Media Roundup: While coverage of Russia’s military strikes in Syria dominated Russian headlines over the past week, events in Turkey and Belarus also attracted the attention of the nation’s media.

Syrian soldiers enter the city of Atshan in the Hama province. Photo: RIA Novosti

Last week, Russian media continued to focus on the bombing of positions of Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS) militants in Syria. In addition, the media focused on other events in the region – such as the horrific terrorist attack in Turkey over the weekend – that could have implications for Russia’s military involvement in the volatile Middle East.

Blows against ISIS in Syria

On Oct. 7, an unprecedented event in the modern history of Russia occurred. A total of 26 cruise missiles were launched from ships in the Caspian Sea, aimed at rebel positions in Syria. This launching of cruise missiles – followed by almost Hollywood-style spectacular video clips from the Defense Ministry of Russia – caused the greatest controversy in the Russian media.

Also read: "The cost of Russian military involvement in Syria still uncertain"

The independent media publication Slon has already compared these missile attacks to “using a cannon to shoot a sparrow”, noting that there was no need to launch these missiles, as all rebel positions in Syria are easily accessible to Russian aviation. The publication believes that, in reality, Russia was testing its latest weapons, as well as demonstrating to partners and foes alike its military power. It is noteworthy that this was done from the Caspian Sea – a traditionally ignored flotilla, which is often even not even mentioned when listing fleets of the Russian Navy.

The business newspaper Kommersant writes about the reaction of Russia’s Western partners to the launching of the cruise missiles. In particular, the newspaper noted that the Americans said that this was a deeply unprofessional exercise because it violated the airspace of Turkey (a NATO member) and Russia had not notified its partners in advance about the launching of such a strike.

The newspaper also noted that for Russia – this was a great event, because this was the first military use, in Russian and Soviet military history, of cruise missiles against ground targets in a real combat operation.

The pro-government publication Rossiyskaya Gazeta considers the launching of the missiles as extremely successful in all respects – in addition to the targets that were hit in Syria, this action “amazed” all Western media, which were very impressed with the demonstration of Russia’s military might.

“Russia has shown that it possesses the same long-range non-nuclear deterrence capability as the Americans,” the publication emphasized.

Terrorist attack in Ankara

Russian media expressed serious concerns after the Oct. 10 terrorist attack in Ankara, Turkey. This terrorist attack at an anti-war rally in the capital city of Turkey caused the deaths of more than 90 people, with over 200 injured.

The tabloid Moskovsky Komsomolets wrote about the end of the dream of Turkey becoming the “Switzerland of the Middle East” – an island of security and stability in a troubled region. The publication tried to determine which parties would benefit from this terrorist attack, as well as predict how it might signal the intensification of terrorist activities in Turkey.

The opposition media outlet Novaya Gazeta draws attention to the fact that Turkish authorities have imposed restrictions on media’s coverage of events connected with this attack. In particular, “Reporters may not publish material that shows the very moment of the explosion, bloody scenes or images that evoke a sense of panic.” The publication also reported that some social networks – such as Twitter - were also blocked.

The pro-government publication Rossiyskaya Gazeta believes that behind the bombings may have been the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), with which the Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has been trying to negotiate for a long time already. The publication emphasizes that, among other possible culprits are ISIS, the left wing extremist Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party, and the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party.

Nobel Prize for literature goes to Belarus

It has been a long time since the awarding of a Nobel Prize for literature has caused such a stir in Russia. This year it was awarded to Belarusian writer Svetlana Aleksievich, who is known for her works based on personal interviews of people directly affected by various military conflicts in the twentieth century, including the Great Patriotic War and the war in Afghanistan. In addition, she has written a journalistic account of the tragedy in Chernobyl.

Recommended: "Hard thinking about Russian soft power: What to do next"

However, in Russia, Aleksievich is better known for her anti-Russian views as well as outspoken criticism of President Vladimir Putin’s regime. As a result, Russian media actively discussed the following question: Was the writer worthy of the award, or did she receive it just due to her “politically correct position”?

One of the authors of the Echo of Moscow radio station was indignant that Aleksievich, with her “one-dimensional” works, was placed on a par with the great writers of the past – Boris Pasternak, Ivan Bunin, and Joseph Brodsky, who aslo recieved the Nobel Literature Prize . The commentary on the website sought to convince the reader that the politicization of the Nobel Prize has reached its climax, as the committee has now chosen a writer that best articulates Western sentiment towards Russia.

The business newspaper Vedomosti considers the award more than well deserved, noting the importance of Aleksievich’s contributions to the development of Russian-language literature and its international recognition. According to the author of the article, the rejection of Aleksievich’s works in Russia is a bad sign, indicating the unhealthy nature of Russian society. The awarding of Aleksievich, for her non-fiction works, shows us the power of words in politics, the publication emphasizes.

The business newspaper Kommersant also points to the many great characteristics that are contained in the writer’s works. In particular, it emphasizes the author’s desire to have the voice of the simple “little man” heard, the story of individuals who have suffered from the travails of certain eras.

Open letter from opposition journalist Oleg Kashin

In 2010, the opposition journalist and social activist Oleg Kashin was violently attacked, beaten by two unidentified men right in front of his home. The case remains unsolved to this day, even though Dmitry Medvedev, the president of Russia at that time, had promised to bring the guilty to account.

In 2015, the case of this journalist once again came to the foreground, as his own investigations into the attack pointed to such major figures as businessman Alexander Gorbunov and the Governor of Pskov Oblast, Andrey Turchak.

At the beginning of October 2015, Kashin published an open letter to Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, which accuses these two of corruption and a cover-up when it comes to Turchak’s involvement, as well as accusing them of destroying Russia and its economy.

The opposition Dozhd TV channel considers this case to be a very important one, and has published the full text of Kashin’s letter. The TV channel reminds people that Turchak and Gorbunov are still not listed as defendants in this case, while Turchak was not even questioned.

The business newspaper Vedomosti examined in detail this letter. The publication feels that Kashin’s letter has great historical value, and that it should be able to push Russian society out of its “coma,” and people will now become more active and fight for their rights. The opinion of the opposition in Russia, expressed this loudly, and having paid a high price, has once again demonstrated the power of the word, the newspaper considers.

Also read: "With its grand past and difficult present, Russia's future still unclear"

A blogger for the website of Echo of Moscow radio station, economist Andrey Illarionov, parses the letter point-by-point, and does not see in it any political platform or manifesto whatsoever. Moreover, one cannot compare this letter with the truly historical documents such as the “Letter to Soviet Leaders” by Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn or the “Letter to Party and Government Leaders” by his peer Andrei Sakharov.

The texts from the Soviet era created a political platform from which to move forward, while Kashin’s letter is a “note to the authorities on his personal case, with pathetic maxims on moral catastrophe, the leadership’s isolation from society, and Russia’s inability to decide the “question of good and evil.”

The opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta writes about the official reaction of the Russian authorities. Dmitry Peskov, the president’s press secretary, said that, “Judging from the contents, there is nothing in it that is intended for obtaining some kind of response.” Kashin told the press that he was not surprised by such a response.

Elections in Belarus

Presidential elections were held in Belarus on Oct. 11, in which, according to the latest figures, the winner was the current president Alexander Lukashenko, having collected more than 80 percent of the votes. The election results were known in advance – among the candidates there was no serious opponent to the “last dictator of Europe.”

The business newspaper Kommersant analyzed the election campaign, which this year was different from all previous ones. Firstly, it occurred against the backdrop of a deteriorating economic situation in the country.

Secondly, there has occurred an obvious shift in foreign policy away from Russia and towards the EU and the U.S. Lukashenko, the newspaper noted, is attempting to get Western countries to lift their sanctions, and if this will require a substantial cooling in Minsk’s relations with Moscow – then this sacrifice will be made. 

The pro-government Channel One took an expected approach – the narrative about the elections in Belarus was laced with irony and sarcasm. The TV channel “took a shot” at the predicted outcome, the kowtowing of Belarus to the West with a view to the lifting of sanctions, the admission of Western observers to areas of combat between Lukashenko and the opposition, and even at the president’s son – the eleven-year old Nikolay, who accompanies his father during all public events and visits.

Moskovsky Komsomolets also considered the result a foregone conclusion: “The elections will be held, and Lukashenko will remain.” The publication feels convinced that the lack of a real opposition figure in the elections was largely the result of the Maidan uprising in neighboring Ukraine.

Recommended: "The real reason for stationing Russian fighter jets in Belarus"

Belarusians are really scared of this kind of development occurring in their own country, and thus are ready to vote for Lukashenko to ensure the country’s peace and tranquility. The Belarusian opposition groups thus had no chances under these circumstances, and they were well aware of this.

Quotes of the week:

Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov in response to accusations that Russian cruise missiles had not reached their targets in Syria:

“No matter how unpleasant and ‘surprising’ for our colleagues in the Pentagon and Langley was this strike with precision weapons against ISIS infrastructure in Syria, all the missiles fired from the ships found their targets. This is a fact. Otherwise, one would have to admit that facilities of terrorist groups in Syria, located at a considerable distance from each other, yesterday blew up all by themselves – and almost simultaneously.”

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter on Russia’s launch of cruise missiles:

“We consider it unprofessional actions of the Russian Federation in Syria, including violation of airspace, which is airspace of NATO, and starting without warning of cruise missiles, which took place a few miles from the unmanaged American aircraft.”

Oleg Kashin in an open letter to Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev

“Your fifteen years – do not flatter yourselves, this is not the revival of Russia, or the country getting up from its knees, this is a time of the greatest moral catastrophe experienced by our generation. The personal responsibility for this catastrophe falls on your shoulders.”