Russian media roundup: The U.S. presidential campaign, the negotiations on Syria, and increased tensions in Ukraine were in the spotlight of Russian media last week.
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at a rally Sunday, on Feb. 21. Photo: AP
Last week, the Russian media primarily focused on the evolving situation in Syria and increasing tensions in Ukraine. In addition, Russian journalists and commentators weighed in on the U.S. presidential election, which some see as holding the key to the status of future U.S.-Russian relations.
The U.S. presidential campaign
Republican candidate Jeb Bush’s decision to withdraw from the 2016 presidential campaign after a lackluster showing in South Carolina attracted the attention of Russian media and political pundits, who attempted to analyze the key factors at work in the presidential campaign.
The pro-government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta reminded its readers that, at the beginning of this race, Bush was considered a favorite among the Republicans. The family’s image, numerous sponsors, and support from high-ranking Republicans were supposed to lead to Jeb Bush being crowned the winner in the race for the Republican nomination.
However, he failed to concentrate around himself a significant group of conservative supporters, who instead gave their support to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Even those Republicans who seek change prefer to vote for billionaire Donald Trump rather than Jeb Bush. The big winner in Bush’s departure will most likely be Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), with the majority of Bush’s supporters probably switching to him.
The business newspaper Vedomosti analyzed the path to success of the other main Republican candidate, Trump. While the billionaire managed to achieve a positive result in South Carolina, the publication is in no hurry to predict his eventual triumph. This is because Trump is too radical and eccentric a figure, someone who frightens respectable conservative Republican voters, so his chances for winning the presidency are too early to call, according to experts interviewed by the newspaper.
The online publication Gazeta.ru also believes that Bush has disappointed political donors and major political players in the U.S., putting an end to the ambitions of one of the most important political families in the country. Now the most important question becomes: Who will these elites back after Bush’s departure? Experts at the publications are leaning towards Cruz. However, they warn against dismissing Trump’s candidacy, as the “elites will learn to love Trump, if the electoral configuration so demands.”
Negotiations on Syria
As intensive negotiations on the settlement of the Syrian conflict is in full swing and U.S. Department of State published an official joint statement of Russia and the U.S. on a ceasefire in Syria, it seems that the parties are finally ready to agree on a suspension of hostilities, as evidenced by, among other things, direct telephone talks between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
The business newspaper Kommersant pointed out that Russia has been completely surprised by the intransigent position of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with regard to his take on the results of negotiations. The Syrian president, inspired by the recent successes of his army, which has been supported by Russian airpower, does not believe in the possibility of a truce being implemented, and has declared his determination to wage war against the terrorists until full victory has been achieved. It remains to be seen how Moscow will respond to this stance, wrote the newspaper.
Irtek Murtazin, special correspondent for the opposition Novaya Gazeta, also points to this defiant position of Damascus, which not only poses a threat to the implementation of the ceasefire provisions, but also could lead to further aggravation of the military situation in Syria.
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The collapse of peace talks may result in the regional rivals of Syria, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia, becoming more active, which in turn could lead to an intensification of military actions, including possible ground operations by Russia’s armed forces (although this option has been refuted by the Russian General Staff).
On the other hand, Assad’s position is understandable, says Murtazin. In 2012, he already gave one truce agreement a chance, but the militants only used this time to strengthen their positions and increase their resources.
The business newspaper Vedomosti believes that Moscow can still take advantage of this sudden intransigence of Damascus for its own benefit, if it manages to influence Assad to take his seat at the negotiating table. However, such prospects are dim, and thus the success of this cease-fire, amidst the persistence of the Syrian leader, is becoming increasingly dubious, the newspaper wrote, referring to Russian Middle East experts.
Is a new Maidan awaiting Ukraine?
The second anniversary of the Euromaidan protests in Ukraine (also known as the “Revolution of Dignity”) is leading to a government crisis in the country. Members of parliament recognized the work of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk as unsatisfactory, but were not able to remove him, leading to riots in the capital city. All these events led the Russian media to speculate about the possibility of a new Maidan, which could then lead to another change of government in Ukraine.
The independent publication Slon considers that, in Ukrainian politics, everything is developing according to an already familiar scenario. The current situation in the country is strikingly similar to 2005, when a struggle also erupted against the then-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and her cabinet, that comprised Petro Poroshenko, who is now the President of Ukraine, and Yatsenyuk. In this respect, it is possible to expect further worsening of the crisis, according to Slon.
The website of the Echo of Moscow radio station give voice to Kiev journalist Yuri Shelyazhenko speak his mind. The journalist argues that the current Maidan will be over even before it begins. All previous mass protests had been successful only because they were sponsored by major Ukrainian businessmen and politicians, and now there is no one out there wishing to allocate funds to destabilize an already difficult situation in the country. Moreover, Shelyazhenko noted that current unorganized protests could put an end to the political future of the radical forces that are unleashing them.
The analytical portal Aktualniye Kommentarii wonders who exactly is behind the mysterious “radical right-wing forces” protesting in Kiev today. Previously, this organization was not among the newsmakers, and very little is known about its structure and leaders.
The publication offers a variety of possible future scenarios, noting that the lack of an obvious beneficiary makes it difficult to predict the future of these latest protests. Standing behind this organization could be all sorts of people – from the ruling Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk, to those eager for power, such as Tymoshenko and the nation’s oligarchs. In any case, all parties blame Moscow, concludes Aktualniye Kommentarii.
Quotes of the Week:
Jeb Bush on his failed campaign: “The presidency is bigger than any one candidate. The people of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina have spoken.”
John Kerry on Syria talks: “In fact, we are closer to a ceasefire today than we have been.”
Bashar al-Assad on the ceasefire: “Ceasefires take place between armies and states, but not between governments and terrorists, so the use of this term is fundamentally wrong.”