Media Roundup: Russian media this week primarily focused on the Kremlin’s unexpected response to Western-led sanctions. They also analyzed the “new Maidan” in Kiev and speculated about possible next moves in Gaza and Iraq.
The Kremlin's response to the Western sanctions came as a big surprise for many. Photo: AP
This week, Russian media actively discussed two events that have a bearing on the situation in Ukraine: the Kremlin’s sudden ban on the import of a number of food products from countries that support sanctions against Russia and the unexpected appearance of a “new Maidan” in the center of Kiev. In addition, they weighed in on the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the decision of U.S. President Barack Obama to carry out surgical strikes in Iraq.
The Kremlin’s counter-sanctions
No one seriously expected such a turn of events: Russia has banned the import of food products from countries that are supporting sanctions against Russia. These retaliatory measures, which were announced on August 6, ignited a surge of articles in the Russian media. Such a volume of articles had never been generated before, perhaps, even when it came to the sanctions imposed against Russia.
Moreover, this time the Kremlin and some opposition media sang in unison.
The pro-Kremlin media – Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Izvestia, Vesti.ru, KM.ru, and Channel One (Russia’s most popular TV station) – greeted the measures positively, as might be expected. Journalists and pundits assured their viewers and readers that these measures are adequate and that they do not hit the wallet of the average Russian citizen. Moreover, they suggested, agriculture in Russia has not received such a stimulus since the days of the Soviet Union.
Channel One placed emphasis on the losses that Western economies would suffer from the imposed retaliatory sanctions: “Because of the introduction of a Russian ban on the import of European products, many Latvian manufacturers find themselves on the verge of bankruptcy, and are preparing for huge losses.”
It also emphasizes how Russian producers will benefit from this: “Many Russian producers had a very difficult time just to break into their own domestic market, and now they feel confident that they can feed everyone, and there won’t be any empty shelves in the stores.”
Izvestia did not lag behind Channel One in describing the counter-sanctions. One of its writers, Anna Lyapkina, even titled her article “Russia will do without Iberian ham, oysters and Roquefort”, and cited in her story the opinions of experts from various market segments – dairy, meat, etc. – each of which feels confident that the situation is not critical.
A well-known publicist Andrey Parshev, in an interview with one of the largest Russian portals KM.ru, had this to say: “Sanctions on some categories of products are simply a ‘gift of the gods’ for our producers. The quality of imported products... at times simply left much to be desired, so doing without them is no great loss. For example, the apples that come from Poland are not a high-quality product.”
The pro-government portal Vesti.ru also strongly supports the introduction of retaliatory measures and notes that there will be no problems with the food supply. For example, an analyst at the portal, Daria Kozlova, considers that after Russia’s retaliatory sanctions, the “angry rhetoric” of the EU “somehow subsided,” and economists and financiers “started nervously calculating their losses.”
Interestingly, even on the pages and portals of such major opposition media as the Echo of Moscow, Slon, and Snob, one could find words of support for this decision by the government of Russia.
Echo of Moscow blogger Vitaly Tretyakov spoke in favor of this new development: “Putin has issued a decree in response to the sanctions, and in my opinion, this was a very intelligent move. Already we have seen how just the ban on the import of Polish apples has had a strong impact on Poland. And it would seem that this was a mere trifle.”
His colleague Ildar Murtazin made his point at the Echo of Moscow site with the following interesting analogy: “You come to a store, your salary in the pocket. The seller right at the door starts being rude to you, strongly emphasizing that this store is not for you. He reluctantly agrees to sell you something. I don’t know about you, but I would not go shopping in such a store. Even if it is conveniently located, even if it sells a product that I like and is historically well known to me – I will go and choose a similar product from another manufacturer, and at another store, where they will not be so rude to me. That is the wonderful thing about the market, there is always an alternative to various products – always.”
There were, inevitably, also those who came close to predicting a food disaster in Russia in connection with the new situation in the food market. Experts at Snob predicted a significant increase in food prices and empty shelves. Sergey Pikin, economist and director of the Energy Development Fund, noted that: “A significant share in the fruits and vegetables market was occupied by products from Poland and Ukraine, which have now been placed under an embargo.”
For now, this embargo does not hurt, but what about in a few months? “Now the Russian authorities, in response to the sanctions, have banned their import. In the summer, consumers will not notice a change in the fruit and vegetable market, because now we are in the peak season, and fruits from Russia and Kazakhstan can easily replace them. However, in the fall, we can expect the prices to increase,” Pikin explains.
An analyst at Echo of Moscow, Arkadiy Babchenko, also talked about Russia’s import dependence and the complete decline of agriculture in Russia: “So how is comrade planning to feed a completely import-dependent country after banning the import of the enemy’s food products, I simply cannot imagine.”
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Smoke and fire from the explosion of an Israeli strike rise over Gaza City on July 29, 2014. Photo: AP
Russia, apparently, has taken a very uncharacteristic position – straddling the fence – when it comes to the ever-worsening Arab-Israeli conflict, because there is no uniform reaction in the Russian media to the latest developments in Gaza. The pro-government media (Rossiyskaya Gazeta and Channel One) have confined themselves mostly to the transmission of news reports, only occasionally taking the Palestinian side in the conflict.
The pro-government Channel One, for its part, makes implicit attempts to criticize Israel and blame the United States for supplying weapons to Tel Aviv. “It should be noted that on the eve that Israel announced a 7-hour unilateral truce, it nevertheless perpetrated attacks on refugee camps. While such actions by Tel Aviv cause condemnations in the United Nations, the United States says that they are not going to stop supplying weapons to Israel,” journalists noted on the TV channel’s website.
At the same time, the opposition media – Echo of Moscow and Novaya Gazeta – are more active. Novaya Gazeta presented a report by its correspondent Elena Shafran, in which Israel’s image appears in a different light than in the pro-Kremlin media. The journalist describes the oddity of leading a peaceful life in Israel, while simultaneously, the Gaza Strip is being bombed.
“A war of the twenty-first century looks so paradoxical,” writes Shafran. “You can watch pin-point bomb attacks, while sitting with a cup of coffee on the veranda of a restaurant. While they are fighting in the south, in the north, people are having fun in the clubs. The next day, after a night of attacks and hundreds of people being killed, Israeli trailers drive into Gaza carrying medicines, food, and fuel.”
At the same time, the image of the Hamas supporters is more controversial in Shafran’s report. “The terrorists did not wait for the truce to end, or were not at all aware of it, or decided to take advantage of the lull to attack,” she writes, describing the events in Gaza. “They jumped out from under the earth in broad daylight to attack civilians, but were met by the military.”
The op-ed writers at Echo of Moscow are even sharper in their defense of Israel. For example, Inga Chikovani writes: “Radical Islam (read, the onset of the eerie, monstrous Middle Ages) is spreading, and soon it will spread from the Middle East to the rest of the world. One need not be that clever to understand this. And for now Israel is the only country that is acting as a human shield in the way of this ‘bacteria’.”
A new Maidan in Ukraine
This week, new unrest started in Kiev’s Maidan (Independence) Square, which, of course, the Russian press did not waste any time in writing about.
Rossiyskaya Gazeta took on the most triumphant tone. Maxim Makarychev writes: “Given the fact that Maidan activists differ from the current government not only in their patience - which passes almost into obstinacy - but also in their cohesion of ranks, official Kiev cannot expect anything good from this. Maidan is going to rise up again in the run-up to the hard fall and winter which awaits this country.”
Alongside that, the correspondent of Novaya Gazeta in Kiev, Olga Musafirova, recounts some events with undisguised horror.
“The entrance to the telegraph office (the Right Sector never relinquished this place) is covered with rebar: Inside there are people ready to protect themselves from a possible assault," she writes. "Nearby, fifteen people in masks and balaclavas are hammering away at brand new, freshly laid, paving stones – preparing for battle. Another four, with all their might, are pounding sticks on metal trash bins – like ringing an alarm bell. To the barricades they drag gas canisters and long green cones made of plastic - the remains of the notorious ‘Yanukovych Christmas tree’.”
A blogger of the opposition-minded Echo of Moscow, Vitaliy Taranenko, even writes that Kiev has caught the “Maidan Syndrome,” noting in particular: “In the current situation, the Ukrainian people should control the new government, which came from the Maidan… And to warm oneself in a tent in the capital city and talk about high ideals, when the country is at war, at the very least, is cynical and wrong. The Maidan Syndrome is obviously present in everyone. However, it is necessary to gradually break away from it, and move on to address the specific problems of life.”
The Kommersant FM radio station gives an interesting look at the events in Kiev’s Maidan. In particular, the newspaper has been publishing the impressions of the “new Maidan” by its correspondent in Kiev, Yanina Sokolovskaya, who believes that the current leadership of the country and the city still keep pouring oil onto the fire: “Vitali Klitschko at the moment, we have to admit, is acting as an agent provocateur for a new powerful opposition in Kiev.”
Obama and the U.S. strike against Iraq
Volunteers from the Shi'ite Badr Organization have joined the Iraqi army to fight against the predominantly Sunni militants from the radical Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) who have taken over Mosul and other northern provinces. Photo: Reuters
U.S. President Barack Obama’s statement that "America is coming to help [Iraq]" was met in the American media as a sign of giving the green light to another military and humanitarian campaign, “if necessary” to withstand the advancing Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). However, Russian media has been hesitant about making similar assessments.
In Thursday’s televised speech, Obama said that American military planes already had supplied tens of thousands of Iraqi religious minorities with airdrops of food and water at the request of the Iraqi government. Most Russian media – including Echo of Moscow, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, and Gazeta.ru – have thus far held back opinion as to what it might mean.
“Russia’s response to Obama’s decision to strike Islamists in Iraq is not clear, however, Moscow has already supported Baghdad in its fight with ISIS by supplying it with several military jets,” writes Aleksander Bratetsky, a columnist from Gazeta.ru.
Yet Kommersant’s Maksim Yusin makes no bones about the U.S. being responsible to save the country from “fanatics with the black flags,” as he sees ISIS’s representatives.
“Doesn’t the world’s only superpower have the ability to conduct something by directing in Iraq its aviation and special troops and by supporting Iraq’s national army and Kurdish troops, preventing them from total defeat?” the journalists argues. “Of course, Americans can do it. They can, but they won’t. As long as Obama is at the helm, they will withdraw their troops from ‘hot spots’ while yielding to radical Islamists and preparing for their coming to power – today in Iraq, and tomorrow – in Afghanistan.”
“It is Americans who provoked the current crisis, turned Iraq’s hive upside-down 11 years ago,” he said, pointing out that the U.S. overthrew the regime of Saddam Hussein, who, according to Yusin, held under strict control the Shias, the Sunnis and Islamists.