Russian media roundup: The most important topics of last week, through the eyes of Russian journalists.

Russian President Vladimir Putin during his annual address to the Federal Assembly in St. George's Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow, Dec. 3, 2015. Photo: EPA

Last week, Russian media actively discussed the annual message to the Russian Parliament made by President Putin, the scandal around the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, the execution of a Russian citizen by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS) and the ongoing truckers’ strike within Russia.

Vladimir Putin’s annual address to the Federal Assembly

On Dec. 3, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered his annual address to the Federal Assembly of Russia. In this address, every year the president not only sums up the work done during the passing year, but also offers his vision on the further development of the country, proposing to politicians and public figures the most pressing issues on domestic and foreign policy agendas of Russia.

The current address took place against a difficult background – Russia’s continued battle against terrorism in Syria, Turkey’s shoot-down of a Russian warplane and the West being in no hurry to forget about Ukraine and remove sanctions against the country.

The business newspaper Vedomosti discussed items that the president talked about and those that he avoided. This publication’s editors said that they did not see any particularly new ideas – the same old emphasis on socioeconomic issues, the fight against terrorism and the need for the international community to work together on this issue.

Putin also avoided some topics, such as domestic policy and the situation in Ukraine, about which the President did not say a word. Experts interviewed by Vedomosti believe that the absence of domestic policy in the address was a good sign, meaning that the government, in the near future, is not planning any “crackdowns.” The omission of the Ukrainian theme also seems to be a positive sign, clearly showing that the Russian government does not want any escalation in eastern Ukraine.

Kirill Martynov, political columnist with the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, believes that the absence of any sensational items in the message is good news for everyone. Nevertheless, Mr. Martynov sees as the biggest positive factor Putin’s promise to become “a president for all.” For the first time in a long time, in such a major keynote speech, the president made no mention of the “fifth column” or “groups undermining national unity.” Mr. Martynov believes that this is a good sign for Russian opposition groups.

In addition, the address did not contain the traditional hints at the perfidy of “Western partners.” To the contrary, Putin does not want to see Russia in isolation, and intends to cooperate with world powers, including the United States.

Alexander Gorniy, blogger at the Echo of Moscow radio station, was somewhat disappointed by the socioeconomic part of the president’s address: it is not clear why Putin praised the work of the government during the crisis, because people have not started to live better than in the preceding year. Moreover, from his message, one cannot draw any clear idea of what to expect from the government, such as what kinds of socioeconomic measures, what specific works.

Russians, emphasizes the blogger, are tired of the inefficient work of the executive branch of the government during the crisis, and were waiting for decisive action by the president in this regard; however, they got exactly the opposite.  

Also read: "What Putin said – and didn't say – in his Federal Assembly address"

The scandal surrounding the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation

The most discussed topic of the week, partly eclipsing even the president’s address, was the scandal around the Russian Prosecutor General Yury Chayka. On Dec. 1, the Anti-Corruption Foundation (ACF) of the opposition leader Alexey Navalny published its investigation into the activities of Yury Chayka and his family.

Initially, suspicions of the activists were raised by the fact that one of the sons of the prosecutor owned a hotel in Greece. As a result of the investigation, what emerged was the most talked about topic today, and perhaps the most important success achieved by Navalny and his ACF to date.

The hotel turned out to be only the tip of the iceberg, compared to the evidence uncovered – that the subordinates of the prosecutor general and his family were doing business with the very Tsapka Gang, the mention of which terrifies every Russian citizen, who remembers the events of five years ago.

We should recall that in 2010, during an investigation into a massacre in the village of Kushchevskaya, uncovered was the organized crime group of Sergey Tsapka, which had kept practically an entire region (Krasnodar Krai) in fear. In essence, this means that the long existence and impunity of the Tsapka Gang was due to their direct links with senior officials of the Prosecutor General Yury Chayka, including direct subordinates Gennady Lopatin and Alexey Staroverov. The Prosecutor General himself has denied all the allegations, calling them “falsified.”

Opposition journalist Oleg Kashin, in an article for the independent Slon argues that, for the first time in a very long time, Navalny and his ACF have carried out a really important investigation. This is not just about illegally acquired property, but about having actual ties with the bloody underworld, and providing “protection” for violent criminal activities and destruction of competitors.

Kashin believes that now the main question is: What to do next? After all, it is clear that the scale of activity of the Prosecutor General is hardly confined to just one region, and corruption affects the entire country.

The business publication RBC wrote about the reaction of Russian parliamentarians on the publication of materials about Mr. Chayka. Despite the fact that many have expressed support for Mr. Chayka and consider this investigation as a “hired project,” there were also those who want to find out the truth. Among the latter are representatives from the Communist Party and the United Russia Party, who are calling for an investigation and calling for the Prosecutor General to appear at “Parliamentary Hour.”

At the business newspaper Vedomosti, they believe that the situation cannot be reduced only to competition within the Russian elite, where one side has “dumped” dirt on its opponent Mr. Chayka. Corruption is corruption, stresses the newspaper, and society is sending a clear message to the authorities, demanding that limits be finally placed on this corruption, because it has outgrown all imaginable and allowable borders.

The execution of a Russian citizen by ISIS

Last week, ISIS published a video alleging that it had executed a Russian spy uncovered in the ranks of this terrorist organization. The execution was conducted also by a native of Russia, presumably from Siberia. Before cutting off the head of the captive Magomed Khasiyev, the jihadists issued threats of new terrorist attacks against Russians, and saying that Russians will never ever again feel themselves safe, because of their military operations in Syria. The recording received almost instant responses from many politicians and public figures, and especially Muslims.

The pro-government newspaper Izvestia writes about the reaction of the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, who acknowledged that the executed man was a resident of Chechnya. Kadyrov promised ISIS militants retaliation for the death of this Chechen. The newspaper also noted that the identity of the executioner is also already known – he is a native of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District, 28-year-old Anatoly Zemlyanka, who is on the federal wanted list in Russia.

The online publication suggests that the victim Khasiyev could be among those volunteers who came from Russia to fight for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. notes that more and more such people are arriving, they are of different religions – among them are Muslims, Christians, and Jews – and in most cases these are people motivated by ideology, who are not fighting for money, unlike paid mercenaries.

Moskovsky Komsomolets interviewed the half-brother of the executed Khasiyev. The brother claims that he knew of no links between his relative and terrorists or intelligence agencies, but he did not maintain close ties with Khasiyev, so he cannot say anything for certain. The newspaper also published data on the executioner, who, according to Moskovsky Komsomolets, has already been dubbed “Jihadi-Tolik,” by analogy with “Jihadi-John.”

Read Russia Direct's report: "Russia's New Strategy in the Middle East"

Again the truckers

The strike of Russian truck drivers continues. Last week, the column of trucks came to Moscow, paralyzing traffic on the Moscow Ring Road (MKAD) with their “Snail” protest (slowing vehicular traffic down to 10 km/h). However, the promised mass blockade of traffic movement in Moscow did not materialize.

The government finally agreed to hold talks with the strikers, and the first result of these negotiations was a significant reduction in fines for violations of the Platon system (from 450,000 to 5,000 rubles or $6,489 to $72). There were also promises heard to revise or even cancel this system. However, the Russian President has remained silent on this issue, with his press service noting that this problem is outside the scope of responsibility of the Kremlin.

The opposition Novaya Gazeta, in an article by political columnist Kirill Martynov, said that the authorities took way too long to enter into dialogue with the protesting drivers. Perhaps, suggests Mr. Martynov, state officials have “lost their grip” and are unable to determine the correct moment when they really should sit down at the negotiating table. In this case, according to the author of the article, we are not talking here about a moral duty to society, but the banal preservation of the system, something that, apparently, the state apparatus is not capable of doing.

The business newspaper Kommersant writes about the motives of the truckers: the drivers want a reasonable approach to the introduction of the Platon system and they want the government finally to listen to them. The truck drivers expressed particular frustration with the fact that the issue of the Platon system was not mentioned in President Putin’s address to the Federal Assembly – the truckers were waiting for some kind of signal and solutions for themselves in this speech.

Anton Nosik, blogger at the Echo of Moscow radio station, believes that it is absurd to identify with the long-distance truckers. The potential of their movement, the author stresses, is zero, and the union that leads them is a fully “purchasable” structure, which is only seeking a monetary proposal from the government. Protests of truckers are not capable of changing a country that is overrun with corruption and run by an inefficient management system, at the very least because the drivers are only interested in pursuing their own economic interests.

Quotes of the week:

Vladimir Putin on Turkey in his address to the Federal Assembly: “If anyone thinks that after committing a heinous war crime – the murder of our people – they can get off easy, by just us placing an embargo on the import of their tomatoes or placing limitations in the construction or other sectors, they are deeply mistaken. We will often remind them about what they did. And they will regret what they have done more than once. We know very well what needs to be done.”

Opposition leader Alexey Navalny on the results of the investigation into Mr. Chayka: “It is impossible to seriously assume that the ‘business’ of the prosecutor’s family, with all its wonderful dealings – from forcible takeovers of enterprises to mysterious killings, from state contracts to business partnerships with the Tsapka Gang, could have gone on, unnoticed by the political leadership of the country, including President Putin.”

Yury Chayka on the investigation into his affairs: “For me it is obvious that this was a purchased investigation, not performed using the money of the investigators. Big Money was involved! The presented details are deliberately deceitful in character, and are fully groundless.”

Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation on the ACF’s investigation of Chayka: “I do not wish to comment on this matter, as this information was published by the CIA. And everything the CIA publishes has not yet been of benefit to us.”

The ISIS militant threatening Russia during the execution of a “Russian spy”: “People of Russia, you have once again been dragged into an unwinnable war. You will not be safe. We will kill your children for each dead child here, and we will destroy your homes for each destroyed house here. Oh, Russian mothers, hold on to your sons, otherwise they will face the same fate.”

Ramzan Kadyrov, head of Chechnya, on the execution of the Russian citizen: “Whoever did this, will get a one-way ticket from us.”