Last week Vladimir Putin delivered the Annual Presidential Address to the Russia’s Federal Assembly. The foreign media noted that most of the speech was devoted to domestic issues instead of foreign affairs, with Mr Putin focusing on Russia’s economic development. The President pointed out the optimistic signs in the country’s economy, such as high growth in agriculture and high-tech and record-low inflation rates. Moreover, Vladimir Putin claimed that he had directed “the Government, together with the leading business associations, no later than May 2017, to develop a detailed plan of action through 2025, the implementation of which will make it possible to achieve economic growth rates higher than in the [rest of the] world as early as 2019−2020, and therefore strengthen Russia’s positions in the global economy”.
As for the international arena, Russia’s leader refrained from harsh or sarcastic words against the West and the US in particular. In contrast this address was considered by experts and observers as mostly pacifist and showing the Kremlin’s willingness and readiness to cooperate with the West or, at least, to start a dialogue aimed at alleviating the current tensions. Mr Putin said: “We do not want confrontation with anyone. We have no need for it and neither do our partners or the global community. Unlike some of our colleagues abroad, who consider Russia an adversary, we do not seek and never have sought enemies. We need friends. But we will not allow our interests to be infringed or ignored. We want to and will decide our destiny ourselves and build our present and future without others’ unasked for advice and prompting”. However, in practice his position is quite similar to the words, which Russia’s foreign elites have repeatedly claimed for many years: Russia wants cooperation and friendship, but will never accept ignoring its national interests or meddling in its internal affairs. The most anticipated part (concerning foreign policy) was devoted to the relations with the US in the context of Donald Trump’s election. Mr Putin emphasized that “Russia is also ready to work with the new US Administration. It is important to put bilateral relations back on track and to develop them on an equal and mutually beneficial basis”.
Meanwhile, amid a clear opposition of American political elites headed by the Congress to any rapprochement in Russia-US relations, the media still pays a lot of attention to the alleged Russian propaganda in the US presidential elections. The recent article in the Washington Post became extremely resonant, as many journalists and experts expressed their concern about a growing tendency of dissident voices being immediately labelled as Russian propaganda or fake news. Whereas previously only few observers openly pointed out some tendencies of neo-McCarthyism, now the work of anonymous “research groups”, such as PropOrNot, made journalists ring alarm bells. For example, PropOrNot uses an overly broad definition of “Russian propaganda” as, according to the group, it includes almost every story criticizing “the U.S., Obama, Hillary Clinton, the EU, Angela Merkel, NATO, Ukraine, Jewish people, U.S. allies, the “mainstream media”, and democrats, the center-right or center-left, and moderates of all stripes”. The problem is that those who claim to be fighters against fake news in reality create these fake news themselves witchhunting media outlets, which do not agree with the US government and its policy.
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