Russian Media Roundup: Over the past week, the Russian media focused on Putin’s visit to Italy, the meaning of the Russia Day holiday and the threat that ISIS poses for Russian youth.

Pope Francis meets Russian President Vladimir Putin on the occasion of a private audience at the Vatican, Wednesday, June 10, 2015. Photo: AP

The leading topic for the Russian media this week was the meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin with the Pope in Italy, which many saw as yet another signal that Italy could become an even more important European partner for Russia.

In addition, the media analyzed the significance of the Russia Day holiday in the context of worldwide separatist movements, discussed why Russian youth might be attracted to ISIS and radical Islam, and looked for potential clues to Hillary Clinton’s future foreign policy towards Russia.

Vladimir Putin’s visit to Italy

Last week Vladimir Putin visited Italy, where he met not only with the head of the Italian Government Matteo Renzi, but also with Pope Francis of the Vatican. Putin already had a meeting with the Italian Prime Minister in Moscow this spring, and so the visit with the pontiff aroused greater interest.

The business newspaper Kommersant wrote about significant progress in the talks with the Vatican. The media outlet noted that, although there is no official confirmation of this, judging by the pronouncements made by Pope Francis after his meeting with Putin, both leaders managed to agree on some specific and important items.

In particular, the two leaders appeared to discuss the question of the timing of Easter celebrations (Catholic and Orthodox celebrate this holiday at different times of the year). The media paid attention to how diplomatically careful the pontiff was in not accusing Russia of aggression in Ukraine.

In contrast to this upbeat message, the opposition TV Channel Dozhd pointed out that Vladimir Putin once again arrived one hour late, without specifying any justification for this. The business media outlet Vedomosti also wrote about this, and also reported that the focus of the talks was the situation in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Moskovsky Komsomolets believes that Putin today is not welcome in many European countries, Italy is not one of these. In fact, Italy may well become a conduit of Russian interests in Brussels.

The G7 Summit

The recent two-day G7 Summit, as was expected, presented nothing sensational in terms of concrete decisions coming from the heads of states or governments. The Russian media were more concerned about Russia’s absence from the summit, as the country was expelled from this “club” after Crimea joined Russia in 2014.

The opposition Novaya Gazeta wrote about the overt disregard for Russia. The situation is very unlikely to change in the short term, because the G7 has made Russia’s return conditional on successful implementation of the Minsk Agreements. The newspaper also noted that Russia is pretending that membership in the G7 is not needed, while actively promoting the agenda of the BRICS countries.

The pro-government Channel One indicates that the G7 are still committed to a dialogue with Russia on major international issues, as can be seen from the somewhat softened rhetoric this time around, compared with the previous summit.

Meanwhile, the business newspaper Kommersant published a statement made by Russian President Vladimir Putin, in which he called the G7 a “special interests club,” and said that work should be carried out in a wider format, while at the same time, taking into account the interests of all parties.

The case of a Russian student joining ISIS

Last week, Turkish police detained a Russian citizen, Varvara Karaulova, a student in the Faculty of Philosophy of Moscow State University, who was trying to cross the border into Syria, where, presumably, she was going to join ISIS. This story caused great debate in Russian society – some trying to protect her and believing that she was a victim of professional recruiters, while others seeing in her a potential traitor and a terrorist.

The website of the Echo of Moscow radio station suggested that the reasons for Karaulova’s behavior are complex, and noted the importance of understanding how difficult it is for modern Russian youth to “make one’s way in life.” Nevertheless, the media outlet noted that – a meticulous study of five foreign languages ​​(including Arabic and Turkish), and regular training, is clearly not typical for the average 19-year-old girl, and one must ask: Where were the parents when all this was taking place?

The pro-government Rossiyskaya Gazeta asked experts to explain the reason for the attractiveness of Islam and Islamist radical thought for the young people of Russia. Among several personal factors, the experts told the newspaper that “Islam is a religion of action,” and “young people are attracted” by “revolutionary romanticism,” and also that the “subculture of terror” has long been developing alongside many other youth subcultures. 

Russia Day celebrations

On June 12, Russia celebrated its Independence Day holiday, and, of course, Russian media could not ignore this event. On this day in 1990, Russia signed the Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Russian Federation. Despite the fact that the vast majority of Russian citizens cannot say with certainty from whom they had gained their independence, according to a number of publications, finally, this holiday has found its audience.

The independent Slon talked about the origins of this holiday, and that in essence, it is deeply a “separatist” event, because it was the Russian Federation that played a key role in the fomenting of separatist tendencies in the U.S.S.R., which this “Declaration” laid the foundations for. That is why, according to author, its name has been “shortened” to Russia Day – as in the current difficult conditions, the government fears separatism as it would a fire.

The business publication Vedomosti noted that the sharp increase in the number of citizens who consider June 12 as a holiday, and not just a regular day-off from work (an increase from 29 to 45 percent). The newspaper linked this growth of sympathy for the holiday to the active patriotic work that the Kremlin has undertaken with the population, as well as the overall high level of “uncritical” patriotism among Russians.

The first European Games

Last week the first European Games opened in Baku, Azerbaijan. The opening ceremonies were attended by the leaders of a number of countries, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and other leaders of former Soviet republics.

In addition to the importance ​​of this sporting event, Russian media actively discussed the bilateral meetings on the sidelines of this event, in particular between Putin and Erdogan. According to Kommersant, these meetings were very intense. Some success was achieved, for example, in talks involving the Turkish Stream.

The pro-government Channel One reported about the scope of preparations for the Games, including wonderful organization and logistics, a great show with Lady Gaga, and the great work carried out by the Azerbaijani side. Simultaneously, the TV channel reported about the successful talks held between Putin and Erdogan.

The first major election rally for Hillary Clinton

The Russian press discussed the first official campaign rally of Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate for the Democratic Party.

The independent Slon argues that of major importance for Clinton is the domestic agenda, especially the fiscal policy and economic prospects for the U.S. Many other Russian media paid attention to the fact that Clinton equated Russia to countries such as North Korea and Iran.

Moskovsky Komsomolets says that Clinton’s position was not that simple – one cannot last long just on anti-Russian rhetoric, especially considering that, as the Secretary of State in Barack Obama’s Administration, Hillary was a strong advocate for dialogue with Moscow. Together with Sergey Lavrov, she even launched a “reset” in relations. The publication noted that this is only one example of inconsistencies found in Clinton’s political campaign strategy.

Quotes of the week:

Angela Merkel about the G7 format: “Today we had a very good discussion about the nature of the G7. All participants noted that it is important for us to share common values. In the case of the annexation of the Crimea and interference in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, Russia has shown that its views on this differ from ours.”

Vladimir Putin about the G7 format: “I thought that this format made some sense, because at least we were able to present there some sort of an alternative point of view. However, our partners have decided that they have no need of such an alternative point of view. That is their choice. However, now this is no longer an organization. This is just a ‘special interests club.’ We wish success to this format.”

Turkish president Erdogan about the opening of the first European games: “It was very telling that no EU leaders were present yesterday.”

Hillary Clinton about America’s efforts to neutralize any threats from Russia: “No other country is better equipped to meet traditional threats from countries like Russia, North Korea, and Iran – and to deal with the rise of new powers like China.”