Russian Media Roundup: Last week, the Russian media focused on the resumption of fighting in Eastern Ukraine, new restrictions on opposition political parties within Russia and the meeting between President Putin and the Council of Elders.

A woman walks past a damaged school in the city of Lisichansk, Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine. Photo: AP

Ahead of Victory Day celebrations in Russia, renewed violence in Ukraine once more captured the attention of the Russian media. Journalists and commentators also focused on the shutting down of Alexey Navalny’s political party, the meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin with the Council of Elders and the implications of civil unrest in Baltimore.

The resumption of fighting around Donetsk

Last week, regular fighting near Donetsk intensified. The greatest damage to the city was inflicted by a massive artillery bombardment on May 2.

The pro-government Rossiyskaya Gazeta accused volunteer formations fighting on the side of the armed forces of Ukraine of violating the truce, in particular the Azov Battalion. It was reported that soldiers from this battalion took over the building that housed the Mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The business media outlet Kommersant noted that, according to the commanders of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR), the shells used during the shelling were of the “NATO variety.” The newspaper also noted that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine has denied any involvement in the incident.

“The Ukrainian side strongly denies these charges and solemnly declares that the Ukrainian military did not carry out any shelling of that city, or any other settlements in the territory of individual regions of Donetsk and Luhansk,” according to a statement posted on the official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine.

A Victory Day scandal

The Russian press is actively discussing the 15-day jail sentences for a group of female athletes that performed a controversial dance near the “Small World” war memorial in Novorossiysk. Officially, the young women were convicted of petty hooliganism, but the press sees other motives behind this.

Thus, the independent media outlet Slon believes that, just before the May 9 celebrations, there has always been a surge of activity, in terms of punishing those who, by their conduct, allegedly do not honor the memory of Russia’s war heroes. The publication notes that as a result of this, the celebration, instead of being a real event has, to the contrary, become an utterly false phenomenon.

The opposition Novaya Gazeta points to the absurdity of ordering jail time for the teenagers, while, as the newspaper noted, many really serious crimes go unpunished.

Putin and the Council of Elders

The international Council of Elders, a club of former presidents and prime ministers from around the world, visited Moscow last week in order to hold a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The business publication Kommersant, in an ironic style, speculated about the possible ulterior motives of the former world leaders, believing that their real goal was not to give advice to the incumbent president, but rather, to learn firsthand from the Russian president as much information as possible to carry back to the current leaders of the EU and the United States.

Moskovsky Komsomolets quoted one member – former U.S. President Jimmy Carter – on the supply of weapons to Ukraine. The publication stressed that Carter has now changed his mind, and in the present conditions, he considers supplying Kiev with weapons as incorrect, and expressed his hope that “Obama would not supply weapons.”

The end of Progress

The Russian Ministry of Justice has decided to cancel the registration of the Progress Party headed by opposition leader Alexey Navalny. This decision, of course, is still subject to review (and an appeal has already been launched); nevertheless, this news has sparked debate in the Russian media. 

This news aroused the most interest in opposition and business publications. In particular, the business newspaper Vedomosti cites the opinions of political experts, who say that the shutting down of this party was predictable, but also note that this does not put an end to the political career of Navalny and his party; on the contrary, it opens up possibilities for stronger coalitions with other opposition parties.

The opposition Novaya Gazeta points to the Kremlin’s desire to carry out a “pre-emptive strike” on an opposition movement that is gaining momentum, and which, against the backdrop of the economic crisis and anti-war sentiment, may turn into a real competitor for the pro-government forces in the upcoming 2016 parliamentary elections.

Russia’s views on civil unrest in Baltimore

The Russian media also actively discussed the issue of social unrest in Baltimore. For example, Rossiyskaya Gazeta proposed looking at these events within a broader context. These local protests in Baltimore are part of a common social process, the newspaper suggested, in which African-Americans are very unhappy with their social situation and the growing incidents of police violence. In the future, this trend of staging protests will only intensify.

Mikhail Taratuta, blogger at the Echo of Moscow, carried out a detailed analysis of the social situation of America’s African-American population, and concluded that it is difficult to judge the level of infringement of rights of this population within the United States. The author notes that, despite the great progress made in American society in overcoming racism as a daily phenomenon, and despite the great achievement made by many African-Americans in the United States, there still exists a “phantom racism,” which makes solving the problem of racial discrimination very difficult.

Quotes of the Week

President Putin, addressing the Council of Elders: “Unfortunately, after you stopped being actively involved in politics, the world has not become a simpler place. I do not wish to say that this is your heritage, but the truth is that the world, with its current conflicts, has become very complex.”

Alexey Navalny on the revoked registration of his Progress Party and the creation of a coalition with other opposition movements: “The liquidation of the Progress Party I see as a confirmation that this is a real opposition force in the country, the party that is guaranteed to overcome the barrier in elections to the State Duma. Another reason was the formation of a coalition – since we, having preserved the party, overcame the ban on participation in elections. This serves as a message to everyone, that these are the radicals, and we will not allow them to participate in politics.”

Dmitry Peskov, spokesperson for the Russian president on the question of whether or not Putin sees Navalny as a threat: “The President, with such a level of public confidence and popularity, with such electoral ratings, can hardly consider other politicians as a threat.”

State Duma Member Vitaly Milonov about jail time for the young women that "twerked" in front of the “Small World” Memorial: “This is necessary to do, so that our society has a clear understanding that there are sacred topics, which we will not allow anyone to desecrate. And so next time, excuse me for the expression, some brainless fool may think twice [whether this is worth doing].”