Russian media roundup: The stories making headlines in Russia included the latest meeting of the Normandy Four in Paris, the election results in America’s Super Tuesday voting, and a grisly terrorist attack in Moscow.


Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton addresses supporters at her Super Tuesday election night rally in Miami on March 1, 2016. Photo: AP

Over the past week, the biggest foreign policy stories for the Russian media included the recent Normandy Format peace talks in Paris for settling the Ukraine crisis and the continued momentum of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his Democratic countrepart Hillary Clinton in the U.S. presidential campaign. Closer to home, a terrorist attack in Moscow committed by a citizen of Uzbekistan made headlines.

Super Tuesday and the U.S. presidential race

In Russia, media  are continuing to monitor the 2016 presidential election campaign in the United States. Super Tuesday on March 1, which resulted in the strengthening of the leading positions of Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican Party candidate Donald Trump, generated great interest in the media.

The business newspaper Vedomosti published an article by political analyst Dmitry Travin, who analyzed the “Trump Phenomenon.” The expert explains that, according to all forecasts, this radical candidate was initially regarded as marginal, whose chances of winning were very low. However, those things that determined political outcomes in the 20th century are not working right now. Trump is running a successful campaign, writes Travin, because he stopped looking at the world through the eyes of the old-time politicians. In fact, he is prepared, without any sentimentality or political correctness, to talk about problems faced by the new generation in the times of globalization – migration, terrorism, the erosion of identity, etc. In this sense, Trump has already won.

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Alexander Panov, an author of the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, wonders about who will be able to stop Trump. It seems that the Republican camp not only lacks any suitable candidate, but also the tools to deal with Trump.

Attacks directed at him, the multi-million dollar “Anti-Trump” campaign, and even the lack of support among senior Republicans, seem to be making the businessman ever stronger and more successful. In the future, the role of deterrent will most likely fall on Clinton, who, against the background of the failure of Republicans to stop Trump, will become their favorite in the presidential race,” said Panov.

The newspaper, Moskovsky Komsomolets, also drew attention to Trump’s success. The editors believe that the billionaire is rejecting all the previous existing rules in American election campaigns, and this gives him a distinct advantage over other candidates. A talented orator and media personality, without any inhibitions, for whom there are no taboo subjects or worries about being politically correct, that is how Moskovsky Komsomolets sees Trump.

However, quoting Russian experts on America, the tabloid still casts doubt on the ultimate success of the billionaire: A successful campaign is no guarantee of victory in the elections, because the American electorate system has built-in deterrent mechanisms to block candidates that appear to be too radical.

Meeting of the Normandy Four in Paris

On March 3, the latest talks in the Normandy Format were held in Paris, yet another attempt at resolving the conflict in East Ukraine. The Foreign Ministers of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany failed to agree on fundamental issues for the further implementation of the Minsk Agreements, in particular, on the timing of the elections to be held in the breakaway republics of the Donbas region.

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Moskovsky Komsomolets published an article by an expert on Ukraine, Oleg Bondarenko, who believes that the Ukrainian leadership is gradually becoming politically isolated due to its inability to implement the Minsk Agreements. In the European capitals, they are waiting for real action, since the Ukrainian problem is preventing the EU from finding common ground with Russia. In particular, the problem of sanctions remains one of the thorniest challenges.

The continued American support of Kiev is also not contributing to the settlement of the Ukrainian conflict – the Americans are much less affected by the “sanctions wars,” and so for now are in no mood to put pressure on Kiev. One way or another, the Paris interim agreement will remain unfulfilled, predicts Bondarenko.

The analytical portal Aktualniye Kommentarii sees the negotiations in Paris as simply an exercise in “marking time.” The prospects of the Minsk agreements are becoming increasingly foggy, especially in light of the inability of the parties to agree on the holding of elections in the Donbas region, yet the ongoing dialogue in the Normandy Format may give new impetus to the process, the publication argues. Nevertheless, political analysts interviewed by the portal are much more pessimistic in their estimates, predicting stagnation in the peace process or the possibility of an aggravation in the military situation.

Citizen of Uzbekistan commits a horrid murder in Moscow

On Feb. 29, Gyulchehra Bobokulova from Uzbekistan, who worked as a nanny for a Moscow family, killed her four-year-old ward, cut off her head and set fire to the apartment. Then subsequently, she walked around on the street near a subway station, holding the child’s head in her hand and shouting Allahu Akbar.

Bobokulova was quickly arrested, while the eerie footage from the city’s surveillance cameras, by the middle of the day had spread not only over all Russia, but also to many foreign countries. At the same time, most of the major national networks were silent on this story, which many believe was done on orders of the Kremlin, which does not wish to aggravate the situation of migrants in large cities of Russia. The official position of the investigation blamed this crime on Bobokulova’s insanity, but many in the media do not believe this version.

Yulia Latynina, a columnist at the opposition Novaya Gazeta, calls this incident a terrorist act, comparing Bobokulova’s act to the actions of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS), the terrorist group that is banned in Russia and known for cutting off of heads of infidels in Syria and Iraq. Details coming from the interrogation of the defendant prove that she acted at the instigation of Islamist activists, with whom she had been communicating via the Internet. Therefore, Latynina sees this tragedy as an act of terrorism, not as a special case of insanity. The journalist warns that silencing of information on this murder and disinformation of the population might have grave implications for the authorities.

At the same time, the online publication warns against the increase of nationalism in Russia amidst this horrific murder, with the authorities expressing fears about a growth in nationalist sentiments in the country.

Writing for the Internet portal of the Echo of Moscow radio station, the journalist Alexander Minkin raised the problem of the inefficient work of the Russian police, which had allowed this killer-nurse to roam around the busy subway station for a fairly long period of time (witnesses said from 10 to 40 minutes). The law enforcement officers turn out to be not able to respond quickly even to egregious violations of the law and, in fact, attempted terrorism, Minkin argues. 

Head of Russia's Central Electoral Commission resigns

Last week Russian media reported that the employment term of the head of the Central Electoral Commission Vladimir Churov would not be renewed, and they were reviewing other candidates to replace this official. Churov is a well-known figure in Russian politics, at different times praised or much criticized, especially by the opposition.

The resignation of Churov was expected by members of the media, and much more excitement was aroused by the possible candidate that would become the new head of the Central Electoral Commission. For now, the experts agree that this position will be occupied by Ella Pamfilova, who previously held the post of Russia's High Commissioner for Human Rights.

An expert from the analytical portal Aktualniye Kommentarii, Maxim Artemyev, argues that the appointment of Pamfilova is the Kremlin’s attempt to establish dialogue with the opposition in the run-up to the 2016 parliamentary elections in the autumn of this year. The opposition has relentlessly criticized Churov for his bias and “accountability” to the Kremlin, while Pamfilova is a major national politician, firmly known for her independent and sometimes even opposing stances on many important issues. Her experience and image can provide a positive impetus to the image of the Russian electoral system, said Artemyev.

The pro-government Rossiyskaya Gazeta interviewed political experts about the significance of the new composition of the election commission. The experts are positive about the new members of this commission, highlighting that Pamfilova is trustworthy enough to be entrusted with defending the independence and impartiality of the upcoming elections. Given that the new composition of the commission will include representatives of moderate opposition parties, political analysts see this expected appointment as a positive sign: The government is seeking to find common ground with the opposition.

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The opposition channel Dozhd also quotes Russian experts, while making its own assessment of the new composition of the Central Electoral Commission. The editors highlight the fact that the Kremlin intends to give maximum legitimacy to the autumn elections, and for this, it was necessary to change the head of the Electoral Commission. However, some of the analysts surveyed emphasize not only the good reputation of Pamfilova, but also the fact of her gender.

“Women enjoy more confidence among the public," says political scientist Konstantin Kalachev. "And if this is a woman called Pamfilova, this trust is almost complete.”

Quotes of the week:

Germany’s foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on the results of the meeting in Paris: “I am not satisfied by the way in which Kiev and Moscow have been leading these negotiations.”

Opposition leader Alexey Navalny on being silent on the murder committed by a citizen of Uzbekistan in Moscow, and the double standards of Russian TV reporting: “If such a terrible event had occurred in Europe – a severed head, a migrant killer shouting Allahu Akbar... then we would have been watching weeks and months of detailed reporting on this event, and daily talk shows – on the theme of decline and degradation of the West.”

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on his democratic counterpart Hillary Clinton: “She’s been there for so long. If she hasn’t straightened it out by now, why elect her again?”