Russian media roundup: This week the Russian media analyzed the results of the Minsk peace talks and the Munich Security Conference, looking for hopeful signs that war can be averted in Europe.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, right, looks through a scope during his visit to the State Border Guard Service in Kiev on Feb. 14. Photo: AP

It goes without saying that the event that received top billing this week in the Russian media was the high-stakes peace negotiations in Minsk. Such complex and lengthy negotiations of international significance have not been seen in Europe for some time and the Russian media opined widely on whether or not these talks might lead to a lasting peace.

In addition, members of the media debated Russia’s growing isolation on the world stage, as evidenced by negative Western reaction to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s speech at the Munich Security Conference.

The Mink cease-fire deal

The Russian media contained a range of views on the outcome of the Minsk peace talks. On one side were the moderate optimists (opposition Novaya Gazeta, pro-government Aktualniye Kommentarii and Rossiyskaya Gazeta). On the other side were the many skeptics (opposition Echo of Moscow, Slon, pro-government Izvestia).

Novaya Gazeta published an editorial urging society to stop the “blamestorming” and give the Minsk agreements a chance.

“I would like to ask the numerous political commentators and movers and shakers (in Kiev, Moscow and the West) to declare their own journalistic cease-fire,” said the piece. “This is not the time to view the Minsk talks as a poker game: who’s holding the aces, who’s bluffing, etc.”

Aktualniye Kommentarii gave a word to Vladimir Skachko, who considers the Minsk agreements a step towards peace in the region.

“The measures adopted by the parties to implement the Minsk agreements are a significant step towards establishing peace in the Donbas region,” believes the expert.

Sergei Aleksashenko, in his blog for radio station Echo of Moscow, expresses the view that the Minsk agreements are a purely timeserving device.

This second version of the Minsk agreements is neither a resolution to the conflict nor a final compromise that would solve all the issues,” said the expert. “It is a cease-fire agreement which, in the present climate, serves the purposes of all those who assembled in Minsk: Poroshenko got some breathing space and another deal with the IMF."

"Putin warded off the threat of new sanctions by showing that he is not yet ready to raise the stakes... Hollande asserted France’s right to be called a great diplomatic power, putting Sarkozy’s nose out of joint in the process," Aleksashenko continues.

"Merkel was able to step slightly to one side and neutralize the pressure she is under on both sides: the beneficiaries of economic cooperation with Russia demanding an easing of sanctions, and the defenders of democratic values who require even tougher ones," Aleksashenko added. "The Minsk agreements also help out President Obama, who is keen for the Ukraine conflict to be solved within Europe.”

Tatiana Stanovaya of Slon believes that Minsk produced no clear winner and that the talks are merely delaying an inevitable war. According to her, “The 14-hour talks did not reconcile the parties one jot. All that Russia gained was a bit of time before the start of a new war.”

Izvestia published the opinion of Maxim Sokolov, who considers the simple fact that the talks took place and certain agreements were signed to be a positive result, clearly stating, however, that no one should expect a radical improvement in the situation, since everyone knows “the devil is in the details.”

“Of course, the fewer the snags and hitches there are, the better, but any treaty, even one framed in the serene setting of a peace conference, never mind during an all-night vigil,” says the expert, “poses questions about the motives of the negotiators.

“How fatal these snags are to establishing a general lull in Europe depends on the extent to which certain players really do want to see peace,” adds Sokolov, “as well as on the degree of interest of other powers outside the Minsk conclave, but nevertheless involved in the turmoil in Ukraine.”

Signs of Russia’s isolation at the Munich Security Conference

Last weekend’s Munich Security Conference should have been a platform to discuss Ukraine and a possible settlement. But, according to Russian journalists, that failed to materialize. Most Russian media (Slon, Echo of Moscow, business daily Kommersant, and to some extent even pro-government Rossiyskaya Gazeta) surmise that the main result was a demonstration of Russia’s global isolation.

Lesya Ryabtseva, who blogs for Echo of Moscow, says that she “gets the feeling” that “everyone hates us,” “everyone is ashamed of us,” and that “Russia is an enigmatic enemy.”

Meanwhile, Elena Chernenko of Kommersant focuses on the fact that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was hissed and ridiculed during his speech in Munich. “Elmar Brok (a German member of the European Parliament) and many other delegates of Western countries could be heard laughing loudly and making scathing comments,” says Chernenko.

Lavrov’s reception at the conference was also mentioned by Slon contributor Mikhail Zygar, concluding that it provides a motive for Russia’s top officials not to attend such events in the future. Zygar believes that the Munich conference in 2015 marks the start of a “new political era.”

It is symbolic that it happened in Munich. For the past few months we’ve all been debating whether or not Russia’s international isolation was real. Everything was decided by itself. From now on, officials (especially Putin) will be unlikely to go anywhere. There’s simply no point,” he writes.

Regular contributor for Rossiyskaya Gazeta Yevgeny Shestakov summed up that view by stating that, “The Munich conference gave the impression that most participants did not want to hear or listen to Russia.”

Another case of high treason

This week, the media discussed another case of “high treason.” Former FSB officer (and later an employee of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate) Yevgeny Petrin was accused of state treason after he returned from a trip to Ukraine. Russian journalists devoured reports of this “young FSB major,” who was “transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), from where he was assigned to Ukraine, then recalled this summer to Moscow and arrested on charges of betraying the Motherland.”

Some publications compared the case with that of housewife Svetlana Davydova (discussed in the previous Russian media roundup) and tried to find a correlation. Despite the differences (Petrin has been in custody since June 2014), the view was expressed (radio station Echo of Moscow) that the government is carrying out a “cleanup” and that allegations of state treason are becoming a trend.

Other opinions (Kommersant, Novaya Gazeta, were more reserved, given the lack of details and closed nature of the investigation. Pro-government Aktualniye Kommentarii believes that the case is being deliberately blown out of proportion.

Anton Orekh (Echo of Moscow) asserts that cases of high treason are becoming the norm. “‘Not a day without treason’ is the present motto. Anyone can be a traitor: mothers of many children, physicists, wordsmiths, and now a priest. The enemy has many faces and goes under different guises. What’s more, spy cases smack of devilry, all the more so in the case of Father Petrin,” remarks Orekh.

Orekh adds that today accusations of treason are easy to make, but far harder than before for the accused to shake off, since treason can be linked to almost any contact with foreigners.

“It’s no longer necessary to convey state secrets or have access to highly sensitive information,” sums up Orekh.

Alexander Chernykh (Kommersant) interviewed Eva Makarcheva of the Public Oversight Commission, who stressed that the whole story of Petrin seemed to her to be rather unusual.

“His back story is very mysterious,” opines the expert. “He claims to be an FSB captain, who was secretly introduced onto the staff of the Moscow Patriarchate of the ROC.”

“The particulars of the case are classified, so the details of the charges are not yet known, but confessionary statements have been made,” emphasizes Chernykh, drawing no substantial conclusions.

Meanwhile, an author for casts doubt on most of the publicly known details of the investigation, including Petrin’s role in the FSB.

“It is interesting that the media allege that Petrin worked for the FSB and was made an officer, after which he left the service,” writes the online publication’s Dmitry Yevstafyev. According to reports, in conversations with colleagues Petrin actually introduced himself as an undercover security officer.”

Aktualniye Kommentarii quoted Russian State University for the Humanities expert Sergei Chernyakhovsky, who believes that talk of spy mania in society is wide of the mark.

“On the contrary, there reigns a remarkably unconcerned and naive atmosphere. Objectively speaking, there are indeed people close by working against Russia to the benefit of our competitors... The days of professional spying are not behind us,” states Chernyakhovsky.