Russia Direct presents its weekly media roundup, with a focus on Turkey’s downing of the Russian fighter jet, Hollande’s visit to Moscow, and the Crimean blackout.
A man eats by candlelight in a cafe after a power failure in Simferopol, Crimea on Nov. 22, 2015. Photo: AP
The main event of the last week was Turkey’s shoot-down on Nov. 24 of a Russian Su-24 bomber, which was flying on a combat mission against terrorists operating near the Syrian border with Turkey. Two days later, on Nov. 26, French President Francois Hollande visited Moscow as part of a broader attempt to build an anti-terrorist coalition with Russia.
Turkey shoots down a Russian bomber on the Syrian-Turkish border
Turkish authorities are saying that the Russian warplane had violated Turkish airspace for 17 seconds, and the country was defending itself. Moscow denies these accusations, claiming that the Sukhoi Su-24 posed no threat to the Turkish side, and was flying over the territory of Syria. As a result, the plane’s captain was killed, while the navigator survived, being subsequently extracted during a joint Syrian-Russian rescue operation.
The situation has been aggravated by the fact that the pilot was killed while parachuting down by the Turkmen, one of the peoples of Syria with close ties to Ankara. Vladimir Putin has called this incident a “stab in the back,” and accused Turkey of aiding terrorism.
Kirill Martynov, columnist at the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta considers that this incident jeopardized not only the relations between the Russian Federation and Turkey, but also Russia-NATO relations, and it was the most serious blow to bilateral cooperation since the end of the Cold War. The newspaper expressed hope that all parties will demonstrate sufficient patience and wisdom to de-escalate the situation, because otherwise, the already weakened Russia faces very difficult times in the future.
The independent media publication Slon believes that this political struggle between Turkey and Russia, and the exchange of threats, may end badly for the Kremlin. In Russia, according to writer Ekaterina Shulman, they are underestimating Turkey, and are thus knowingly putting themselves at a disadvantage. The Turkish regime is more stable than the Russian one, and we can expect Erdogan to respond harshly to any Russian challenge.
The newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets wrote about the massive response of Moscow: President Putin not only approved the placement of Russian S-400 anti-missile systems in Syria and intensified military operations, but also signed a decree on economic sanctions against Ankara.
Among the main measures of the sanctions are the following: suspension of the visa-free regime, and a ban on imports of food and the hiring of Turkish citizens. The newspaper also noted that the tourism sector of Turkey also came under attack – Rosturizm and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have “closed” this popular destination for Russian vacationers, advising people not to travel to that country.
The business newspaper Kommersant, citing military experts, pointed to the deliberate actions of the Turkish military. Even if the Russian plane had violated Turkey’s airspace, shooting it down without first taking a number of preventive actions – was clearly an unfriendly act.
The newspaper reminds its readers that tensions between Moscow and Ankara had escalated after Russia started its anti-terrorist operations in Syria, which at the outset caused serious resentment among the leadership of Turkey.
However, the latest events have finally ruined bilateral relations, which are unlikely to recover in the short term. Rather, Kommersant emphasizes, lying ahead for relations between Russia and Turkey, and therefore between Russia and NATO, is a long period of confrontation.
The visit of Francois Hollande to Moscow
Immediately after the major terrorist attacks in Paris, the French president set off on a kind of “anti-terrorism tour” – before coming to Moscow, he visited Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, David Cameron, and Matteo Renzi.
In Russia, they were expecting a lot from Hollande’s visit, hoping to build a broad coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS) in Syria. The impressions of Russian media, in general, converged – no broad coalition was created, and the visit itself could hardly be called successful.
Moskovsky Komsomolets believes that the visit did not work out as hoped, because the meeting between Obama and Hollande did not go as the French President had planned. The French leader, says the newspaper, was hoping to reconcile Russia and the United States on the issue of the fate of Bashar al-Assad, but in Washington, he was clearly given to understand that the anti-terrorist operation is secondary to the removal of Assad from power. This message, “brought” by Hollande, caused irritation in Moscow, and put an end to discussions about forming a broad coalition against ISIS.
The independent Slon, through its expert Tatiana Stanovaya, pointed out the “long path” that Hollande took to reach Moscow – as he was travelling from capital to capital, the hopes for creating a coalition kept fading, and the French leader arrived in Russia with an already completely different attitude.
Moreover, the downed Russian plane did nothing to add confidence to Russia-NATO relations, and endangered the very idea of coordination between participants, in their war against ISIS in Syria. In the final analysis, Hollande’s visit did not live up to the expectations and did not reduce the level of uncertainty and mistrust between such important players as Russia and NATO member countries.
The pro-government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta did not agree with the opinion that this visit was futile. The newspaper, citing French experts that it interviewed, stressed the strategic nature of relations between Moscow and Paris. The results of this meeting, noted Rossiyskaya Gazeta, are not to be judged only in the plane of concrete agreements, but in the direction of the signals.
The main message of this meeting was that France considers Russia as an important partner in the fight against ISIS, and is ready to cooperate. This is what the agreements reached in Moscow were directed towards (the exchange of intelligence information, the prevention of situations like the downing of the Su-24, the attacks on oil facilities of the terrorists).
The continuing saga of the striking truckers
In various regions of Russia, the truckers’ strike, which we wrote about last week, continues. Drivers are opposed to the introduction in mid-November of the Platon system, which greatly increases the cost of each journey for drivers.
Nov. 30 was set as the date for the “Truckers March on Moscow,” where protesters intend to block traffic on one of the main arteries of the city – the Moscow Ring Road (MKAD). The authorities, as before, are refusing to cancel or suspend the Platon system.
The opposition TV channel Dozhd (Rain) wrote about the desire of the Russian authorities to split the protesters. According to the TV channel, the authorities have held an impressive meeting with one of the leaders of the movement, Alexander Kotov, trying to create a split in the ranks of protesters.
The editorial staff at the TV channel support the thesis and opinions of experts and political scientists, who are confident that in this case the Kremlin is operating using the logic of “divide and rule,” while the truckers themselves are easy to influence, not having well-thought out common objectives or demands.
The business newspaper Vedomosti, in its editorial section, emphasized that this is the first time, in a long while, that the authorities have been faced with a really large-scale social protest. The government leaders do not know how to react to this challenge, and the confusion, slowness and incompetence in its ranks, are only leading to the expansion of this movement and the radicalization of the protesters, who are gradually turning into a political force.
Alexander Zelinchenko, blogger at the website of the Echo of Moscow radio station, has called naive not only the truckers, but also anyone who looks at any protest movement with hope. The author believes that the fate of this movement was sealed since its very beginning, it remains unclear just how these protesters will be dispersed – with soft or tough actions.
Pro-government media (Channel One, Rossiyskaya Gazeta) have decided to ignore this theme.
Crimea remains without electricity
The population of Crimea is still without constant electric power supply after transmission towers were blown up in Ukraine on Nov. 21. Russian media talked about how hard it was for the inhabitants of the peninsula to survive under these difficult conditions, and who was to blame for these problems.
The online publication Gazeta.ru noted the philosophical attitude of the locals. This is not the first time that the Crimeans have been faced with energy supply problems (in the 1990s, the peninsula was constantly suffering from such shortages), and people are trying to remain optimistic. Many are seriously preparing for a winter without power, taking into account possible provocations on the part of Ukraine.
The opposition TV channel Dozhd (Rain) emphasized that the moods on the peninsula are very different. “Wealthy” Sevastopol and Simferopol almost never suffer from energy shortages, and so the discontent in these areas is the least.
At the same time, there are cities that are fully deprived of energy, such as Kerch, where people are beginning to grumble. Residents of Kerch are outraged by the inaction of local authorities: The city has not only been without electricity for a week already, but also the criminal situation has significantly worsened, with the streets becoming dangerous.
The liberal publication Meduza also wrote about the difficult situation on the peninsula, despite the assurances of the authorities that they have the situation under control. Residents complain about the lack of electricity, the sharply rising prices for candles and generators, as well as the scarcity of a number of food products, including bread.
The newspaper also blamed the Crimean authorities for this situation. Since the beginning of 2015, they had known about a possible provocation coming from the Ukrainian side, but did nothing to ensure energy security of the region.
Quotes of the week
Putin on the Su-24 incident: “The loss we suffered today came from a stab in the back delivered by accomplices of the terrorists. I can’t describe what has happened today in any other way."
Recep Erdogan on downing of the Russian jet: “I think if there is a party that needs to apologize, it is not us. Those who violated our airspace are the ones who need to apologize. Our pilots and our armed forces, they simply fulfilled their duties, which consisted of responding to… violations of the rules of engagement. I think this is the essence.”
The head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, on the shooting down of the Russian aircraft: “Today, Turkey has become a base for the recruitment and sending of terrorists to Syria. Passing through Turkey are gangsters from all around the world. Only a few are ever detained. Is Turkey fighting against ISIS? The country conducts business with these people, buying oil, financing the enemies of Islam, who are killing thousands of Muslims.“
The opposition leader Alexey Navalny on the downed Russian plane, “Of course, we must impose some serious sanctions – I repeat once more, Erdogan shot down our plane for public relations and promotional reasons, rather than military ones, or due to security measures. This cannot be ignored, but there also should be no military escalation. I think that our first step, instead of all this hypocritical nonsense with chicken or tourists, should be an official recognition of the Armenian Genocide.”
Hollande on the results of his trip to Moscow: “We agreed on a very important issue: To strike the terrorists only, Daesh and the jihadi groups only, and not to strike the forces and the groups that are fighting against the terrorists."
Hollande on the fate of Bashar al-Assad during his visit to Moscow: “Of course, Assad cannot play any role in the future of this country.”
Putin on the fate of al-Assad after talks with Hollande in Moscow: “The army of President Assad, and he himself, are natural allies in the struggle against terrorism.”