the “hybrid” Russian-Ukrainian war. Moreover, the publication notes that Ukraine was held back for too long by economic considerations, which were in any case ruined by the war and are now less of a factor. This means the Ukrainian leadership can embark on such a major step.

Novaya Gazeta tallies up the losses faced by Russian and Ukrainian airlines. If Russia introduces counter-sanctions, Ukraine’s largest airline, Ukraine International Airlines, would lose around $35 million a year, while Aeroflot and Transaero’s losses would be many times higher. The paper states that ordinary passengers will suffer too, since the Moscow-Kiev route, despite everything, remains the focus of all of Russia’s largest carriers.

Xi Jinping’s visit to the United States

Sept. 22 saw Xi Jinping’s first state visit to the United States. The meeting between the leaders of the two countries resulted in considerable interest in Russian media.

Kommersant remarked that China-U.S. relations are not in the best shape. There are bones of contention on both sides, which are complicating bilateral cooperation. Citing Russian experts, the paper foresees a further deterioration of relations, although it believes that in the short term Xi Jinping’s visit will help reduce the tension and channel joint efforts into more productive areas.

Vedomosti also writes about the many antagonisms between China and the United States, which are unlikely to go away any time soon. However, the paper sees Xi’s visit as an opportunity to bring bilateral relations back from the brink of open conflict, especially in the area of trade. U.S. corporations deserve the credit for that, according to the paper’s analysis.

Rossiyskaya Gazeta believes that the visit is of greater interest to China than the United States. Against the background of declining economic growth and potential conflict between the two countries, China’s leadership is seeking to improve relations with its main trading partner. The paper likewise notes the important role of U.S. corporations in this process, suggesting that Xi Jinping’s intention is to enlist their lobbying support.

Quotes of the week:

Vladimir Putin at the opening of the mosque in Moscow: “We see what is happening in the Middle East, where terrorists from the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) are blackening the name of the great world religion of Islam, sowing fear and hate, killing people, including clerics, and barbarously obliterating monuments of world culture.”

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk on flights by Russian airlines: “Russian planes bearing the Russian tricolor have no reason to be at Ukrainian airports!”

Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for the Russian president, on the closure of Ukrainian airspace to Russian aircraft: “One thing is for sure: the termination of flights between Russia and Ukraine would be another act of insanity.”

Andrei Kortunov, head of the Russian International Affairs Council, on the forthcoming meeting between Putin and Obama: “The meeting will dampen the negative rhetoric and start the process of restoring Russian-U.S. contacts. That in itself would be a great achievement.”

Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, on France’s military strikes: “The link between French activity in Syria, Russia’s build-up of forces there, and Vladimir Putin’s address to the UN General Assembly is clear to see. Russia’s decisive action in Syria has stymied the other players. I think the air strikes against IS are a demonstration of French political ambition. Paris cannot allow itself to be upstaged not only by Washington and allies, but also by Moscow.”