Over the past week, the Russian media focused on Bashar al-Assad’s visit to Moscow, the 2015 Valdai Club discussions, and new developments in the Syrian crisis.

President of Syria Bashar al-Assad at a meeting with President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin. Photo: RIA Novosti

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s unexpected visit to Moscow on Oct. 22 was a focal point of the Russian media during the week. In addition, for insights into the future diplomatic direction of the Syrian crisis, the media analyzed the Oct. 23 meeting in Vienna between the foreign ministers of the “Syrian quartet” – Russia, the U.S., Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Assad’s visit to Moscow

Pavel Aptekar, the author of the business newspaper Vedomosti, is ambivalent about Assad’s visit to Moscow. He believes that the Kremlin clearly has influence with the Syrian regime, as it was right after these talks in Moscow that Assad mentioned the possibility of changing the leadership of Syria through early presidential elections.

Aptekar believes that Moscow’s plan is very questionable, not only because in this war-torn country, it is impossible to hold any full-fledged free elections, but also because Russia was a bit late with its peace initiative. Defending Assad and his supporters, Moscow is depriving itself of the ability to influence the Syrian opposition, which could lead to Russia losing out in the struggle for Syria.

Alexander Bratersky, journalist at the online publication Gazeta.ru, analyzes the reaction of the international press to Assad’s trip to Russia. He notes that the world media saw this visit as a challenge thrown to the dormant U.S. administration, as well as a serious bid by Moscow to become a key player in the Middle East. The publication reminded its readers that many world leaders and government officials of major countries voiced a negative reaction to Assad’s visit.

The business newspaper Kommersant wrote that Assad’s visit caught world leaders by surprise and “dramatically raised the stakes in the Middle East, and in the relations between Moscow and the West.”

Also read: "Assad in Moscow: A sign of nearing talks on Syria's future"

The publication, quoting a Russian expert, noted that a new diplomatic offensive has been undertaken by Moscow, which explicitly states that without Russia, no settlement of the Syrian crisis is possible, as only the Kremlin is able to have an influence on the Assad regime and its supporters.

The Vienna “quartet” meets on Syria

The Syrian issue has been on the agenda for a long time already, and it appears that its settlement by negotiations within the “quartet” (Russia, the U.S., Turkey, Saudi Arabia) will take a long time, says the Russian press.

Alexei Nikolsky from Vedomosti noted in his article that negotiations simply cannot bring about any tangible results, because there are no serious military preconditions for this to occur – the war continues in full swing. Therefore, to have the current government and the opposition sit down at the negotiating table, as well as agree on the terms of a settlement, is impossible.

Alexander Panov, writer for Novaya Gazeta, also points to the lack of results from this meeting. However, the publication believes that the talks were mainly about Assad, who continues to be supported by Moscow and condemned by Washington. Panov said that we should not expect a diplomatic breakthrough at the Vienna meeting of the “quartet,” largely because, in reality, no party has a clear plan for resolving the situation in Syria.

This is especially true of the Obama administration, under great pressure from public opinion, and not able to use any serious military forces in Syria.

Meanwhile, Ekaterina Zabrodina, staff writer for the pro-government Rossiyskaya Gazeta noted that the Vienna talks were “useful,” quoting the words of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The publication commented on Russia’s positions on the main points of the negotiations and stressed that it is the Russian side that insists on expanding the format of the talks, by including such countries as Iran, Egypt, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

The 2015 Valdai Forum

The Valdai Forum – created in 2004 to bring together politicians, journalists and international experts - was held for the second time in Sochi. The central part of every Valdai Forum is a speech by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his answers to questions from the audience.

Kirill Martynov, staff writer of the opposition Novaya Gazeta, believes that Valdai has shifted focus to foreign policy rather than domestic policy themes, because Putin’s speech was entirely devoted to international issues, and apparently was aimed at foreign audiences.

Read Q&A with Harvard's Timothy Colton, a participant of Valdai Discussion Club: "Treat Russia like a normal country with its own interests"

Martynov believes that the true meaning of Putin’s message to the world was a signal to drop the Ukrainian question from the agenda. The Russian leader simply ignored Ukraine in his talk. For its Western partners, this is a sign that Russia no longer wants to be the “bad guy” and is open to cooperation. However, the writer emphasizes, the West is not ready to listen to Russia.

Elena Egorova, writing for tabloid Moskovsky Komsomoletsnoted that it was logical for the president to lay emphasis on the international component, given the recent Russian successes in Syria. The publication highlighted the number of representatives at the forum, listing the numerous foreign experts and politicians who attended this event. For the newspaper, all this seems a clear indication of the absence of any kind of international isolation of Russia.

Political scientist Grigory Golosov, author of the independent Internet publication Slon, also believes that Syria has overshadowed all the other topics, and this has been a positive thing for Russia. After all, it made it possible to move the irritant – the Ukrainian conflict – into the background.

However, just as their colleagues at Novaya Gazeta, the writer of Slon believe that Putin’s message will not be understood or heard by the West, which refuses to understand the logic of the actions being taken by the Russian leader.

Quotes of the Week

Sergey Lavrov, after talks in Vienna dedicated to the future of Syria and President Assad“Our partners have an obsession with the figure of the Syrian president, but we have confirmed our position.”

Eric Schultz, White House spokesperson, on Assad’s visit to Moscow: “We view the red carpet welcome for Assad, who has used chemical weapons against his own people, at odds with the stated goal by the Russians for a political transition in Syria.”

Davutolgu Ahmed, Prime Minister of Turkey, on Assad’s visit to Moscow: “It would be better if Assad would stay in Moscow a little longer, so that the Syrian people get some rest from him.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Valdai forum on the reasons for the Syria operation: “Fifty years ago, I learned an important lesson on the streets of Leningrad – if a fight is inevitable, it’s best to make the first blow.”