Russian media roundup: The lifting of sanctions against Iran, the meeting between Vladislav Surkov and Victoria Nuland in Kaliningrad, and the face-off between Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and Russia’s opposition made headlines last week.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani arrives for a news conference in Tehran, Iran. Photo: AP

On Jan. 17, the EU and the U.S. lifted longstanding sanctions and restrictions imposed against Iran that were originally put into place to counter Tehran’s nuclear development program. The lifting of sanctions led to much speculation in the Russian media about the potential impact on global oil prices and the future of Russia’s partnership with Iran.

In addition, a new format of talks was started on the settlement of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine last week. On Jan. 15, Russian presidential advisor Vladislav Surkov and Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Victoria Nuland met near Kaliningrad. During this meeting, the two sides discussed the implementation of the Minsk Agreements and exchanged information on the progress of the settlement process, leading to speculation about further U.S.-Russia cooperation.

Removal of sanctions against Iran

Russian media were concerned about the “Iranian issue” since the lifting of sanctions from a major oil producing country threatens the already unstable oil market with further price declines. For Russia, this could mean even greater economic problems.

The business newspaper RBC predicts a further decline in oil prices, and forecasts that they will remain at low levels throughout 2016. In this process, Iran will not play a key role. According to experts quoted by the newspaper, the market may have overestimated the possibilities of Iran increasing its production after years of frozen fields and the absence of investment.

Also read: "Russia won't support Iran in its face-off with Saudi Arabia. Here's why"

The Kommersant newspaper interviewed Russian analysts to know about the future of world oil markets after Iran’s return, as well as the future of Russia-Iran cooperation after the lifting of sanctions. Experts unanimously proclaimed: Iranian oil will definitely change the market, make the competition even tougher, and oil prices will head even lower.

Russia, which has been a priority partner since the times of “confrontation with the West,” will now become a quite ordinary partner, and its companies will have to fight hard for their place in the Iranian market, emphasize the experts.

Gevorg Mirzayan, writing for the analytical publication Expert, tries to find a silver lining in the situation. For Russia, this is a great diplomatic success, which among other dividends, has allowed the creation of a fragile peace in the Middle East.

At the same time, one cannot talk about any termination of ideological conflict between Iran and the West; after all, in the West and in Iranian society, there are many significant political circles opposed to this new “nuclear deal.” This means that Russia’s role as a strategic partner will not disappear.

Meeting between the US and Russia on Ukraine

The online media outlet believes that such meetings as those between Surkov and Nuland could become a permanent fixture, because the United States, which is not included in the “Normandy Format” negotiations (Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany), nevertheless plays a significant role in European politics. Thus, that country’s formal involvement in the peace process is a must.

With reference to the Russian experts, assumes that Moscow is trying to reach an agreement with Washington in order to make the latter put pressure on its protégés in Kiev, which would considerably speed up the implementation of the Minsk Agreements, and would strengthen the cease-fire in the Donbas.

Kommersant argues that the purpose of the meeting was to agree on the procedure for implementing the Minsk Agreements. Initially, the two sides saw the order of implementation of the items in the agreements in different ways, and it is high time to align these views. 

Referring to the Russian experts, the newspaper noted the delays by Kiev in implementing the Minsk Agreements, while stressing the mutual desire of both Moscow and Washington to resolve the conflict. After the meeting in Kaliningrad, the chances for the implementation of the Minsk Agreements increased significantly, according to Kommersant.

Recommended: "What's next for Russia and the post-Soviet space in 2016?"

The pro-government TV network Channel One considers that the implementation of the Minsk Agreements by Kiev is not possible without the participation of, and even pressure from, the Americans.

After all, the latter link the lifting of sanctions against Russia with the implementation of the agreements, which makes Moscow the main interested party in this peace process. Probably, according to Channel One, this was the topic of discussions during the meeting between Surkov and Nuland.

Ramzan Kadyrov vs. Russia’s political opposition

Last week, the focus of the Russian press was once again on the controversial politician and head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. This time, the controversy was caused by his call for people to fight against the non-systemic opposition in Russia using all possible means, since these, he says, are traitors and enemies of the people.

Many politicians and public figures spoke out against Kadyrov, but a statement made by Krasnoyarsk parliamentarian Konstantin Senchenko especially resonated in the media. Senchenko on his Facebook page called Kadyrov “Russia’s shame.” Subsequently, Senchenko publicly apologized to the head of Chechnya.

The independent Slon is not convinced about the sincerity of Senchenko’s apology: the publication suggests that some serious pressure was put on the parliamentarian, as in the video of his apology, he speaks about some “influential people” who helped convince him of Kadyrov’s authority. In addition, emphasizes Slon, Senchenko initially refused to make any public apologies. 

The website of the Echo of Moscow radio station gives voice to politician Dmitry Gudkov, who is also convinced that in the end, Senchenko was simply intimidated and forced to make an apology. Chechnya, the politician believes, in these times of crisis, has once again become an irritant, and the Kremlin must take a clear position on this matter, otherwise anti-Chechen sentiment in the country will only grow.

Kirill Martynov, a political columnist for the opposition Novaya Gazeta, believes that Kadyrov is quite obviously carrying out a “cleansing” of figures who are disloyal to him, and not only in Chechnya, but also at the federal level, demonstrating that “all his critics will regret their actions, and that he can do anything he wants to do.”

Also read: "The Kadyrov scandal: Fear and loathing in Chechnya"

Martynov is convinced that this statement about “enemies from the opposition” and forcing an apology once again have demonstrated that Chechen authorities have long ceased to exclusively work on just regional development, and now consider that they themselves have a right to interfere in the affairs of the center of other Russian regions.

The Gaidar Economic Forum

On Jan. 15, the largest forum dedicated to the economic problems of Russia concluded its work in Moscow – the Gaidar Forum. Given the ever-worsening economic situation in the country, people were awaiting from the forum not simply the traditional discussions on results and prospects, but also the voicing of a concrete action plan. The three days of debates were marked by sharp critical statements and the government’s plans for budget optimization and cost reductions.

The business newspaper Vedomosti argues that Forum didn't recahed its goals and didn't come up with the roadmap of how to overcome the current economic crisis. The participants of the Forum, the newspaper highlighted, could only guess about where oil prices would “bottom out,” and build vague predictions, since no one dared to speak out loud about unpopular, but necessary, economic and political measures that must be taken.

Meanwhile, Moskovsky Komsomolets analyzed the speech of the head of Sberbank, German Gref, who announced the backwardness of the country, as well as the fact that Russia had lost in the competition with the other economies of the world, and its destiny now is in the camp of the outsiders.

Moskovsky Komsomolets recalled that the predictions of this well-known economist have almost always come true: as early as 2010, Gref was calling for reforms, considering that the global crisis of 2008 had not yet ended, and Russia could find itself in an even more precarious position than it was back then.

The publication also noted that, on the background of Gref’s speech, the speeches of the Ministers of Economy and Finance of Russia looked incredibly optimistic, and the Forum once again only stated the obvious – the dismal state of the Russian economy.

Quotes of the week:

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, on the lifting of sanctions: “It’s a good day for the people of Iran… and also a good day for the region. The sanctions will be lifted today… It proved that we can solve important problems through diplomacy, not threats and pressure, and thus today is definitely an important day.”

The head of the State Duma Committee for International Affairs, Alexey Pushkov, on the lifting of sanctions against Iran: “Agreement on Iran and the lifting of sanctions from that country is almost the only right step taken in American foreign policy during Obama’s second term as president. However, without Russia, this would not have been possible.”

German Gref, head of Sberbank, at the Gaidar Forum about Russia's competitive capability: “We lost the competition, and we must be honest about this. And this is technological enslavement, I would even say, we happen to be among the countries that keep losing – the downshifting countries.”

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov on the non-systemic opposition in Russia“The representatives of the so-called non-systemic opposition are trying to cash in on the difficult economic situation. These people must be treated as enemies of the people, as traitors.”

Krasnoyarsk parliamentarian Konstantin Senchenko on Kadyrov“Ramzan, you are a disgrace to Russia. You keep discrediting everything you can.”