Media Roundup: Given the outsized expectations concerning Russia’s pivot to China, the Russian media carefully analyzed every move at the APEC Summit in Beijing – including Vladimir Putin’s encounter with the Chinese president’s wife.
Russian President Vladimir Putin almost caused a diplomatic scandal when he recently placed a shawl on the shoulders of Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan, the wife of President Xi Jinping. Photo: RG / Konstantin Zavrazhin
With the crisis in Ukraine showing signs of having stabilized, the Russian media continues to focus on the financial and economic impact of sanctions. This week’s APEC Summit in Beijing, for example, was carefully examined for how it might influence Russia’s budding economic relationship with China. And, with the ruble seemingly in free fall, the media analyzed the possible efficacy of a new Central Bank policy designed to shore up the ruble.
Russia’s relationship with China comes under close scrutiny
There were high hopes surrounding the APEC meeting of world leaders in Beijing this week. Rumors were even circulating that the Russian and U.S. presidents would finally restore personal contacts and help curtail the rising fever in international relations.
However, after things wound down, it was clear that the summit had only added to the political heat, particularly in light of the agreements reached by Russia and China. Meanwhile, the main topic of debate was not the conclusion of any contract or even the negotiations between the heads of state, but the innocent attention paid by Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Chinese leader’s wife: The Russian president covered her with a blanket during a fireworks display.
The opposition media sush as the Echo of Moscow radio station voiced its disapproval of this act, while pro-government and “near-government” media (Moskovsky Komsomolets) did not see anything untoward in the gesture — the president simply behaved like a gentleman. And while the opposition and the Kremlin tussled over the rights and wrongs of this single act, the business publication Kommersant and the portal Lenta.ru analyzed the economic and political results of the summit.
The website of radio station Echo of Moscow described Putin’s actions as a breach of protocol and etiquette that left the media world dumbfounded.
“The global media noted that such an act is considered polite in a European context, but is totally unacceptable for the Chinese, who do not take kindly to tactile signs of attention from outsiders,” noted the station’s website.
Moskovsky Komsomolets’ correspondent in Beijing, Elena Yegorova, claims that the Chinese themselves did not consider it to be unacceptable, quoting the words of a Chinese female journalist whom thw the outlet calls Lin Yu: “In fact, the Chinese did not perceive the Russian president’s gesture as rude.”
Opposition media outlet Slon unexpectedly came to the president’s defense. Having analyzed a good number of “protocol blunders” by various presidents over the past few decades, Alexander Baunov came to the conclusion that only the most ardent conspiracy theorists could interpret Vladimir Putin’s gesture as wanting to humiliate and demonstrate superiority. In actual fact, all heads of state are, in varying degrees, prone to violate the protocol framework, and in this instance everything was perfectly innocent: “The gas contract has not been scrapped. And China is not planning to declare war.”
Pictured (L-R): Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, his wife Peng Liyuan and U.S. President Barack Obama arrive for a dinner hosted by the Chinese President at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing, November 10, 2014. Source: Reuters
Meanwhile, Andrei Kolesnikov of Kommersant discussed the political aspects of the summit, pointing to U.S. attempts to promote the idea of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP), which consists of 12 countries.
“Russia is not in this partnership, nor is it likely to be,” writes Kolesnikov. “What’s more, there are disagreements even within this set of 12 countries. Many of Barack Obama’s propositions are not supported by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and without Japan, it cannot even be called a partnership.”
Kolesnikov also highlights the informal talks between Obama and Putin, noting that the two presidents “seemed to talk at any opportunity.”
Alexey Kupriyanov and Georgy Kogan from Lenta.ru posit that the summit’s main economic outcome was the Russian-Chinese agreements. Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping signed 17 documents on oil and gas cooperation. They included a memorandum on supplies of Russian gas to China via the western route. As journalists, APEC “is primarily an economic marketplace, and China maximized its potential to secure the supply of additional volumes of fuel needed to maintain the rapid growth of the Chinese economy.”
The Russian ruble is now free to float
Russia’s Central Bank stopped its currency interventions and abolish an official trading corridor for the ruble. This makes the ruble a freely floating currency. Photo: Reuters
The theme of the constantly falling ruble continued into this week, but with a novel slant. The Central Bank of Russia (CBR) announced that it had no plans to further regulate exchange rates or make currency interventions to end the speculative increase in the euro and dollar and reduce inflation.
Opposition media were skeptical (Echo of Moscow, Slon), while pro-government (Channel One) and business media (Kommersant) sources appraised the actions of the Central Bank with cautious optimism.
Economist Andrei Cherepanov in his blog on Echo of Moscow’s website slammed the Central Bank’s current monetary policy and especially the desire to establish a “floating exchange rate”:
“The rejection of exchange rate targeting given the dominance of imports, the total dependence on exports of raw materials, the preponderance of monopolies, the narrowness of the financial market, the underdevelopment of state institutions, and other “charms” to be found in Russia today is completely counter-indicative and extremely ill advised,” wrote Cherepanov.
“The exchange rate is less a vital sign of the national economy, as academic theorists try to assure us, than a powerful tool of economic management.”
Alexei Mikhailov of Slon believes that the Central Bank simply found a way to absolve itself of responsibility for the fall of the national currency.
“The CBR is sticking to its guns: it is replacing foreign exchange interventions in the stock market with foreign currency loans outside,” explains Mikhailov. “Can we say that the Central Bank is quitting the foreign exchange market? Hardly. It is simply upgrading the mechanisms by which it operates there. But the Central Bank has explicitly disclaimed responsibility for the exchange rate dynamics.”
Natalia Semenikhina of Channel One weighed in on also: “Experts say that the measures taken by the Central Bank sharply increase the risks for bearish speculators playing on the ruble’s decline. The Bank of Russia just announced the end of regular foreign exchange interventions and the abolishment of the so-called bi-currency corridor within which stock market rates were channeled... Business and the public will have to get used to jumps in the exchange rate. Maybe not as fickle as in the last few days, but multidirectional all the same,” adds Semenikhina.
Kommersant published a compilation of expert opinions from the financial and banking sector. In particular, Ivan Fomenko, head of asset management at Absolut Bank noted: “Russian currency trading is gradually becoming less volatile. The key news is the abolition of the Central Bank’s currency corridor, which essentially means a floating ruble. That’s a positive step.”
New tensions in Nagorno-Karabakh
Early August has seen a sharp escalation in fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia around a tense line of control around Nagorno-Karabakh. Pictured: A convoy of Azerbaijan's Army tanks moves in the direction of Agdam, Azerbaijan on Aug. 2. Photo: AP
The latest flare-up of tension around the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is claimed by both Azerbaijan and Armenia, provoked mixed reactions in the Russian media. This time around, the situation escalated over the downing of an Armenian helicopter by Azerbaijan. Pro-government media (Rossiyskaya Gazeta) confined themselves to formal statements, but tacitly supported Armenia, while the opposition and independently positioned press (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Gazeta.ru) tried to extrapolate the potential consequences.
Rossiyskaya Gazeta quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Alexander Lukashevich regarding both sides’ responsibility: “We remind the leadership of Azerbaijan and Armenia of their responsibilities towards complying with their commitments on searching for a peaceful resolution of the conflict which they accepted at the meetings in Sochi, Newport, and Paris.”
Yuri Roks of Nezavisimaya Gazeta was in no hurry to back either side, noting that there were many unknowns. The only obvious fact in his view is that “one well-aimed shot has again underlined the lack of progress in the negotiation process and effectively buried it.”
Alexander Braterskiy from Gazeta.Ru interviewed Vladimir Kazimirov, head of the Russian mediation mission in 1992-1996 and presidential envoy for Nagorno-Karabakh, who proposed resolving the conflict through a referendum.
“The dispute basically centers on what is more important: the territory itself or the population that lives there,” said Kazimirov. “Azerbaijan is naturally asserting its right to the territory and wants Nagorno-Karabakh to remain part of Azerbaijan. Baku is not that concerned about who actually inhabits the area. The Armenians, of course, give priority to the population. The most viable option could be to address the problem through a referendum, i.e. by political means.” He believes that talk of Russian support for Armenia is exaggerated.