Russian media roundup: Last week Russian media discussed the nation’s parliamentary elections, the attack on the Syrian army by U.S.-led coalition forces, and the health factor in the U.S. presidential election.

People cast their ballots at a polling station during the 2016 Russian parliamentary election, St. Petersburg, Russia. Photo: TASS

The key event of the past week was the Sept. 18 State Duma elections, which appeared to represent a resounding victory for the ruling party, United Russia. According to preliminary results, United Russia is winning with 51 percent of the votes, followed by the Liberal Democratic Party (15.1 percent), Сommunist Party (14.6 percent) and A Just Russia party (6.4 percent). No other parties crossed over the all-important 5 percent vote threshold.

On Sept. 17, aircraft of the U.S.-led international coalition hit positions of the Syrian army in Syria’s Deir Ezzour province. The strike killed 62 Syrian soldiers, wounded 100 people and destroyed military equipment. The U.S. military leadership said the attack occurred by mistake, but the Russian side doubts it, raising concerns that this incident may make potential cooperation between Moscow and Washington on the settlement of the Syrian crisis less likely.

State Duma elections

The business newspaper Vedomosti focused on advising Russians to make the most of their right to vote in the elections. Not voting at all is the least effective approach to express one’s position; instead, citizens should make their voices heard by voting. Despite these calls to get out and vote, turnout appears to be even smaller than in the previous Duma election.

Political correspondent Kirill Martynov of the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta also called for taking part in the elections because these might be the last elections in a country that is steadily heading down the road of authoritarianism. Voting is the only remaining instrument to slow down the process of introducing total unanimity in Russia, he argues. For that reason, every individual has a civic responsibility to vote.

The tabloid Moskovsky Komsomolets wrote about how Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev exercised their civic duty. While Putin looked energetic and confident, Medvedev seemed depressed and sad. This might be explained by the low rankings of the ruling United Russia party forecasted before the elections. Besides, just days before the elections, Medvedev found himself in the center of a new corruption scandal around his luxury countryside mansion exposed by the opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

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U.S.-led coalition strike against Syrian army positions

The business daily Kommersant calls the airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition an unprecedented event. The publication points out that the Kremlin’s reaction was extremely tough with officials claiming the U.S. was deliberately disrupting the collective work on the settlement of the Syrian crisis and even accusing Washington of helping the terrorists.

Russia considers the attack on the Syrian army to be a result of U.S. unwillingness to carry out a productive dialogue and exchange information, hinting that Washington is trying to save the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) from losing its positions in Deir Ezzour.

The pro-government Izvestia newspaper explains that the strikes called into question the ceasefire in Syria. The paper quoted military expert Vladimir Evseev, who is confident that Washington has discredited itself as a trusted partner in the negotiations. While signed agreements are not being implemented, the U.S. does not want to or is unable to influence separate radical groups that are represented within the moderate opposition. In such circumstances, maintaining the ceasefire that started on Sept. 12 seems to be quite unlikely.

The media outlet also quotes Russian military experts, who argue that the strike could not have been an accident. American military equipment is as precise as the intelligence provided, so a mistake here is out of the question, experts point out. As the same time, some think that this was a deliberate provocation for the benefit of the anti-Assad forces. In one way or another, the strike threatens U.S.-Russia cooperation in Syria, the newspaper concludes.

U.S. presidential election

Apart from the State Duma election campaign, Russian media also discussed the presidential campaign in the United States. The approaching election in November has activated more debate within the media about the viability of the two candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

The opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta says that, in addition to the “Russia factor,” there is a new concern in the run-up to the presidential election – the physical health of the candidates. For example, Hillary Clinton was recently diagnosed with pneumonia while Donald Trump continues to provide only the most basic information about his health. The transparency of the candidates’ medical condition has become as important as their tax or financial information. However, health problems still have not overshadowed one of the key themes of the whole campaign – the candidates’ positions on relations with Moscow and Vladimir Putin.

The independent media outlet Slon turned its attention to the health conditions of the potential future president of the U.S. Given the age of the two candidates, the public has a greater desire to know about the health of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The case with Clinton shows how the question of health has become increasingly important for the results of the presidential election. The stakes are high and Hillary Clinton’s team will have to work hard to minimize any potential damage.

The state-owned newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta points out that Clinton will have to endure the media spotlight as her illness remains a popular topic in the coming weeks. The incident in which she nearly fainted at the 9/11 memorial ceremony in New York may pose numerous difficulties for her election campaign.

Expert comment

Andrei Tatarinov, director of the Actual Politics Center, about the Russian election:

“Even though the fractions in the Duma will likely remain the same, the composition of the new Duma will be different and new people will come who will not only be involved in federal issues, but also in regional and municipal problems. There will be fewer political philosophers and showmen and more people active in their work. I am confident that the new Duma will be more focused on the people, with the candidates – especially the independent ones - being more focused on voters’ interests: roads and schools.”