Media roundup: Nationwide elections in 83 of the 85 regions of Russia made headlines this week, as did new signs that Europe was attempting to broker a peace deal for Ukraine.

Ballot counting at a polling station in the Omsk region on Sept. 13, 2015. Photo: RIA Novosti

Elections in Russia, another round of the Minsk talks in Berlin to solve the Ukraine crisis and Bulgaria’s decision to close its borders to Russian planes delivering humanitarian supplies to Syria were in the spotlight of the Russian media last week. In addition, Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi’s visit to Crimea made headlines.

Election day in Russia 

The most important event of the week were nationwide elections in 83 of the 85 regions of Russia, which took place on Sept. 13. The voters were choosing future governors, representatives to regional legislatures and municipal authorities.

Even before the elections, people were saying that this was just a “dress rehearsal” for the parliamentary elections that will be held in 2016, and after the voting was finished, this became the topic of discussion in almost all Russian media. According to preliminary results, the ruling party, United Russia, remained in the lead.

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The business newspaper Vedomosti considers the results of these elections to be very indicative in every regard – not only in terms of the success of the United Russia party, but also in the working out of 'mechanisms for suppression of the opposition'. The publication noted that the greatest passions were observed in the Kostroma Oblast – the only region where the opposition party RPR-Parnassus was allowed to compete.

The opposition Novaya Gazeta also pointed to the “refinement” of ways of dealing with the opposition, and methods implemented to increase the influence of the ruling party, the influence of which is based on tampering and falsifications, “using administrative leverage, NTV and police nightsticks.”

“The elections on September 13 were rather paradoxical in nature. On the one hand, the authorities had done everything to ensure a low turnout,” noted Kirill Martynov in an article. “While on the other hand, the ruling authorities themselves approached these elections with brutal seriousness.”

The website of the Echo of Moscow radio station analyzed the election results in the regions, noting in all cases, the clear preponderance of candidates from the United Russia party. The author of the article feels certain that these elections were a dress rehearsal for 2016, and a number of parties (in particular, the Fair Russia Party, which, contrary to expectations, showed good results) should use the results to draw conclusions about their future political battles.

The pro-government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta took a different direction. Making a reference to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who heads the United Russia party, the publication reported the high level at which the elections were held, and the good results achieved by all parliamentary parties, especially United Russia. The prime minister said that he considered this means democracy is developing quite well in Russia.

The next round of Minsk talks

On Saturday, Sept. 12, European foreign ministers, working in the Normandy Format to try and find a settlement to the Ukrainian crisis, held talks in Berlin. The parties once again failed to reach full agreement, but German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier reported that there was “movement” on certain issues.

The business newspaper Kommersant wrote that this was only a preliminary meeting, and the real working meeting of the Normandy Four would take place in Paris on Oct. 2, at the level of heads of state. According to the author, on the background of reduced fighting in the region, the talks are now made difficult by the future holding of local elections, which the two self-proclaimed republics (DPR and LPR) refused to coordinate with Kiev, and are conducting independently.

The pro-government Channel One considers that these talks were successful, while noting their humanitarian, rather than political orientation, writing about the concerns of Western countries, particularly Germany, about the humanitarian crisis erupting in the Donbas.

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The business newspaper Vedomosti also believes that everything depends on the conduct of the upcoming elections. The publication interviewed a number of experts, most of who believe that holding elections in Donbas will give Moscow a certain “bargaining chip, which can then be used in negotiations with the West when attempting to gain something in return.

Bulgaria closes its territory to the passage of Russian aircraft carrying humanitarian aid to Syria

On Sept. 8, Russian aircraft carrying humanitarian aid to Syria were not allowed to fly over the territory of Bulgaria, when the latter closed its air space due to “doubts about the transported cargo.” The Bulgarian authorities claimed that, under the guise of humanitarian aid, weapons were being transported into the country.

The opposition Novaya Gazeta believes that this situation arose with pressure coming from Washington. The newspaper explained that the same problem could have arisen with Greece, but the Greek authorities rejected the request of the United States to block the travel of Russian aircraft through Greek airspace.

The Independent Slon also pointed to the role of the United States in this story, but believes that there is a clear division in the ranks of U.S. politicians. The publication believes that the requests of the State Department sent to Bulgaria and Greece were not coordinated with other American government agencies, or even with President Barack Obama.

The business newspaper Kommersant also wrote about the absence of unity among American politicians. The publication believes that the State Department has irritated Obama, not seeking his approval to ask Greece and Bulgaria to close their airspace to Russia.

Berlusconi’s visit to Crimea

Last week, Italian politician and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi visited Crimea, where he met with President Vladimir Putin. Putin and Berlusconi share a long friendship. The visit of the Italian to “occupied” (the terminology used by Ukraine) Crimea created a great deal of bustle in the Russian press.

The opposition Novaya Gazeta drew the attention of its readers to the statements made by Ukrainian Foreign Ministry Pavlo Klimkin and which claimed that Vladimir Putin and Berlusconi violated the order of entry to Crimea. The newspaper emphasized that the Ukrainian side feels that by inviting prominent European politicians, Russia is trying to legalize its occupation of the Crimea in the eyes of the world community.

The pro-government Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes about the friendship between Berlusconi and Putin, and about how much the Italian politician enjoyed his visit to Crimea. The publication noted that the visit was not only successful and productive, but also very demonstrative, seeing that this major European politician, on his own accord, indicated a desire to visit Crimea.

Moskovsky Komsomolets believes that for Berlusconi this was clearly not the best time to visit Crimea, as his reputation is already suffering from numerous scandals, and awaiting him are municipal elections. The publication noted that in spite of all this, Berlusconi appeared very happy to be in Crimea, and he and Putin agreed to carry out a number of joint projects in Crimea.

Syrian refugees in the EU

Last week, Russian media continued discussing the issue of large numbers of Syrian refugees arriving in the EU.

The website of the Echo of Moscow radio station published an article by writer and publicist Michael Weller, who claims that migrants are the “vanguard of an invading army,” and that we are witnessing the agony of Europe and European values. Weller says that this topic is popular in Russia not because of the desire of the Russian authorities to divert attention from the internal problems of Russia, but due to the Russian people’s self-identification as Europeans, who are now watching their reference values disappear.

The business newspaper Vedomosti talked about the growth in the moral authority of Angela Merkel against the background of the refugee issue. The publication feels certain that it is Merkel, and not the idle Hollande and Cameron, who will be able to force European countries to deal with the influx of Syrian refugees. The author believes that for the sake of Europe’s future, Merkel has made a choice between pragmatism and values, ​​choosing the side of values, and this will become an example for the rest of Europe.

Moskovsky Komsomolets is not so sure about the good intentions of the Chancellor of Germany, and noted that in an attempt to curb the influx of migrants, Germany has closed its border with Austria.

Quotes of the week:

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny on irregularities during the elections: “When the authorities saw from the exit polls, that we [the opposition RPR-Parnassus Party] were about to overcome the barrier, they decided to remove observers from polling stations. This was done to rig the results and gnaw 1-2 percent from us.”

Vladimir Putin on the question of accession of Donbas to Russia: “Our hearts and souls are with the Donbas, but unfortunately, these questions [about making it a part of Russia] cannot be solved on the street.”

Viktor Ozerov, Head of the Federation Council Committee on Defense and Security, on the closure of Bulgarian skies to Russian aircraft, “In taking this approach, the United States has crossed all bounds of acceptable moral ethical norms, which every person should possess, and especially the head of a major power.”

Silvio Berlusconi on Crimea: “The entire territory of Crimean is beautiful. I was impressed by everything I saw – the nature, the sea, and the mountains, which rise up for hundreds of meters. Everything is simply breathtaking!”

The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ statement on Berlusconi’s Crimea visit: “This visit to occupied Crimea is just another attempt of the Russian Federation to, at any cost, legitimize its illegal occupation, and a demonstration of disrespect for the national sovereignty of Ukraine.”