Media Roundup: Russian media focused on the visit of the Greek Prime Minister to Moscow, the strengthening of the ruble, Putin’s amnesty of prisoners and Russia’s response to McDonald’s.

A digital information board showing currency exchange rates in a street in Moscow. Photo: Artyom Geodakyan / TASS

The main focus of the Russian media this week was the visit of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to Moscow, an event imbued with considerable meaning for the future of Russia’s relations with Europe. In addition, the approaching May 9 Victory Day celebration in Moscow continues to spur debate, whether it is President Putin’s planned amnesty of prisoners for the event or the critical reaction of Ukraine to the role played by the Soviet Union during World War II.

1. Is the ruble strengthening?

This is the question that has suddenly occupied the minds of financial analysts this week. All week, the Russian currency has shown a steadily upward trend, prompting optimism in the market. However, most experts believe that it is still too early to rejoice about the ruble’s recent climb.

The business publication Vedomosti in its op-ed section talked about the eternal “pendulum” in the financial markets. From this perspective, the ruble is just “bouncing back” from the record fall at the end of last year.

Experts at Rossiyskaya Gazeta believe that the strengthening of the ruble is causing panic in currency markets, and they are predicting a further decline in the value of the euro and the dollar. The opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta quoted analysts at Nordea Bank, which are predicting a return of the trend of a gradually declining ruble.

2. The Greek Prime Minister’s visit to Moscow

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, head of the Greek Left and the Euro-skeptics, visited Moscow. Moscow is pinning high hopes on Greece, in terms of advancing its interests in the EU; in particular, on the issue of removing EU sanctions against Russia. The pro-government Rossiyskaya Gazeta positively evaluated the Greek leader’s visit, referring to Tsipras’s statement about the talks being a success.

Popular tabloid Moskovsky Komsomolets quoted political expert Dmitry Danilov, who noted that, “Tsipras’ visit to Moscow is a landmark event, given that most Western leaders today are in no hurry when it comes to visiting Russia.” The expert also noted that the EU now has been given a reason to reflect on strengthening “unity in its ranks.”

3. Putin’s amnesty

Russian President Vladimir Putin is considering a large-scale amnesty of prisoners in honor of the 70th Anniversary of victory in the Great Patriotic War. Russian media are actively discussing this topic, noting that this time special emphasis was made on cooperation with human rights activists.

The independent publication Slon sought the expert opinion of the well-known human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeeva, who is “supporting this amnesty.” “And the wider it is, the more I will support it,” added Ms. Alexeeva. The business publication Kommersant reported that human rights organizations are participating in the preparation of this amnesty.

4. The fight against the “specter of Communism” in Ukraine

The Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada adopted a law banning the use of Communist symbols, as well as recognizing the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) as a participating party in the Second World War. The law, in fact, equalized the rights and status of veterans of the war against Germany and UPA fighters, who fought on the side of Germany against the Soviet Union.

Experts interviewed by the business publication Kommersant, believe that this law will be negatively received in the Russian-speaking eastern regions of Ukraine, while Vedomosti noted that this law corresponds to the “trend of moving away from old Soviet clichés.” The publication provided a list of recent laws, which have been enacted to deal with the Soviet past of Ukraine.

5. “Russia will end up like the German Reich after both world wars”

This provocative statement made by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia Edgars Rinkēvičs caused outrage among Russian journalists and public figures. Responding to the comparisons between Russia and the Third Reich was Maria Zakharova, a blogger at the Echo of Moscow and representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry, who pointedly noted that, “Latvian ‘diplomacy’ should certainly know better – given that it is Latvia that annually hosts marches of Waffen SS legionaries.”

Moskovsky Komsomolets noted that this is not the first, and certainly not the last, anti-Russian statement to be made by European politicians, particularly those from the Baltic countries.

6. Russia’s response to McDonald’s

Great resonance in the Russian media was caused by the initiative to establish in Russia its own fast food chain. Two well-known Russian directors – Andrei Konchalovsky and Nikita Mikhalkov – came up with the idea for a new fast food network – Yedim Doma (“We Eat at Home”). To implement this project, they asked the state for support – about one billion rubles. Although it has been officially announced that the state would not allocate money for this project, the media has taken a less than positive view of the directors for this initiative.

In particular, the opposition-leaning blogger of the radio station Echo of Moscow Anton Orekh noted that, “This is rather shameful. Not because one billion will mean that each of us will have to pay five kopecks from our taxes – to hell with these kopecks. It is shameful for the rich to ask money from the government. It is shameful for the rich to ask, when they do not give money to the poor.”

The business publication Vedomosti in its op-ed section expresses the idea that the ideology of “independence” and “import substitution” is gradually becoming an end in itself, the achievement of which is affecting ordinary citizens, because the financial support for such projects comes from their pockets.

Coming to the defense of the directors was the author of the independent Slon, Dmitry Gubin, who believes that Konchalovsky, known for his healthy lifestyle and passion for proper nutrition, can set a good example for the development of the fast food industry in Russia.

Quotes of the week

Greek PM Alexis Tsipras“Yesterday we had one last very intensive meeting with President Putin. And there we set the foundation for a new beginning of relations between our two countries, relations with deep roots, friendship, and brotherhood between our peoples.”

Alexander Baunov on the visit of Tsipras: “The Greek Prime Minister, the Marxist Alexis Tsipras, came to Moscow and stirred up the peace, of which there is so little these days. The world waited for answers to two questions: Will Russia be able to split up the European Union, break it at its weakest point? And is it possible to save Greece from its debt without the West? Both these issues are interlinked. If Russia should save Greece without the West, then it is clear what it would want in return – the division of Europe.”

Anton Orekh on the initiative of fellow directors Mikhalkov and Konchalovsky: “It is shameful, when millions of people are really malnourished and even starving, that two rich and famous people are asking a billion rubles for food. Why, just one billion? Why not two? Two is better! In addition, for these highly artistic people, their project is rather tasteless. What is this thing they call “We Eat at Home”? Millions of Russians have been eating at home for a long time already, and not from a menu, but whatever is at hand. So when people come to Mikhalkov’s restaurants, they will be met at the threshold and told – What are you doing here, go away, eat at home.”

Anton Graborov, Director of Customer Service at BKS Premiera, on the strengthening of the ruble: “Someone has ‘overbought’ foreign currency, and is now converting it back into rubles to cover current expenses, but many, to the contrary, are taking the opportunity to create their foreign currency portfolios while the exchange rate is favorable. Moreover, they are trying to secure good rates on foreign currency and for as long as possible.”