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‘Half a tone closer’: Russian media cautiously upbeat about US-Russia ties

May 13, 2015

Russian media on Wednesday greeted the results of talks between President Vladimir Putin and US Secretary of State John Kerry with cautious optimism, with some suggesting Washington was keen to engage Moscow after a year of tensions.

Both pro-Kremlin and independent media hailed the tone of Tuesday’s talks in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi, during the highest-level US visit to Russia since the Ukraine crisis erupted in late 2013.

“Dialogue trickled in,” proclaimed the government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta, while liberal business daily Vedomosti said that “Kerry demonstrated flexibility.”

The Kommersant broadsheet quipped that Moscow and Washington had become “half a tone closer”.

“From accusations, Russia and the United States have moved to discussing the lifting of sanctions,” said the newspaper.

“Russia and the United States better understood each other,” said online newspaper, while pro-Kremlin tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda noted that Washington was keen to establish dialogue with Russia.

“In the States they have long spoken about isolating Moscow and sanctions but finally it looks like they have decided to take the path of negotiations,” said the newspaper.

Mass-circulation daily Moskovsky Komsomolets struck a similar note.

“The West is trying to open a new page in ties with the Kremlin,” the newspaper said. Citing analysts, it said Kerry’s Russian trip and the visit to Moscow of German Chancellor Angela Merkel two days earlier were “links of the same chain.”

“Without renouncing tough rhetoric and sanctions, the West is clearly trying to look for a new format in ties with Moscow at least when it comes to problems related to international security,” said Moskovsky Komsomolets.

On the sun-kissed shores of the Black Sea, Kerry’s Russian hosts mounted a charm offensive, with Putin treating Kerry to some locally produced sparkling wine, while Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov gave his US counterpart two baskets of tomatoes and potatoes.

Potatoes as presents have become a running joke between the two top diplomats, with Kerry giving his Russian counterpart two Idaho potatoes when the two met for talks on Syria in Paris in 2014.

But Russian media also said Lavrov’s gift was a not so subtle signal that Russia was doing well despite sanctions from Brussels and Washington over Ukraine and embargoes that Moscow slapped on Western produce in retaliation.

“It was apparently a hint at the sanctions under which Russia lives pretty well and tries to develop its own industries,” said Komsomolskaya Pravda.

Both experts and Russian officials, however, concede in private conversations that it may take years — if not decades — to heal US-Russian ties.

In a sign that suspicion still remains high, the staunchly pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia said on its front page after the talks that Washington had increased financing for Russian non-governmental organisations, a hint that the United States may be keen for regime change in Moscow.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.