Russian media roundup: From the murder case of Boris Nemtsov to the new gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine, these were the most popular and most discussed topics of the week.
Up to 70,000 people attended a mourning march commemorating slain politician and Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov. Nemtsov was shot and killed while walking on the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge near the Kremlin at approximately 11:30 p.m. on Feb. 27. Photo: Reueters
The investigation into the murder of opposition figure Boris Nemtsov was the most talked about news item in the Russian media last week. In addition, there was debate about the “Minsk 2” agreement, the threat of potential sanctions from the West, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s visit to Moscow, and the “gas war” between Russia and Ukraine.
Here are the top 8 stories of the week:
1. Detention of the first suspects in the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov
Russian media are actively discussing the arrest of four suspects in the high-profile murder of Russia's opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. According to investigators, the “Caucasian trail” is clearly marked: two of the detainees, Zaur Dadayev and Anzor Gubashev, are said to be from Chechnya and Ingushetia. While they are believed only to have carried out the crime, the search for the instigators and paymasters continues.
Business daily Kommersant stresses the technical expertise of Russia’s security services, while opposition media outlets Novaya Gazeta and TV Rain, together with business paper Vedomosti, doubt the investigation’s chances of success and cast doubts on the authenticity of the case data released.
2. Slowdown in the implementation of the Minsk agreements
The constant violations of the peace agreements reached in Minsk in February of this year are covered by the opposition, business and pro-government press alike. The debate about Russia’s involvement in the conflict is ongoing, and there is startling unanimity on the consequences of failure for “Minsk 2.” Ultimately it is Moscow that will have to pay for the acts or omissions of Kiev or the breakaway republics, and in such case, new sanctions will inevitably follow. Kommersant has more details.
3. US and EU sanctions against Russia
The word “sanctions” again looms large in the Russian media, since the retention and build-up of deterrent measures against Russia was again top-of-mind throughout the Russian press last week. According to some commentators, the introduction or extension of sanctions has long ceased to have any connection to events on the ground in Ukraine, and the only glimmer of hope for Russia here is the emerging rift inside the EU on the issue of sanctions. This growing schism is a constant refrain in a number of publications, including official newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta, mass daily Moskovsky Komsomolets and business paper Vedomosti.
4. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s visit to Moscow
The Russian press, including the authoritative business daily Kommersant and Vedomosti that identifies itself as independent, commented on the dual purpose of Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s visit to Moscow. Renzi is rankled by both the peacekeeping laurels of Hollande and Merkel and his own government’s inability to propose anything radical or high-impact. Like many other EU countries, Italy is unhappy about the “sanctions war,” yet Rome lacks the clout to stand up to Brussels.
Pro-government Rossiyskaya Gazeta published a long interview with Renzi in which he waxes lyrical about the close spiritual ties between the Italian and Russian peoples, culture and tourism, yet tiptoes around the problems of sanctions-hit cooperation.
5. Crisis-linked pay cuts for civil servants
That is the upshot of a new decree issued by President Vladimir Putin. The Russian press actively pondered whether the reduction in officials’ salaries (the president, the prime minister and all heads of departments, as well as parliamentarians, will receive 10 percent less through 2015) will produce any real savings, or whether it is simply a PR stunt by the presidential administration.
Regular contributor for Echo of Moscow Anton Orekh was particularly sardonic, noting that the pay cut for civil servants is nothing short of ridiculous: “When was the last time Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] lived the life of a normal person? When was the last time he went to buy bread and milk himself? He’s effectively been president for 15 years. Before that he was prime minister... So he’s been living in a bubble for 20 years!”
6. International Women's Day and the fate of women in conflict areas
While Rossiyskaya Gazeta was conveying President Vladimir Putin’s congratulations to the women of Russia, other publications decided to mark International Women’s Day by relating the fate of women caught up in the conflict zones of Ukraine.
State-run TV network Channel One ran a reportage on how, even in the midst of combat women want to remain women. In connection with this, on the eve of March 8, the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic held a beauty contest for female pro-Russia volunteers.
Opposition daily Novaya Gazeta told of far less pleasant things: Columnist Ekaterina Sazhneva compared the respective fates of Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko in prison in Russia and Russian student Maria Koleda, who spent half a year in a Ukrainian jail on charges of spying for Russia.
7. Nadezhda Savchenko stops hunger strike in Russia
Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko was the focus of one other media topic: She has temporarily stopped her hunger strike. There are conflicting reports as to how long the break will last or whether she will in fact return to a normal diet. Either way, the media (radio station Echo of Moscow, opposition Novaya Gazeta) highlight the terrible condition that she is in, calling on the Russian government and Russian people to take action and allow her at last to be seen by Ukrainian doctors. The pro-government press restricted itself to purely formal statements (see Rossiyskaya Gazeta).
8. The latest gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine
The “gas wars” have long been an inalienable part of Russian-Ukrainian relations. The verbal clashes between Gazprom and Naftogaz rang out again last week with tit-for-tat accusations of breach of contract. On the one hand, Naftogaz has a habit of delaying payment and being in arrears, while on the other, Gazprom is pursuing its policy of supplying gas to the breakaway regions of Donbas.
Yet even after the long negotiations between Russia, Ukraine and the EU, there is plenty of scope for further conflict. First, Naftogaz disagrees over the continuation of supplies under the “winter package,” and second, it is not clear exactly how Russia intends to supply gas to the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. The twists and turns are covered in more detail in business Kommersant and pro-government Rossiyskaya Gazeta.
Best quotes of the week
Ksenia Sobchak on the murder of Nemtsov: “Actually it would be in some way less worrying if Putin had ordered Nemtsov’s killing. It would be an awful system, but at least a system, a manageable system. But I feel, unfortunately, this is not the case. There is no Putin who gave a command to kill. But there is a Putin who has built an appalling terminator and lost control of it.”
Alexei Navalny on the murder of Nemtsov: “Enough of the nonsense about Boris being killed by the ‘atmosphere of hatred.’ What atmosphere is that, eh? We’ve lived in an atmosphere of hatred since 2007, and in recent months have seen the institutional formation of pro-government extremist and terrorist groups directly declaring their goal to be to fight the opposition where the police cannot.”
Matteo Renzi during his visit to Moscow: “Cooperation is actively developing, despite the not-insignificant complexities. I’m referring to the economic sanctions and Russia’s counter-sanctions, which, as you know, create significant problems for both sides wherever they are applied.”
Sergey Lavrov on the plans to supply weapons to Ukraine: “Those who choose to turn a blind eye and demand an increase in the supply of weapons to Ukraine assume a heavy responsibility for the potential failure of the peace settlement. They are guided by whatever they please except the interests of the Ukrainian people or saving lives. The dire humanitarian situation in the Donbas is a matter of extreme urgency. To ensure the basic rights of its citizens, the government of Ukraine must immediately lift the virtual blockade of the region and restore economic ties.”