Media Roundup: The uncertainty and tension surrounding the Ukrainian parliamentary elections and the signing of a new gas deal for Europe could intensify on Nov. 2 with Russia’s recognition of election results in Donetsk and Luhansk.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko smiles during a press conference following the parliamentary elections in Kiev, Ukraine, Oct. 26, 2014. Photo: AP
This week, the Russian media mostly focused on the ongoing talks on the price and delivery terms for Russian gas to Europe and Vladimir Putin’s speech at the Valdai Club in Sochi. Important international news, such as the re-election of President Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, attracted less attention, particularly in view of the elections to the Verkhovna Rada in Ukraine and the upcoming elections in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DNR and LNR).
What signal is Russia sending about the Ukrainian elections?
The results of the parliamentary elections to Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada, which took place on Oct. 26, were recognized by Moscow, a fact that would have sent a positive signal to the international community were it not for the statements by a number of senior officials that the elections in DNR and LNR would also be recognized. As might be imagined, this ongoing political drama in Ukraine has engrossed most of Russia’s top media.
Pro-government publications (Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Izvestia) quoted high-ranking Russian officials and stressed their own positive attitude to the elections in the breakaway republics. The business press (Kommersant) assessed the situation less enthusiastically: Russia’s recognition of the elections could have extremely negative consequences.
Rossiyskaya Gazeta cited presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov, who said that, “Russia had no reason not to recognize the elections in the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics.”
Izvestia, in turn, published an exclusive interview with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in which he said: “We believe that it [recognition of the election results] is one of the most important aspects of the Minsk agreements. We expect the elections to take place as planned, and we will certainly recognize the results. We hope that the electors’ will is freely expressed and that no one from outside tries to derail the process.”
Kommersant also devoted a few articles to the elections in southeastern Ukraine. The feature “Counter Elections” can be regarded as a news item with a description of the forthcoming events and views. However, an article by Elena Chernenko, “A troublesome election for Russia,” is more of a forecast, and not an auspicious one for Russia, unfortunately.
“The EU could toughen its sanctions against Russia if the Kremlin recognizes the results of elections in the breakaway DNR and LNR on Nov. 2, an inside EU source told Kommersant. Brussels is convinced that the elections run counter to the Minsk agreements. Russia’s recognition of the results of the vote will hinder a settlement of the Ukrainian crisis and transform it into a ‘frozen conflict.’”
The real meaning of Vladimir Putin’s speech in Sochi
In the context of the elections in the DNR and LNR, opposition media paid a great deal of attention to last week’s meeting of the Valdai Club and, in particular, Vladimir Putin’s speech. The opposition media (Slon, Echo of Moscow) gave a hostile reception to the president’s address, while the pro-government media (Rossiyskaya Gazeta) believes that the president delivered a clear signal to the world on Russia’s firm stance in the international arena.
For instance, an article by Ira Solomonova on Slon.ru presented a selection of comments by leading Western media, while Tatiana Stanovaya even ranked Vladimir Putin’s speech alongside his performance in Munich in 2007. Yet, according to Slon.ru, the future for Russia is uncertain:
“As for the U.S., the challenge that Russia is trying to lay down is based not on Russia’s strength, but its weakness. The challenge will, of course, be accepted by Washington and drum up a policy of containment – a policy that will become increasingly and distinctly ‘anti-Putin’ in tone.”
Stanovaya notes that Russia is in a very vulnerable position in relation to the U.S., since Washington has significantly more resources at its disposal to substantially undermine Russia’s national security and increase its vulnerability to local conflicts.
“Russia has no chance of recovering the losses suffered after the collapse of the Soviet Union,” she concludes. “The situation can be remedied only if the U.S. itself – forced to seek support to counter the threat of terrorism and religious radicalism – becomes objectively weaker, or through a shake-up inside the Kremlin.”
Bloggers for Echo of Moscow concurred with their Slon.ru colleagues. For example, Nikolai Troitsky states: “Although Putin’s diagnosis of the U.S. is correct, such correctness, although ‘not worse than stealing,’ is all the same of very little use. We have nothing to counter with. We have neither resources nor reserves, nor any real allies.”
Meanwhile, pro-government Rossiyskaya Gazeta gave the floor to some foreign political scientists, in particular, Tiberio Graziani, president of Italy's Institute of Advanced Studies in Geopolitics and Auxiliary Sciences:
“Putin’s speech is an example of honesty and openness to which we in Europe are becoming unaccustomed. The Russian president analyzed the situation in the world today without resorting to commonplace rhetoric, which nowadays, unfortunately, is readily adopted by not only diplomats, but some politicians too. In Sochi, Putin did not simply share his vision of the present, but laid out some specific proposals for the future.”
The future of gas delivery to Europe and Ukraine
The Russia-Ukraine-EU trilateral gas talks came to a tentative conclusion. It was reported that the gas price and delivery terms had been harmonized, but as yet there is still no clear system of payment and prepayment. The opposition (Novaya Gazeta) and business press (Vedomosti, Kommersant) analyzed the pros and cons of the gas agreements, while the pro-government media remained silent or confined themselves to formal statements.
An article by Novaya Gazeta on October 30 published a statement by Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk: “Ukraine is ready to buy natural gas in Q4 2014 at a price of $378 per thousand cubic meters... For one thousand cubic meters of gas in Q1 2015, Ukraine is ready to pay $365.”
An article in Vedomosti highlighted Russia’s desire to secure financial guarantees from Europe in respect to Ukraine: “Moscow wants the European Commission and Ukraine to sign a bilateral protocol under which Europe will guarantee the allocation of funds for Ukraine’s prepayment of gas.”
Without that, no agreement or fruitful negotiations are possible, notes the paper with reference to Alexei Miller, head of Russia’s largest gas company, Gazprom. Vedomosti’s article also cites members of the Russian delegation in Brussels, who regard Gazprom’s announcement of a resumption of talks as a positive step: “The necessary financial guarantees have been obtained, and the parties can now sign all necessary documents on the resumption of gas supplies.”
Olga Mordyushenko and Oleg Gavrish of Kommersant quoted the words of expert Vitaly Kryukov, who notes that, “On signing these documents all responsibility will shift to the EU, which is apparently not to Brussels’ liking.”
In his expert view, Europe’s evident pressure on Ukraine could potentially lead to a termination of reverse supplies if the latter fails to reach an agreement on gas supplies from Russia.
On the issue of Ukraine’s debt, Kryukov is sure that Russia’s position is perfectly correct, but excessive as regards financial guarantees for prepayment. Moreover, he believes that even if the parties manage to agree on all the points now, there is no guarantee that problems will not arise in the near future.