Russian media roundup: While President Putin’s strange disappearance from public view preoccupied the Russian media, there was also significant attention dedicated to the current state of the Minsk ceasefire and the political status of Mikhail Prokhorov.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev enters the hall for their meeting in the Konstantin Palace outside St. Petersburg, Russia, Monday, March 16, 2015. Putin resurfaced Monday after a 10-day absence from public view, looking healthy. Photo: AP
The focus of the Russian media shifted last week from events in Ukraine to issues related to Russian domestic politics. The leading stories in the Russian media last week involved the disappearance of Russian President Vladimir Putin from public view, the exit of Mikhail Prokhorov from his party Civic Platform and the high-profile treason case of Svetlana Davydova.
#1: Where is Putin?
The question of President Putin’s whereabouts dominated the Russian press no less than the question of the falling ruble and sinking oil prices in December. For an entire week, the Russian leader did not appear in public, his trip to Kazakhstan was postponed, and the advisory board of the FSB, whose sessions he usually attends, on this occasion conducted its business without him.
The story also became a favorite topic on social media as well due to the ability of people to project just about any scenario or explanation for Putin’s disappearance. As Oleg Kashin of Slon noted on Putin's disappearance: “Putin can do anything and be anywhere. We won’t notice because our imaginary Putin lives a life of its own totally unrelated to the secret existence of the real Putin.”
With that in mind, business daily Vedomosti discussed the impact that rumors about the health of authoritarian leaders can have, Dozhd TV speculated that the president might be suffering from flu, while bloggers for Echo of Moscow suggested that Putin’s disappearance could be some kind of calculated attempt to change the topic after the murder of Boris Nemtsov.
Kirill Martynov, columnist for Novaya Gazeta, commented on rumors about the death of Putin: “If you think Putin’s death will set you free, it’s not him who’s died, but you.”
Anyway, Putin appeared today at a meeting with President Almazbek Atambayev of Kyrgyzstan, thereby proving all the rumors to be false.
#2: Russia withdraws from the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe
One of the other top stories of the week was undoubtedly Russia’s withdrawal from the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE). Rumors about a possible exit had been circulating for a long time, but it has come to pass now right in the midst of the Ukraine crisis.
Independent media publication Slon analyzed the possible causes and consequences, noting that it was further evidence of the collapsing relations between Russia and the West, while Russian tabloid Moskovsky Komsomolets asserted that the CFE had long been “dead” and that Russia’s withdrawal was predetermined by the radical shift in the political climate. Business publication Vedomosti also considers it a logical step for Russia to exit the CFE against the backdrop of deteriorating relations with the West, where none of the parties is attempting to curb the confrontation.
#3: Mikhail Prokhorov departs Civic Platform
This week the liberal party Civic Platform waved goodbye to its ideological muse – billionaire businessman Mikhail Prokhorov – who was essentially the be-all and end-all of the party. However, he had expressed a desire to retire from politics. The reason was the involvement of party members in the “Anti-Maidan” movement (extreme pro-government forces bent on preventing a “color revolution” in Russia), which, in Prokhorov’s view, had completely discredited the party.
Other key members of the party followed Prokhorov’s example. The mass walkout could deal the party a fatal blow, say Russian media. Business daily Kommersant and opposition paper Novaya Gazeta polled experts and forecasted the imminent demise of this political group.
According to political analyst Konstantin Kalachev, Civic Platform will become “a political dwarf used for spoiling “Anti-Maidan” style statements, and the nomination of gubernatorial candidates in ‘referendum-type’ elections.”
#4: The time frame for implementing the Minsk agreements was extended
The Ukrainian side is not fulfilling its obligations under the Minsk agreements, with particular regard to formalizing the special status of Donbas, according to various Russian media outlets. Kiev’s responsibility for missing the Minsk-2 deadline was covered chiefly by pro-government Channel One and business daily Kommersant. The popular tabloid Moskovsky Komsomolets highlighted the non-fulfillment of other points of the peace agreements.
#5: The premiere of “Crimea: The Way Home”
This film about Crimea was broadcast on Sunday night. A full-length documentary, it tells the story of the events in Crimea in the spring of last year. Of particular interest to the Russian media was the filmmakers’ extended interview with Vladimir Putin. In the interview the Russian leader talks about how the decision to return Crimea to Russia was taken and about the events that took place inside the Kremlin in spring 2014.
In the documentary, Vladimir Putin commented on the events of the “Crimean spring” in 2014 and the possibility of deploying nuclear weapons to defend Russia’s interests:
“We were ready to do it. I spoke with colleagues and told them that it [Crimea] was our historic territory inhabited by Russian people who were in danger and whom we could not abandon. It was not us who orchestrated a state coup, but nationalists and extremists. You supported them. But where are you? Thousands of miles away? But we are right here, and it’s our land! What are you fighting for there? You don’t know? We do. And we are ready for it.”
Pro-government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta emphasized that the picture tells the real version of events, while business daily Vedomosti quoted U.S. Secretary of State spokeswoman Jen Psaki: “What we have seen is consistent with the misleading approach associated with Russia denying its involvement in the events in the east of Ukraine.”
#6: The case of Svetlana Davydova is closed
The case of Svetlana Davydova, who in January of this year was accused of state treason for reporting the movement of Russian troops to the Ukrainian embassy, was dismissed. Moskovsky Komsomolets says that the investigators who instituted the ridiculous case against Davydova will not face action, and Kommersant points out that Davydova does not plan to file a lawsuit against the state, even though she could. Meanwhile, Echo of Moscow blogger Anton Orekh believes that without the public’s active involvement, Svetlana Davydova would still be “under lock and key.”