Media roundup: The Russian media focused on a ban of 89 EU politicians, a controversial new political appointment in Ukraine and the possible long-term implications of the FIFA corruption scandal for Russia.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin hold a soccer ball during the official ceremony of handover to Russia as the 2018 World Cup hosts, after the World Cup final soccer match between Germany and Argentina at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: AP

The Russian media continues to track how events in Ukraine are reverberating in unanticipated ways for the relationship between Russia and the West. The blacklisting of 89 EU officials from entering Russia, for example, was largely seen as a consequence of EU sanctions, as was the sudden flare-up of the FIFA corruption scandal in Switzerland.

In addition, the completely unanticipated appointment of an old political figure – Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia – as the new governor of the Odessa region in Ukraine was seen, at best, as an obvious attempt to block Russian ambitions in the region.

The FIFA corruption scandal and the Russia 2018 World Cup bid

The international football federation was shocked last week by several scandals simultaneously. In the middle of the week, seven highly placed officials in the organization were arrested on corruption charges, which threw a shadow over FIFA head Sepp Blatter and placed his re-election to a new term under question.

Despite the scandal and pressure from the U.S. and a whole group of European countries, Blatter nonetheless was kept in his post, receiving a majority vote on May 29. It is already Blatter’s fifth term. Blatter, a Swiss citizen, intends to fight corruption and return FIFA to its original significance.

The scandal has been closely watched in Moscow, as the fate of the 2018 World Cup in Russia is partially connected with Blatter’s own fate. More than once, European and American politicians have suggested removing Russia’s right to host the World Cup; however, they have not received support from FIFA, and in particular, from Sepp Blatter. Immediately after his re-election, Blatter confirmed that he has no intention of changing the location of the 2018 World Cup.

Pro-government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta published an article praising Blatter observing that, “It is thanks to the Swiss efforts and his allies, which one can boldly say includes Russia, that football has not been turned into American soccer.” The media outlet hints that America has an extremely strong influence on the football organization. The paper also observes that Blatter is expecting new complications, as his opponents have nowhere else to go.

Business media outlet Kommersant also discusses Blatter’s opponents in the organization, placing special attention on the implacable criticism of the FIFA head by UEFA President Michel Platini. The paper suggests that Blatter is clearly beneficial to Russia in his post as head of FIFA. After all, the bargaining chip for the conflicting parties is the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Pro-government Channel One published the statement of Russian President Vladimir Putin, observing that FIFA members were coming under unprecedented pressure with the aim of removing the 2018 World Cup from Russia. Тhe television channel later published a response to Blatter’s re-election, observing that, “The international football federation had defended its independence.”

Opposition daily Novaya Gazeta also observed that the corruptions scandals and the 2018 World Cup were directly connected and that Blatter’s fate following his re-election will determine much in Russia.

Mikheil Saakashvili appointed as governor of Odessa

News about the appointment of Mikheil Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia to the post of governor for the Odessa region in Ukraine has created a feeding frenzy in the Russian media.

Business newspaper Kommersant writes of the long friendship between Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko and Saakashvili going back to their university years. As part of the new arrangement, Saakashvili simultaneously became a Ukrainian citizen and governor of the Odessa region. Furthermore, the newspaper published the response of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who called Saakashvili’s appointment tantamount to a circus performance.

Rossiyskaya Gazeta reports that Odessa residents have responded to the appointment of the new governor with humor, hanging ties around the city with “for Mikheil” written on them (in 2008 during the climax of the Russian-Georgian conflict, a video went round the internet showing Mikheil Saakashvili enthusiastically eating his own tie). The newspaper also expresses doubt over the politician’s professionalism and hints that his appointment is more likely associated with his open dislike for Russia.

Opposition Dozhd cites an interview with Ukrainian businessman Igor Kolomoisky, who believes that Saakashvili is a “temporary” figure and that he will “surrender Odessa to the Russians.”

Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. Photo: Reuters

Russia closes the border to 89 European politicians

Last week, a list of European politicians who have been banned from entering Russia was published. The list includes current and former European officials of a variety of ranks, largely from the Baltic countries, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Poland.

Opposition media outlet Novaya Gazeta published the response of European functionaries, demanding an explanation from Russia for why specific individuals had been included on the list. As this response points out, many EU officials consider these measures to be “arbitrary and unreasonable.”

The Internet website for Ekho Moskvy radio station wrote about the incident involving the German representative of the Bundestag Karl-Georg Wellmann, who was denied entry at the immigration desk at Sheremetyevo Airport and complained that he had been treated like a criminal.

After this incident, the story of the “blacklist” gained publicity, as the Russian Foreign Ministry had not made any public announcements about such sanctions. In the meantime, the EU has requested the list so that individuals who have been blacklisted by the Russian authorities can learn of their status beforehand.

Independent Slon observes, that officially Moscow refuses to comment on the existence of such lists but sources in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirm that the lists have been provided to EU countries so they could inform their citizens at their own discretion.

State secrets during peacetime

Last week President Vladimir Putin signed a decree, according to which information about losses during training and special operations are classified as a state secret. Previously such information was only classified during times of war. The majority of opposition and business media point to a direct link between the decree and the conflict in the Ukraine.

Business media outlet Vedomosti discusses the initiative of St. Petersburg human rights activists who plan to dispute Putin’s decree on state secrets in court on the basis of the Russian president’s authority according to the Russian Federation law on state secrets.

Independent Slon published a long, analytical article on the problems of confidentiality, noting in all likelihood the main consequence of the decree would be the increase in “inadvertent high treason,” when citizens due to ignorance or indiscretion, transfer or release information related to state secrets.

Opposition Novaya Gazeta also published a large amount of material on the subject, including the opinions of various experts, lawyers and human rights activists. The main conclusion of the article was that the decree could be broadly interpreted and applied, which raises fears among human rights activists.

Andrzej Duda elected as the new president of Poland

The Russian media watched the elections in Poland very carefully. The victory of Poland’s opposition candidate is looked upon in Russia neutrally, as Russia doesn’t expect any particular changes in relations between Russia and Poland.

Business newspaper Kommersant observes that Duda promised a lot of reforms in the election campaign, including changes in foreign policy; however, the changes will not affect Russia – the new president has subsequently made a speech in which he announced an anti-Russian position and insists on continuing sanctions against Russia.

Opposition candidate Andrzej Duda celebrates with supporters his victory, as first exit polls in the presidential runoff voting are announced in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, May 24, 2015. Photo: AP

Independent Slon writes about the return of conservatism to Poland and states that Duda’s victory is bad news for Brussels and for Moscow, since the president’s Law and Justice party has for a long time been tacitly based on the principles of euroskepticism and antipathy for Moscow.

Pro-government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta is not so categorical in its analysis, observing that the electioneering slogans and the reality of office are completely different things, and it is likely that Duda will nonetheless agree to reduce the tensions with Moscow.

Gay parade, Russian-style

An unsanctioned gay parade was held in Moscow on May 30. This parade was marked by clashes between parade participants and members of the anti-LGBT community in Russia.

Kommersant reported the arrest of members of the unsanctioned parade and also several activists of the radical Orthodox organization God’s Will, which started a brawl with members of the LGBT community.

The Internet website for Ekho Moskvy radio station reports that organizers had been refused the right to hold the parade for the tenth time in a row, and that this unfortunate fact could perhaps be considered the standing record.

Tabloid Moskovsky Komsomolets published an interview with the leader of the LGBT community, Nikolay Alexeyev, who talked about the plans of his community to challenge the refusals in court and also about how he and his relatives are being persecuted for political reasons.

Selection of weekly quotes:

Dmitry Medvedev on Saakashvili’s appointment: “Saakashvili is the head of Odessa Region. The circus continues. Unfortunate Ukraine (last phrase in Ukrainian)...”

Konstantin Dolgov, Russian envoy on Human Rights from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saakashvili’s appointment: “Saakashvili has been accused of numerous crimes against the Georgian people, and has been appointed as governor for Odessa where neo-Nazis have burnt people alive with impunity. Instead of a movement for national reconciliation, the authorities in Kiev continue to plant the seeds for chaos and deepen the chasm for millions of citizens.”

Statement by the European External Action Service on Russia’s blacklist: “We have no information on the legal basis, criteria and procedures of the current decision. We consider this measure to be completely arbitrary and unreasonable.”

Human rights activist Ivan Pavlov on the new decree on confidentiality of information about military losses: “We believe that the president’s new decree is contrary to the interests of society, and also to current legislation.”