Russian media roundup: The Brussels terrorist attacks, Kerry’s third visit to Moscow and the verdict in the Savchenko case all made headlines in Russia last week.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) and US Secretary of State John Kerry at a news conference following US-Russian talks in the Kremlin.

The terrorist attacks in Brussels on Mar. 22 were a major focus of the Russian media during the week. In addition, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Moscow, in which he met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin to discuss not only the settlement of the Syrian crisis, but also the lifting of sanctions against Russia, generated considerable media attention.

The terrorist attacks in Brussels

The business newspaper Kommersant attempted to analyze how and why Brussels, the bastion of European integration and the symbol of a united Europe, came under attack by radical Islamist terrorists. The publication believes that the problem lies in the unwillingness of the authorities to become involved in any conflicts with the nation’s newest migrants, whose new settlement areas have long ago turned into impregnable fortresses, with their own laws and regulations.

Local police and security services avoid entering these territories, allowing terrorists to find refuge there. Here the extremists can work on expanding their networks and recruiting new supporters. Such “ghettos” exist in all major cities of Europe, and this is where anti-terrorist sweeps need to be carried out, writes Kommersant. The newspaper even published a short “guide” to the largest immigrant settlements in the European capitals. 

The independent Slon published an article by opposition journalist Oleg Kashin, who writes about the unexpected reaction of certain sections of Russian society to the Belgian tragedy. Many politicians and ordinary citizens are not sympathizing with the Europeans, and believe that these attacks are a natural result of the European policy of tolerance, which means that the Europeans themselves are to blame, and even to some extent “deserved” what had happened. 

“Condolences through clenched teeth” is how Kashin refers to this reaction, considering such behavior as indecent and unacceptable, particularly in the current political environment.

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Alexander Mineev, writing for the opposition Novaya Gazeta, believes that the terrorist attacks in modern day Europe, in Brussels and Paris, do not reflect so much on the poor work of the security services, but rather speak about the balance chosen by Europeans between their values and security requirements. In Russia, security concerns became a priority many years ago, while the Europeans, because of their mentality, are not willing to reduce their freedoms for the sake of safety from terrorism.

The realities of multiculturalism and tolerance have become part of everyday life for EU citizens, and their main task now is not to search for enemies in Syria or Iraq, but to improve the mechanisms for the implementation of European values in the younger generation of workers, who are more likely to undertake the path of radical Islam.

John Kerry’s visit to Moscow 

Moskovsky Komsomolets, quoting Russian experts on the United States, had a positive evaluation of the results of meetings between Kerry, Lavrov and Putin. The regular holding of meetings between Russia and the United States speaks of Moscow’s importance as a partner and ally of the U.S. in resolving acute international problems, including in the Middle East, Northern Africa and the Korean Peninsula. In general, this indicates that Russian-American relations are moving back to a pragmatic basis, and away from the type of confrontational rhetoric that erupted after Russia incorporated Crimea.

Alexander Panov of the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta also noted the warming in relations. The atmosphere and tone of the negotiations have indeed become much warmer and more constructive. However, it still too early to say that Russia and the United States have moved back to the pre-crisis level of interaction, because in terms of content, no specific breakthroughs were reached during the latest Moscow talks. 

The Syrian and Ukrainian “deadlocks” will long overshadow the relations between the two countries, even though in Russia they obviously appreciate the unexpected willingness of the outgoing U.S. administration to engage in dialogue with Russia – and in particular, by Kerry personally. 

Vladimir Frolov, expert at the independent publication Slon, is not so optimistic in his assessments of the U.S. Secretary of State’s visit to Moscow. Frolov believes that the Kremlin is just trying to present the holding of talks with Kerry as a victory and proof that Russia has returned to the ranks of the great powers, without whose participation it is impossible to solve global problems.

In fact, the cooperation on Syria and the fight against terrorism, in general, does not, by any means signify that Moscow will now occupy a permanent place as Washington’s partner, nor will this help the Kremlin get the sanctions lifted, in exchange for success in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS). Following the talks, it became obvious that such a “geopolitical swing” had not taken place, emphasizes Frolov.  

Sentencing of the Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko

On Mar. 22, a court in one of the regions of Russia issued a guilty verdict against Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko, sentencing her to 22 years in prison and a fine of 30,000 rubles (about $450 at today’s exchange rates). 

The pro-government Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes that such a verdict was generally expected, not only because of the extensive base of evidence, but also because of violations by the defense of the rules and procedures in the provision of information that could have led to a reduced sentence.

The publication also pointed to the defiant behavior of Savchenko during the trial and reading of the verdict – she regularly spoke out of turn, gave cheeky responses, provoked the judges, and even sang during court hearings.

The analytical portal Aktualniye Kommentarii considers that the Savchenko case is not yet over. No one doubted that she would get a tough sentence, but much more important is what will happen next. Experts interviewed by the publication have expressed different predictions, including the possible exchange of Savchenko for two Russian citizens (Alexanderov and Yerofeyev) accused of terrorism by Ukraine. Then there are the options of exchanging the Ukrainian pilot for specific concessions from Kiev, or even the removal of Western sanctions against Russia. One way or another, at Aktualniye Kommentarii they believe that the Kremlin will try to use the “Savchenko case” as a bargaining chip for the Ukrainian issue.

Also read: "Russian court sentences Ukranian pilot Savchenko to 22 years"

The opposition Novaya Gazeta printed an article by Yulia Latynina, who considers this whole matter disgraceful, ridiculous and completely unfounded. All charges against Savchenko are pure fiction, she writes, and the Russian justice system has once more shown that that it serves the interests of the Kremlin, the journalist writes. The absurdity of the accusations and the many inconsistencies in the case, only confirm the innocence of Savchenko and make of her a hero, while making her accusers look like villains and criminals. 

Ramzan Kadyrov remains the head of Chechnya 

The controversial leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov is still at his post. This was announced on Mar. 25, when the Russian president signed a decree appointing him as the acting head of the region until the elections that will be held this fall.

We should recall that not that long ago, Kadyrov himself, and the media, were discussing his possible removal from the post. All this caused great controversy in Russian media.

Moskovsky Komsomolets interviewed Russian political scientists about the Kremlin’s motives in keeping Kadyrov and his entourage in power in Chechnya. These experts came up with all sorts of reasons, including the great influence that the “Kadyrov clan” has in Chechnya, without which any future leader will find it difficult to build relations with the local elites. Then there are the absence of any alternatives to Kadyrov, the personal friendship between Putin and Kadyrov, as well as the unwillingness of the president to publicly yield to the pressure from the liberal community (in the last few months, Kadyrov has constantly found himself under fire from the Russian liberal opposition, who are calling for his removal from office). 

The business publication RBC is ambivalent about keeping Ramzan Kadyrov in power in Chechnya. RBC reminded its readers that the liberal opposition was not the only group that the head of Chechnya has come into conflict with. Among his potential adversaries, there are those in the so-called “Kremlin power bloc,” in other words, representatives of the security services and the Interior Ministry, which have had many conflicts with Kadyrov in the past.

Be this as it may, at RBC they believe that Kadyrov managed to prepare himself quite well for his interview with Putin, having been active to an unprecedented degree over the past several months, and in every way possible demonstrating his loyalty to the federal center and the president personally. For now, Kadyrov remains in his post, but he should be more attentive to the signals coming from the Kremlin.

Also read: "Russian liberals warn Putin that Kadyrov could be dangerous"

The business newspaper Vedomosti, in its op-ed section, expressed the view that in the current situation, replacing Kadyrov would come at too high a price for the Kremlin. The newspaper believes that the Kremlin is not very satisfied with the activities of Kadyrov, but so far sees no way to change the leadership of Chechnya. There is clearly a “teachable moment” in all this, including the long silence of Putin on the fate of Kadyrov. Then this was followed by the tough fatherly tone of the conversation the President had with the head of Chechnya, as well as the demands for him to work more actively with federal authorities and ensure compliance with Russian laws and regulations in the territory of Chechnya.

Quotes of the week:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on U.S.-Russia cooperation in Syria during his visit to Moscow: “Even when there have been differences between us, we have been able to work effectively on specific issues.”

Alexey Pushkov, head of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs, on the Brussels attacks: “While [Jens] Stoltenberg, forgetting himself, and fighting against an imaginary ‘Russian threat’ is busy placing troops in Latvia, under his very nose, in Brussels, people are blown up.” 

The opposition leader Alexey Navalny on the Savchenko sentence: “The Savchenko case is one of the most amazing mysteries on the theme ‘What the heck are they thinking about?’ No matter from which side you look at this case – it’s a lose-lose situation for Russia, and even directly contradicts not only the long-term interests of the country, but even Putin’s tactical goals.”

The opposition politician Ilya Yashin on Ramzan Kadyrov remaining as the head of Chechnya: “Putin has decided to keep Kadyrov as the head of Chechnya. This shows the helplessness of the Kremlin against a background of prevailing arbitrariness in that Republic.”