Media roundup: The Russian media focused on the government’s revamped efforts to destroy sanctioned food products and the Kremlin’s new proposal to fight ISIS insurgents.

Muslim worshipers attend Friday prayers in a mosque in the central Syrian town of Qaryatain. Hundreds of families fled the Christian town of Sadad as Islamic State militants captured Qaryatain on Thursday, August 6. Photo: Rased News Network, a Facebook page affiliated with Islamic State militants via AP

The Russian media paid particular attention to Russia’s proposed creation of a coalition with Syria, Iraq, and the Kurds to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). In addition, the media focused on the Russian government’s order to destroy sanction-prohibited food products being smuggled into Russia from the EU and the U.S., in particular, cheeses, fruits and meats.

Among the topics discussed by Russian journalists are also the 7th anniversary of the Russian-Georgian conflict in 2008, questioning of the father of Mikhail Khodorkovsky as well as a televised national debate among the ten leading presidential candidates from the Republican Party in the U.S.

Russia’s proposed coalition against ISIS

The initiative of the Russian president to fight ISIS was announced by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Qatar on August 3. The plan calls for the creation of a broad coalition of forces to fight ISIS in Syria, which at the same time will avoid a direct U.S. military intervention in the affairs of Syria.

Moskovsky Komsomolets writes about this initiative, noting the rather unconstructive stance of the Americans (who are planning to use airstrikes to fight ISIS in Syria), as well as other difficulties in the path of creating a coalition, in particular, the need for a mandate from the UN.

The opposition Novaya Gazeta thinks the idea is not bad in general, but it is hopelessly late and already useless. Internal contradictions will hamper the success of any undertaken operations, and more importantly, allies in this coalition cannot be relied upon (especially the Iraqi Army).

The business newspaper Kommersant noted Lavrov’s call to “abandon double standards” and launch joint operations against the terrorists. The publication wrote that, within the framework of the war against terrorism, of fundamental importance for Russia is providing active support to the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

The destruction of sanctioned food products

News about the destruction of such a large amount of smuggled food created serious controversy, with many Russian journalists believing it was wrong to throw out tons of fresh products, especially given the current difficult economic situation in Russia.

The opposition-minded Novaya Gazeta believes that the Russian leadership is inadvertently taking steps to erode its public support, since a large segment of the poor in Russia simply will not condone the destruction of products that they cannot even afford to buy. The business newspaper Kommersant published an interview with journalist Andrey Bilzho, who condemned the destruction of these products, calling it a “crazy” and “dastardly” act.

The pro-government Rossiyskaya Gazeta explains that the Russian government’s decision was based on the desire to protect citizens from substandard products, the origins of which are unknown. Referring to Rospotrebnadzor (Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Well-Being), the publication reports that in accordance Russian legislation, this is the only possible scenario, and the products that were destroyed could not be transferred to the public or put into circulation. 

From left in the foregound: Russian Prime Minister Medvedev, Head of Mordovia Vladimir Volkov, Presidential Envoy to the Southern Federal District Vladimir Ustinov tour a display of the 1st Russian Food Security Forum in Rostov-on-Don. Photo: RIA Novosti

Anniversary of the Russian-Georgian conflict in 2008

August 8 marked the seventh anniversary of the beginning of the armed conflict between Georgia and Russia. The independent Slon simultaneously released two major articles on this topic.

On the one hand, analysts of this publication point to Russia’s desire to expand the boundaries of present-day South Ossetia through the use of provocations and tricks (as was the case in late July of this year, when the existing demarcation lines were simply shifted). This is connected not only with the need to protect the territory in case of conflict, but also attempts by Russia to control significant energy routes passing through the Caucasus.

On the other hand, Slon compares the actions of the Georgian authorities in 2008 and those of the Russian authorities in Eastern Ukraine in 2014. The publication notes the similarity in the justifications, and notes that Moscow is unlikely to forget who started the war (former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili). This further complicates the situation, because today the same man holds a high position in Ukraine, namely that of Governor of the Odessa oblast.

The opposition Novaya Gazeta wrote that the claim of “peace enforcement” is untenable, insisting that provocations came from the Russian side. The newspaper emphasizes that the war with Georgia was the beginning of the transformation of Russia into a rogue state, and that even back then, it was necessary to draw conclusions about the possibility of Western pressure being applied against Russia.

The pro-government Rossiyskaya Gazeta tells the story of the mourning ceremonies in Tskhinvali, and recalls the role of Russia in the conflict, the participation of Russian peacekeepers, and the operation to “enforce peace” on Georgia.

Georgian soldiers stand with national flags during a memorial ceremony honoring soldiers killed in last August's war with Russia, in Tbilisi, Georgia. Photo: AP

Questioning of the father of Mikhail Khodorkovsky

On August 5, the Investigative Committee of Russia summoned the father of Mikhail Khodorkovsky – Boris Khodorkovsky – for questioning in the case involving the murder of the mayor of Nefteyugansk in 1998. This means that the investigation into the sensational 1990s murder has officially been reopened.

The business publication Vedomosti pointed to the absence of any connections between Boris Khodorkovsky and this case, and considers that this summons for questioning is an attempt to put pressure on Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is increasingly making public his future political plans.

The website of the Echo of Moscow radio station also noted the desire of the Russian authorities to put pressure on Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was pardoned by President Putin last year, precisely on the condition of his complete withdrawal from political life.

The opposition Novaya Gazeta expressed outrage at the summoning of the 82-year-old Boris Khodorkovsky, who by his very age, cannot possibly have anything to do with the murder of the mayor of Nefteyugansk.

The publication also suggests that, in addition to attempts to put pressure on Khodorkovsky by the activities of the Investigative Committee of Russia, there is the desire to create the appearance of doing some actual work. It is worth noting that the pro-government media (Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Channel One) ignored this topic.

Former imprisoned Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky listens to a question after he delivered a speech to students at the Polytechnic University in Kiev, Ukraine, Monday, March 10, 2014. Photo: AP

The American presidential debate

A televised national debate among the ten leading presidential candidates from the Republican Party in the United States drew the attention of Russian journalists. Participating in the prime time debate were billionaire Donald Trump, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Governor of Wisconsin Scott Walker, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, neurosurgeon Ben Carson, U.S. Senator for Texas Ted Cruz, U.S. Senator for Florida Marco Rubio, U.S. Senator for Kentucky Rand Paul, Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie and the Governor of Ohio, John Kasich.

The business newspaper Kommersant examined the pre-election statements, noting an increased attention of the candidates to foreign policy issues. The publication, in particular, noted the striking uniformity of the candidates on issues such as Ukraine, Iran, and Russia – the participants were in favor of providing greater assistance to Ukraine and supplying arms to that country, as well as denouncing the deal with Iran and saying that Russia represented a threat.

The website of the Echo of Moscow radio station, on the contrary, believes that foreign policy has been given much less attention than domestic policy. The publication notes the high popularity enjoyed by billionaire Donald Trump, which has been surprising for many.

Moskovsky Komsomolets discussed Trump’s “political incorrectness,” as well as his success, which threatens the already shaky Republican unity. In general, the newspaper wrote the debate was “disappointing” and only demonstrated the lack of respect the candidates had for each other.

Quotes of the week:

Alexey Alekseenko, deputy head of Rosselkhoznadzor, on the destruction of sanctioned food products:

“These are goods that were produced by unknown people and under unknown conditions. That is, these were products of unknown origin. Thus, we do not know what risks they pose to the population. Some, out of the goodness of their hearts, say that we should send such products to orphanages. All we can say here is that, these people have a certain lack of understanding when it comes to the issue of food safety.”

Opposition leader Alexey Navalny on the destruction of food:

“What is particularly enraging is the idea that, ‘if this food is not destroyed, but distributed to orphanages, social security institutions and barracks, then all of it will end up on the black market, or used in other corrupt schemes.’ Thus, you recognize your government system as being unfit, and corruption exists, and it is impossible to give a ton of sausages to an official of the United Russia Party, and he not stealing half of it, and then selling it on the market at half its real price. Why do we need such a government at all?”

Sergey Lavrov on the initiative concerning ISIS:

“All were interested in the initiative of our president. It involves the formation of a coalition of those people who are already fighting on the ground and for whom ISIS is unacceptable. Instead of trying to settle some accounts with each other now, all must first come to terms with a common threat, and then afterwards, start negotiations on how to live together in the same home country.”

The lawyer of Boris Khodorkovsky on the issue of Khodorkovsky being called in for questioning:

“The Investigative Committee needs to be doing something, and all these activities that are taking place are designed to put pressure on the family and the people closest to Mikhail Khodorkovsky. This is clear, given that they have summoned for questioning an elderly man one day after the one-year anniversary of the death of his wife.”