Russian media weekly roundup: The disclosure of information about the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” was in the Russian media spotlight this week, with even members of the opposition media joining in condemnation of the report’s findings.

Members of the media raise their hands during CIA Director John Brennan's news conference at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., Thursday, December 11, 2014. Brennan defending his agency from accusations in a Senate report that it used inhumane interrogation techniques against terrorist suspect with no security benefits to the nation. Photo: AP

For the Russian media, this week brought two stark new reminders that the fight against global terrorism continues to define how both the U.S. and Russia view the world.

Closest to home, the terrorist attack in Grozny almost exactly twenty years after the start of anti-terror operations in Chechnya was yet another reminder that Islamist radicalism along Russia’s borders still poses a potential threat.

And, more importantly, disclosures of CIA torture after 9/11 resonated deeply with the Russian media, which rushed to condemn the findings of the report.

Media reaction to “enhanced interrogation techniques”

The U.S. Senate’s publication of information on the use of torture against suspected terrorists was one of the hottest topics of the week. The pro-government media (Channel One) strongly condemned the actions of the CIA, while the opposition media (Echo of Moscow) refused to view things in black and white. The independent Kommersant also denounced the actions of the CIA.

Alina Sabitova of Kommersant quoted former Russian intelligence operative Mikhail Ignatov.

“To deprive people of life’s natural necessities is inhumane and cannot be tolerated. It runs counter to all common rationality,” said the expert. “But the U.S. considers itself a superpower and untouchable, so it tramples over international law. I think it’s perfectly plausible that they did, are doing and will continue to do it in ever more sophisticated ways.”

A curious response came from expert Malek Dudakov on Echo of Moscow’s website. The political scientist analyzed in detail the text of the Senate report and arrived at an interesting conclusion: There is nothing new in the report, and it is simply an attempt by the Democrats to rehabilitate themselves after their recent election failures.

“Why is the report so loudly decried as a ‘Torture report’ if it does not adduce a single example of the application of ‘torture’ methods,” asks the expert. “It is very simple: the liberals in the Senate, led by Diane Feinstein, needed the most scathing name possible to attract interest in the problem after the five-year ‘investigation.’ Is it pure coincidence that this clearly unfinished report has been hastily published only just now? Of course not… The Democrats lost their majority in the Senate in the November 4 elections, and are now scrambling to get done what’s been lying on the table since 2007.”

Channel One condemned the actions of the U.S. government, pointing out that Washington regularly violates international law.

“The UN has accused the U.S. of violating the International Convention against Torture,” said the channel’s website. “Ben Emmerson, special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, urged that those responsible be brought to justice. But that is unlikely to happen. Back in 2009, on giving the go-ahead for the Senate to investigate, President Barack Obama stated that no one would be punished. And history shows that the UN has no authority over Washington.”

The situation in Chechnya

For a long time, the words “terrorism” and “Chechnya” were inextricably linked due to the strong separatist sentiments in this region of Russia. But the last few years have seen a dramatic improvement, and it even seemed that the government of the Chechen Republic, headed by Ramzan Kadyrov, had everything fully under control.

However, on Dec. 4 militants in Grozny struck their most serious blow in recent memory, which resulted in a massive anti-terrorist operation by Russian special services. The clash resulted in the death of 14 police officers and more than 30 injured.

The Dec. 4 terror attack in Chechnya's capital Grozny raised fears about the security and stability of the region. Photo: RIA Novosti 

The Russian press is not united on Chechnya. As a result, the media tends to focus on different aspects of the fight against terrorism in the region. For instance, the opposition press (Echo of Moscow, Slon) highlighted the brutal measures taken in the aftermath, namely the burning of the houses of the families of the militants involved in the Dec. 4 attack. The pro-government press (Channel One, Aktualniye Kommentarii) was divided: Some talked about outside factors, others about the position of the Islamist movement as a whole.

Slon's Alexandra Sokolova produced a special report on the villages set on fire, clearly expressing her indignation at the measure.

“According to Chechen head Ramzan Kadyrov, not a single militant was left alive,” she wrote. “But death was clearly not enough, so during the night of Dec. 7 masked men burned down four houses belonging to close relatives of the militants.”

Sokolova also notes that the concept of “punish the relatives” is very vague, and we can expect to see further clampdowns by the Chechen authorities. She posits that “not only relatives, but anyone who had anything at all to do with the militants will have to pay. Hence, the burning of family homes is only the beginning.”

Anton Orekh, Echo of Moscow’s blogger, also sharply criticized Kadyrov’s actions and the “silence” of the federal authorities.

“Kadyrov is capable of suppressing any rebellion with maximum brutality,” writes Orekh. “That’s all that’s asked of him. In return, he can do what he likes. He essentially owns the republic, which is formally part of Russia. It breaks all records for the number of portraits of Putin, but it is actually a separate state, which has taken us hostage and demands the payment of tribute for peace and quiet.”

Meanwhile, Russia’s state-run Channel One analyzed the problem of terrorism in Chechnya in the context of Russian-Ukrainian relations. The channel broadcast a statement alleging that the Ukrainian parliament supported the terrorist attack in Grozny.

“The elected representatives of the Ukrainian people not only praised the bandits who killed law enforcement officers, seized the Press House and went on the rampage in the center of Grozny,” the channel claimed on air and on its website. “They even called them brethren in the struggle for Ukraine. And these so-called brothers are from the “Caucasus Emirate” militant organization.

Aktualniye Kommentarii cited the words of Caucasus expert Akhmet Yarlykapov:

“The form of the attacks indicates that the underground movement is weak,” he said. “It is obvious that all Islamist projects like Caucasus Emirate have failed.”

Yarlykapov believes that the recent spate of terror attacks represents “the death throes of terrorism in the North Caucasus, and they could last for a very long time.”

India as another sign of Russia’s pivot toward Asia

Vladimir Putin and Narendra Modi meet in New Delhi. Photo: Konstantin Zavrazhin / RG

Vladimir Putin’s visit to India drew much interest among Russian journalists. Some pro-government (Izvestia), opposition (Nezavisimaya Gazeta) and even business (Kommersant) press concurred: Russia should not limit the Asian vector to Beijing, and Moscow and New Delhi have far more in common than meets the eye.

Igor Karaulov from the Izvestia pro-government newspaper asserts that relations between Russia and India have great potential, arguing that Russia can gain from a partnership with India, which views relations in terms of economics, not political ideology. He believes that Putin’s visit is intended to probe whether or not the United States’ appeal to India to change its position on Moscow and join the economic sanctions against Russia has had an effect.

“India will not budge one millimeter where its interests are concerned,” concludes Karaulov. “The two countries’ response to external pressure is a defiant expansion of cooperation, including in the military sphere.”

Yuri Paniev of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, a Russian newspaper that identifies itself as independent, evaluated the mutual economic and political interests of Russia and India, concluding that India could well become an ally, even if under pressure from the United States.

“The U.S. is closely monitoring the development of Russian-Indian relations for fear that Putin’s visit could cast a shadow over President Barack Obama’s trip to India in January,” he adds.

Meanwhile, Kommersant’s New Delhi correspondent Sergei Strokan explains that, “For Moscow the revival of business ties with Asia’s third largest economy is part of Russia’s overall pivot eastwards, which has been expedited by sanctions against Russia.”

Strokan applauds the two countries’ plans for cooperation, noting all the same that India’s choice between the U.S. and Russia is an intriguing one.