Russian media roundup: The opening of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro was the focal point of the Russian media last week.
The Russian national team's flag-bearer Sergei Tetyukhin during the opening ceremony of the XXXI Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: RIA Novosti
During the first week of August, the Russian media outlets focused on the opening of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro — notably, the number of Russian athletes banned from competition as a result of controversial anti-doping allegations. The sense of injustice was only magnified by the decision made just as the Games opened to ban all of Russia’s Paralympic athletes from the upcoming Paralympic Games.
In terms of foreign policy news, the Russian media continues to monitor the situation in Ukraine, where Kiev has refused to accept the newly appointed Russian ambassador. This unprecedented move in the diplomatic world highlights the continuing tensions between Russia and Ukraine.
The opening of the Olympic Games in Rio
The 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro opened on Aug. 5. The Russian press discussed the Opening Ceremony, as well as the numerous problems facing the Brazilian leadership from all sides.
Lenta.ru complained about the bad logistics and the Olympic facilities, which leave much to be desired. The outlet highligted a number of problems. The volunteers do not speak English, while the Organizing Committee is providing the wrong information. Reporters are standing in line for hours to get into the Opening Ceremony, and finding the directions to a specific venue is close to impossible. However, the biggest problem for the Russian audience might be the low odds of the Russian national team to win many medals – some of the potential winners were not allowed to compete because of the doping scandal, and in general, the Russians are much stronger in winter sports.
The business newspaper Vedomosti evaluated the economic and political implications of the Rio Olympics for Brazil. Initially, the Games were a matter of regional and international prestige, but it resulted in serious economic difficulties with minimal opportunities to earn money from the Olympics. The bigger problem is that Brazil is mired in a series of negative events – corruption scandals, the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, economic decline and growing poverty.
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For the Brazilians, a successful Olympic Games might give impetus to economic development and could help the country exit from its protracted crisis. If the Games are successful, the current leadership will strengthen its position in the forthcoming elections, which should ensure political stability.
The independent media outlet Meduza presents five major problems of the Olympics in Rio: the absence of sufficient funding, the dubious quality of the Olympic facilities, serious infrastructural problems, poor quality of housing for the athletes in the Olympic Village, as well as the dismal environmental situation.
The ecological situation remains a real concern. In addition to the filth throughout the city of Rio, many biologists fear the multitude of harmful bacteria and other microorganisms that have been found in the waters near the city where some of the sporting events will be held. Then there is also the threat of the Zika virus, which continues to pose serious health threats to Brazilians and visitors.
Russian athletes banned from the Paralympics
Within hours of the opening ceremony of the 2016 Summer Olympics came the news that the Russian Paralympic team will not be allowed to participate in the Paralympic Games in Rio due to the doping scandal that resulted in the ban of Russia's track and field athletes and weightlifters from the Olympics Games. A number of media outlets discussed this decision, which Russia considers unfair and plans to appeal at international legal and sports tribunals.
The online publication Gazeta.ru explained the position of the Russian side: The accusations against the Paralympians are based on speculation, with no basis in reality. In addition, Russian sports officials continue to insist on the political motivations behind these decisions taken against the Russian team. Gazeta.ru also emphasized that most members of the foreign sports community supported the decision of the Paralympic Committee, which again suggests a coordinated or deliberate campaign against Russia.
The business newspaper Kommersant calls the decision of the Paralympic Committee “surprising” — especially in light of the Olympic Committee's decision not to suspend the entire Russian team. Of course, Russia will try to defend its Paralympic athletes. However, the prospects of achieving a reversal of the decision seem doubtful as law enforcement and case law on these issues is not unique, especially with regards to Russia, which has been subject to doping charges in the past.
Ukraine refuses to accept new Russian ambassador
The appointment of a new Russian ambassador to Ukraine continues to attract controversy. On Aug. 3, Ukraine sent a statement saying that the examination of the credentials of Mikhail Babich, the current Presidential Envoy to the Volga Federal District, was not even on the agenda. Moscow sees such a move as Kiev’s refusal to approve the new Russian ambassador.
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry explains its decision by the fact that “specific personalities” are not important for the Minsk process. Moreover, Kiev sees no need for the Russian diplomatic mission in Kiev to have a new head, given that Russia has been represented in Ukraine by a Charge d’Affaires since 2014. The possible reduction in the level of diplomatic relations has raised serious concerns in the Russian media.
Experts interviewed by the business newspaper Vedomosti agree that Kiev is deliberately refusing to accept the new ambassador. They point out that the Ukrainian side has long sought to reduce the level of relations between the two countries, but this was not possible under the previous ambassador Mikhail Zurabov, who is a close friend of Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko.
As Babich with his KGB ties is a controversial figure for the Ukrainian side, Kiev is now taking the opportunity to cease cooperation at the level of ambassador. The experts also believe that the diplomatic scandal is good for Russia, since the refusal to accredit an ambassador is not very frequent in diplomatic practice, especially if not based on any formal grounds.
The opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta believes that the Kremlin could not have offered a more unpalatable candidate than that of Babich. From Ukraine’s perspective, Babich, a member of Russia’s power vertical, who has no diplomatic experience and no knowledge of the language and culture of the intended host country, cannot work on resolving the most complex diplomatic challenges that the new ambassador to Ukraine will face.
Instead, Russia needs someone who is diplomatic, loves the Ukrainian people, and understands the deep connections between the two countries. According to Novaya Gazeta's writers, only such a professional will be able to pull Russian-Ukrainian relations out of the deep crisis that resulted from the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Unfortunately, Babich, a purely political figure, meets none of these criteria.
Moskovsky Komsomolets, a tabloid, refers to the refusal of Kiev as “rudeness.” With this scandalous move, the Ukrainian government has accomplished two tasks – earning additional points in terms of propaganda (showing that it knows how to give a tough answer to the aggressor country), and satisfying the appetite of the far right in the country, which certainly would have considered the approval of the new ambassador as a manifestation of the weakness of the current government.
Prime Minister Medvedev makes another faux pas
At the Territory of Meaning Forum, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was asked why young teachers and educators in the Republic of Dagestan receive as little as 10,000 rubles ($155) per month, and the police – 50,000 ($775) and up. Medvedev answered that things have always been like that, and that teachers had made their own choice, and those who wish to earn more, should have gone into business.
This answer infuriated many Russians, especially in light of the fact that this is not the first careless statement made by the prime minister. In June, at a meeting with retirees who were complaining about the growing gap between their pensions and prices of goods, Medvedev made a statement that has become a major Internet meme of 2016: “There simply is no money available. But you grin and bear it, I wish you all the best, good mood and good health.”
After Medvedev’s latest gaffe, Internet users began collecting signatures calling for his resignation. More than 230,000 have been collected so far.
Kirill Martynov, writing for the liberal newspaper Novaya Gazeta, is shocked by the statement made by the Prime Minister, especially as it was made on the eve of the 2016 parliamentary elections. According to Martynov, the Russian elites have been living in excessive luxury for so long that they have completely lost touch with reality. They seem not to fear even such potentially explosive comments as those made by Medvedev. In any other country, such a statement made a month before parliamentary elections would have led to the resignation of the prime minister.
Dmitry Drize, deputy chief editor of the business newspaper Kommersant, believes that Medvedev is attempting to differentiate himself from other politicians. On the eve of the elections, the prime minister wants to stand out against the background of candidates who are promising a better life to all categories of the population.
However, the comment from Medvedev went too far. Drize attributes the blunder to the Prime Minister’s speechwriters and image-makers. The journalist feels confident that such statements will not affect Medvedev’s career and that he will keep his post after the elections.
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The Internet website of the Echo of Moscow radio station gives voice to Communist Party politician Valery Rashkin, who believes that it is time for Medvedev himself to start looking for “other sources of income.” As prime minister, he has been able to demonstrate his complete incompetence and indifference to the problems of ordinary Russian citizens.
Rashkin considers a number of other statements made at the Territory of Meaning Forum as real mockery of the population, especially young people, who had hoped to hear representatives of the ruling party give answers to critical questions, including on the salaries of young professionals and their living conditions. Participants also hoped to get advice from the speakers on solving their problems on their own, as the authorities are not capable of doing this.
Quotes of the week:
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on the low salaries of teachers: “If you want to earn money – there are many good places where you can do it faster and better, including in business.”
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Pavlo Klimkin on the candidacy of Mikhail Babich as Russian Ambassador to Ukraine: “Today we are not talking about the candidacy or some specific things, but the establishment of positive dynamics around the whole context of Russian aggression, around everything that is happening in the Donbas. [Kiev] needs positive dynamics in order to move forward, and the question of personalities – this is a secondary issue.”
Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov on Ambassador Babich's appointment: “We want to maintain relations with Ukraine at the ambassadorial level – at this level it is easier to solve problems, and there are more than enough of these.”
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova on the suspension of the Russian Paralympic team: “This decision on the non-admission to the Paralympic Games of the entire Russian Paralympic team is a betrayal of the highest human rights standards that form the basis of the modern world.”