Russian Media Roundup: Vladimir Putin’s speech at the Valdai Discussion Club, the U.S. presidential campaign and the UN’s refusal to include Russia in its Human Rights Council all made headlines last week.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during the Plenary Session during 13th Annual Meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi. Photo: RIA Novosti

President Vladimir Putin’s appearance at the annual discussion meeting of the Valdai Club attracted the most Russian media attention this week. At the event, domestic and foreign experts and politicians had an opportunity to exchange views on major international challenges and trends. In addition, Putin fielded questions from the audience.

Also, on Oct. 28, the UN General Assembly held a vote on membership in one of the most important organs of the UN – the Human Rights Council. The Council consists of 47 countries, elected by the General Assembly. Russia sought re-election to the new composition of the Human Rights Council, but the members of the General Assembly did not support the Russian bid, opting for Croatia and Hungary, who will represent Eastern Europe starting next year.

Meeting of the Valdai Club and Vladimir Putin’s speech

The key theme in the arguments of Putin concerned the future of the world and of Russia. Putin talked about the “frightening” future, about the need for dialogue and observance of the rules of the international order, as well as Russia’s desire to get out of the “vicious circle” of mutual accusations with the West, and with the United States in particular.

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The opposition Novaya Gazeta, in an article by Kirill Martynov, said that during the meeting, Putin spoke like a peacemaker, and not a hawk. Already familiar to many, the Russian leader’s image as a tough and uncompromising critic of the West fell by the wayside at the Valdai Club event – with the Kremlin, obviously, trying to move discourse onto a more constructive and peaceful course.

However, the “dovish” motives are simply a very successful camouflage and are holding back the “hawkish” impulses, says Martynov. For now, the possibilities of a confrontation have been exhausted. However, this does not mean that the “hawks” in the Russian elite will lose thier political clout in the future.

Quoting Russian experts, the business newspaperKommersant also argues that Putin’s rhetoric was more conciliatory. The Valdai event was held against the background of a deep crisis in international relations, shortly after the failure of negotiations over the war in Syria, and the lack of significant progress on the Ukrainian problem. Russia is committed to dialogue, but will never make concessions without reciprocity. According to analysts, this was the main message of the president. However, such a relatively constructive signal is unlikely to be heard in the West, and therefore, a thaw in relations is not expected any time soon.

The online newspaper Gazeta.ru does not agree with these evaluations: the experts interviewed by the publication consider the president’s speech almost a tradition. It is just a combination of criticism and a call for reconciliation, as well as the absence of any new proposals or initiatives on normalization. The Kremlin is well aware that there is no sense in negotiating about anything with the outgoing U.S. administration of President Barack Obama, and so is waiting to make concrete proposals and initiatives until it becomes clear who will occupy the White House.

Russia’s exclusion from the Human Rights Council of the UN

The pro-government newspaper Izvestia published an article by political scientist Anton Khashchenko, who believes that Western countries – especially the United States – were behind the campaign against Russia’s inclusion in the Human Rights Council. In recent weeks, criticism of Russia for its activities in Syria has been growing louder and louder, and a petition was created to block the participation of Russia in the Council. Although, formally the petition was not related to the interests of individual countries, in reality it was a “political order,” claims the pundit. The organizations disseminating the petition labeled Russia as the “aggressor” and led a campaign against it, because they receive their financing from the United States.

Moskovsky Komsomolets, quoting Russian experts, says that “naturally Russia was not elected.” In recent years, there have been too many events in which the West sees “the aggression of Moscow,” and this has made Western countries put pressure on their allies around the world, pushing for more restrictive measures against Russia. Even if some countries do not have anything against Russia and its operations in Syria, they are forced to go along in the wake of stronger allies such as the U.S. and EU member states.

The presidential race in the United States is heading into the final stretch

Russian media continues to be fascinated by the most unusual U.S. presidential race in modern history.The independentSlon wrote about a kind of “rebellion of the voters,” which is making the outcome of the campaign rather unpredictable. The current race has already gone down in history as one of the most “dirty and unprincipled,” and this shows that the American political party system is going through a serious crisis.

This atmosphere of a crisis and the spread of populism have led to voter unpredictability, something new for the American elites. Regardless of the election results, the winner will have to work on reforming the political environment, or the story of outsider populist candidates will be reborn once more four years from now.

Moskovsky Komsomolets also believes that predicting the results of the campaign is extremely difficult. The voters have become tired of both candidates and the disapproval ratings of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her Republican counterpart Donald Trump are phenomenally high. At the same time, public opinion polls are not providing a clear answer – some favor Clinton by a wide margin, others give her a marginal lead, while still others are placing Trump in the lead. American society has become tired of the electoral campaign, and the choice between “bad or worse” is annoying for the ordinary voter.

The online newspaper Gazeta.ru is confident in the victory of Clinton. According to the newspaper, Trump might lose even in the traditionally Republican states like Texas, Arizona and Utah. One of the key reasons for this is Trump’s radicalism, which has forced many prominent Republicans, and the political party in general, to refuse to support their candidate, without which it is difficult to fight on equal terms with the “seasoned” Clinton. Gazeta.ru also notes another feature of the current campaign – the press, while trying to appear as being neutral, is almost fully standing on the side of the Democratic candidate.

The Russian fleet in the Mediterranean Sea

A flotilla of the Russian Northern Fleet sailed through the northeastern part of the Atlantic Ocean and reached the Mediterranean Sea on Oct. 15. The flotilla includes the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, the heavy nuclear missile cruiser Peter the Great, the large anti-submarine ships Severomorsk and Vice-Admiral Kulakov, and several support vessels.

Also read: "Does Russia pose a naval threat for the West in Mediterranean?"

The main objective of the flotilla is to support Russian military operations in Syria. Tensions around the flotilla continue to grow, and the media last week discussed the motives behind sending these ships, and the response coming from Western countries, which have already started making their voices heard about what see as the aggressive behavior of Russia, as well as the Russian Navy.

The independent Slon emphasized that this is not the first flotilla of this fleet to sail into the Mediterranean, but in the past, there was no such negative criticism about its presence. The West could be misjudging the motives behind this action – this has nothing to do with “flexing muscles,” but instead, about a very understandable and pragmatic Russian interest, seeking to make maximum use of its participation in the operations in Syria and to assess own military capabilities.

Moscow is well aware that the Admiral Kuznetsov, which is being made fun of by some foreign media and people in the social networks, is both technologically and physically obsolete, but the operation in Syria makes it possible to use it in a real war, and to learn how to develop this category of the armed forces. This is the real purpose behind the sending of this flotilla to the Syrian coast.

The business newspaper Kommersant, quoting Russian analysts, explained that the reason behind the flotilla’s presence in the Mediterranean is training.

“The pilots of the aircraft carrier need to be trained, and Syria provides an opportunity to do this under real combat conditions,” say the newspaper’s experts.

In addition, participation in the Syrian campaign by a flotilla of the Northern Fleet can be seen as a publicity stunt – aimed at demonstrating certain types of weapons to potential buyers of products manufactured by the Russian defense industry.

Expert comment of the week
Daniil Parenkov, political scientist and expert at the Center for Current Policy, on Vladimir Putin’s speech at the Valdai Club:

The speech [by Putin] had much in common with that of the previous year. The Kremlin is disappointed in the positions of the Western elites, including on the issue of Syria. From talking about specific problems, Russia has once again come back to discussions about the general contours of international relations, and debating the establishment of universal and stable rules of the game.

At the same time, Putin emphasized that Russia has not given up looking for possible areas for cooperation and dialogue. In particular, he turned again to the theme of a “Marshall Plan” for the Middle East.

A certain pessimism in the description of the policy trends of Western partners and attention to the topic of the U.S. election, shows that Russian authorities have retained a cautious optimism when it comes to the opening of new possibilities for the normalization of relations, which will only come after the change of administration in the White House.