Media Roundup: John Kerry's visit to Sochi for talks with Vladimir Putin and the posthumous publication of a report on Ukraine by murdered opposition leader Boris Nemtsov attracted Russian media interest this week.
U.S Secretary of State John Kerry, right, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, watch as members of the United States and Russian delegations place red flowers at the Zakovkzalny War Memorial in Sochi, Russia, May 12, 2015. Photo: AP / Joshua Roberts
The most discussed event of the week in the Russian media was the visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to Sochi for talks with Vladimir Putin. Last week also saw the posthumous publication of a report prepared by opposition leader Boris Nemtsov on the Kremlin’s alleged military involvement in Ukraine.
1. Kerry's visit to Sochi for talks with Putin
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Sochi was the first direct bilateral meeting at this level for a considerable time, and the Russian press was unequivocal in supporting the resumption of dialogue between the two sides.
Opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta believes that any hope of a breakthrough from the talks was, of course, unrealistic, but the fact that they took place at all, against a backdrop of growing tension, was crucial.
Citing expert opinion, business daily Kommersant suggested that for Russia, it represented a step on the way back from international isolation, as well as recognition that, without Russia, complex issues such as Syria, Iran and Ukraine cannot be resolved.
Independent media outlet Slon also considers Kerry's visit to Sochi as signifying a potential shift from confrontation to dialogue between the two countries, especially in light of the growing awareness of the futility of trying to resolve certain issues alone. However, the publication comments that solving the problems that have accumulated around Iran, ISIS and Ukraine, to name just a few, will be extremely difficult given the diverging positions of the United States and Russia.
Pro-government TV station Channel One described the talks as very successful and noted a gradual rapprochement between the two countries on Ukraine.
2. Publication of Nemtsov's "Putin. War" report
The report by Boris Nemtsov claims to reveal the details of Russia's participation in the war in Ukraine. It is believed that the report could have triggered Nemtsov's murder. His supporters managed to collect the materials he put together and make them available to the public.
Business daily Vedomosti published data from the report, including the amount spent by Russia on support for the militias and the upkeep of Ukrainian refugees, as well as information about the involvement of Russian troops in the conflict in the Donbas (150 were on the ground in August 2014 and about 70 in February 2015, according to the report).
Opposition TV channel Rain cited the opinion of unnamed NATO experts who believe that "the report proves yet again that Putin is lying," and that Russian troops are in fact engaged in the conflict.
Opposition-minded Novaya Gazeta published excerpts from the 64-page report, while pro-government media (Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Channel One) effectively ignored "the Nemtsov report."
3. The verdict in the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
Russian media did not find the death penalty for Boston marathon suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev all that shocking.
Far more discussion was provoked by the reaction of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who said on Instagram that he does not believe that "the Tsarnaevs committed this terror attack without the knowledge of U.S. intelligence, if indeed they did commit it."
Many leading publications, including Echo of Moscow, tabloid Moskovsky Komsomolets and business daily Kommersant, published the full text of Kadyrov's statement on the involvement of U.S. intelligence in the terror attack.
What's more, Kommersant published a long article with an analysis of the trial, laying bare the arguments of the prosecution and the defense, noting that the verdict does not mark the end of the legal proceedings, since the appeals procedure in the United States is fairly lengthy and complicated.
4. The verdict in the case of Mohammed Mursi
The sentence handed down to former Egyptian President did shock the Russian press. On May 16, the country's former head of state was sentenced to death, accused of treason and spying for other countries, and of aiding Islamists from the Muslim Brotherhood organization.
Kommersant explains that in order to take effect under Egyptian law, the verdict needs to be approved by the grand mufti, the country's highest Islamic legal official, so the situation is still rather unclear.
Opposition Novaya Gazeta reported that Mursi supporters had attacked the judges and prosecutor immediately after the sentence was delivered.
Moskovsky Komsomolets wrote about Washington's reaction to the verdict, noting that U.S. officials believe the case to be "politicized" and want to see a "fair trial" for Mursi.
5. Chechnya’s “wedding of the millennium"
The Chechen Republic has been a hotbed of news recently. Alongside Kadyrov's controversial statement on the Tsarnaev verdict, the focus this week was on the marriage of a 47-year-old Chechen police chief to a 17-year-old schoolgirl.
According to opposition media, notably Novaya Gazeta, the family and the girl herself were initially opposed to the marriage and declined the proposal. But then Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov intervened, and matters proceeded according to plan: On May 16, Luiza Goilabieva became the lawful wedded wife of the head of the Nozhai-Yurtovsk district police department, Nazhud Guchigov.
The wedding was a grand occasion, and Kadyrov himself danced the traditional lezginka. It sparked a debate in Russian media about the "state within a state" and the disregard for Russian law in Chechnya.
For instance, radio station Echo of Moscow featured a piece by human rights activist Elena Masyuk, telling the story of the girl, the fate of Guchigov's first wife and about how Kadyrov has once again demonstrated that he is the "boss" in all Chechnya-related matters.
Kommersant published an interview with oppositionist Ilya Yashin, who described the marriage as "insalubrious" and called for the traditions of certain regions of Russia not to be allowed to come into conflict with Russian legislation.
Pro-government Rossiyskaya Gazeta quoted Kadyrov, who called for the girl be "left in peace [since] there is no force capable of making Chechen parents give away their daughter in marriage against the girl's own wish."
Quotes of the week:
Dmitri Trenin, head of the Moscow Carnegie Center, on the Putin-Kerry talks: "The Americans, too, are not sure what to expect, so they will be very cautious, but in general they have decided that it is time to change tactics and move from isolation to engagement."
Dmitry Peskov, spokesperson for the Russian president, on the talks with Kerry: "Although far from a breakthrough, it represents the first signs of understanding that our two great countries need to return to normal cooperation."
Ramzan Kadyrov on the Tsarnaev verdict: "Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been sentenced to death. ... U.S. intelligence agencies, which have been accused of involvement in the Boston tragedy, needed a scapegoat. So they sacrificed Tsarnaev... I do not believe that the Tsarnaevs committed this terror attack without the knowledge of U.S. intelligence, if indeed they did commit it."
Oppositionist Ilya Yashin on the wedding in Chechnya: "Our society finds itself in a highly insalubrious psychological state... Ramzan Kadyrov is clearly suggesting that the Chechen Republic does not want to abide by the laws of the Russian Federation, but to live under Sharia law, and the issue of polygamy is one episode within the framework of this line of thinking."
Russian Commissioner for Children's Rights Pavel Astakhov in support of the wedding in Chechnya: "Emancipation and sexual maturation happen earlier in the Caucasus. Let's not be sanctimonious. There are places where 27-year-old women are already wrinkled, and look almost 50 to us. Moreover, the Russian Constitution prohibits interfering in citizens' private affairs."