The “Panama Papers” leaks was the most popular topic last week. The foreign media widely quoted the Kremlin’s statements that the main aims behind the “Panama Papers” were to smear Russia and president Putin personally (Mr Peskov, the Kremlin’s press secretary, lashed out about “Putinofobia”), as well as Washington’s desire to destabilize the internal situation in the Russian Federation and distract the world community from the Russian successes in Syria. Western pundits were divided in their opinion over potential influence of the documents leaks on the Russian elites. Nevertheless, journalists drew readers’ attention to the fact the story was not high-profile in Russia explaining that the state exerted control over the key Russian TV-channels and, that is why, the “Panama Paper” leaks deserved little coverage. Despite Moscow numerously pointed at unsubstantiated character of the claims, according to the western press, the story proves the fact Putin changed rather beneficiaries than the oligarch system itself. Later this week the foreign media was interested in the theory that the “Panama Papers” leaks could have been a Russian intelligence operation directed at the world leaders who were critical of Russia.
Besides, the press paid a lot of attention to the creation of the National Guard in Russia, a powerful new paramilitary unit charged with combating terrorism and organized crime and maintaining social order. Western journalists mostly refrained from their own assessment and preferred to cite Russian opposition leaders who claimed that fearing unrest the Russian authorities tried to protect themselves from protests.
In addition, the western press has remained interested in the situation in Syria. Amid the reports that Russia and the US are working on drafting a new constitution for Syria and both countries’ statements about constructive cooperation in Syria, the Russian air forces were again accused of war crimes, which had been repeatedly refuted by the Russian Defense Ministry and president Putin who said that despite all the attempts it was impossible to belittle and silence the Russia’s role in combating terrorism in the region. Besides, opposition groups warned the fragile ceasefire was on the verge of collapse as Syrian and Russian forces announced yesterday they were preparing to launch a joint operation to liberate the country’s largest city Aleppo.
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was also on the agenda last week. The West worries about a possible direct clash between Russia and Turkey over this conflict. Although registering Russia’s mediation efforts the press criticized Moscow for selling arms to both Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said if Russia stopped selling arms, both countries would simply seek new suppliers and the degree of their deadliness would not change. But at the same time, this could to a certain degree destroy the balance of forces in the region.
By Mark Galeotti
Whereas in many countries corruption is the means by which elites turn their power into money, in Russia it is the other way around — corruption is a way to get and keep the political power that is so much more important than mere wealth. The real currency in Russia is not money but power — and the latter can buy the former, but not necessarily the other way around.
Given recession in the country and ice-cold Russia-West relations, it’s likely the Panama Papers will be used by Moscow’s propaganda machine as another illustration of western attempts to discredit and damage Russian power. Casting Russia as a fortress resisting external onslaughts has become a key feature of Putin’s domestic political narrative. There will also be attempts to minimise, if not silence, media coverage of the scandal inside Russia itself.
It is of course not a secret that Kremlin insiders run Russia for their own enrichment, but this barrage of revelations provides extraordinary levels of detail, and lays bare the nature of how Russia is governed in ways we have not seen before. The system requires unprecedented degrees of hypocrisy and an anti-western propaganda machine, to obscure the realities of what is going on.
By Adam Taylor
The Washington Post
Perhaps it is the Russians who are behind the leak. This particular idea is especially noteworthy because of who has advanced it: Clifford Gaddy, an economist who works with the Brookings Institution, one of the foremost Western experts on Russia’s economy and a former adviser to the Russian Finance Ministry in the 1990s. Gaddy said he’s seen how Putin has used financial secrets “to destroy or to control” people within Russia. And now, when he sees financial secrets creating huge problems for world leaders, he has to wonder if Putin is back to his old tricks again.
By Maxim Trudolyubov
The so-called Panama Papers are unlikely to make a huge difference in today’s Russia. For the Russian public (or the part of it that is aware of the leak) the Panama Papers only prove the obvious: It is simply not safe to keep funds in Russia. Formal rules are perceived as only part of the story and usually not the most important one.
By Zalmay Khalilzad
The Washington Times
Despite increased engagement between Moscow and Washington, the gap between U.S. and Russian views on Assad and other issues such as Ukraine are exacerbating the broader great power relations and sectarian divisions of the Middle East, which in turn are fanning Syria’s civil war. How Russia and the U.S. manage their differences on Syria will be an important test of whether they can cooperate in facilitating a more stable order in the region.
By Garrett I. Campbell
Is Putin really offering to secure peace in Syria? Probably not. The conditions that led to Syria’s death spiral into civil war have still not been addressed, and Russia’s withdrawal is a facade. Putin’s announcement highlights that while Russia is a main player in the Syrian conflict, it is far from willing or able to assure peace.
By Ari Heistein and Vera Michlin-Shapir
The National Interest
Russian-Iranian cooperation is not as close as it appears to be in many arenas, and the relationship has built-in limitations, due to divergences of interest even on issues that are thought to foster cooperation .
By Simon Shuster
It is the very real feeling of weakness and vulnerability that makes Russia cling to its most destructive and dangerous arms. And until Russia’s leaders are made to believe that the U.S. does not wish them any harm, Obama’s vision of a nuclear free world will never be realized.
Sanctions against Russia
By Doug Bandow
The Huffington Post
The U.S. and Europe shouldn’t allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good in policy toward Russia. Maintaining economic sanctions won’t cause Moscow to transform itself politically, abandon historic security interests, acquiesce in Ukraine’s western turn, or disgorge Crimea. At the same time, there are many important issues, including North Korea, Iran, Syria, China, and Afghanistan, in which the West would benefit from Russian cooperation if not assistance.
National Guard creation in Russia
By Leonid Bershidsky
Instead of opening up and liberalizing, the embattled Putin regime is closing in on itself, and the man sitting on top of it is taking on more and more direct powers. The National Guard is a manifestation of Putin’s mistrust of Russia’s remaining institutions: He feels more confident surrounded by old friends and in control of a large fighting force.
By Anna Nemtsova
The Daily Beast
Keeping friendship with Armenia president Putin also would do almost anything to avoid a full-scale conflict between Russia and Azerbaijan. Besides, many think the international community should engage more to prevent the escalation of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as another descent into chaos and proxy war is the last thing the world needs right now.
By Svante Cornell
The Wall Street Journal
The Obama administration apparently believes the Armenian-Azeri conflict exists in a vacuum, isolated from regional tensions and the destructive role played by Vladimir Putin’s Russia. It’s time for Washington to see that Moscow is a part of the problem, not the solution, and take the lead in putting the conflict on the path to peace.
By Kathrin Hille
The Financial Times
In the grip of its longest recession in 20 years, Russians seem resigned to the loss of the growth and prosperity they had come to see as the hallmark of President Vladimir Putin’s rule. Although few are seeing their lives unravel, many fear a return of an era they had hoped to have left behind: the decade of recession, economic shocks and poverty that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
By Stephen F. Cohen
Cohen is unsure whether the recent corruption reports are related or organized, but he recalls that similar anti-Soviet “news” regularly appeared during the preceding 40-year Cold War when relations seemed headed toward détente. Amid Russian victories in Syria news reports about Putin’s alleged personal “corruption” are clearly intended to present him as an unfit American ally in Syria and anywhere else.
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