Europe's and post-Soviet countries' dependence on Russian gas, and Russia's attempts to play this card continue to be in the focus of the Estonian press. "The Kiev-Moscow crisis is becoming all the more acute because European leaders know that North Sea deposits are being depleted, a fact which has led some countries to replace gas with atomic energy. There is hope, therefore, that the crisis will compel Europe to work out a common energy policy." (Delfi, January 18.)
The press has published an open letter from the Baltic and Polish former Prime Ministers with an appeal to the European Union to develop a united energy policy. "The gas quarrel shows that Russia will not think twice before using energy as a weapon..." Gazprom has taught a harsh lesson not only to millions of people, but also to the political elite. In several years we will be grateful to Vladimir Putin, who compelled Europe to take a closer look at the use of energy, and increase the variety of its carriers. The EU should find a common language in talking about energy and policy as regards Russia." (Eesti Paevaleht, January 18.)
The press is worried about political speculations around the forthcoming trip of Latvian representatives to celebrate the centenary of the State Duma in St. Petersburg. "On the one hand, it is very tempting to visit the Russian northern capital. This is an opportunity to see a wonderful city, meet Russian policymakers, and enjoy the dining and wining. But on the other hand, on the eve of elections participation in the Russian celebrations may upset the nationalistic-minded press and voters... The Saeima will evidently have heated debates about the decision to go or not to go on this trip, as it did a year ago, when the Latvian President received an invitation to visit Moscow for the celebration of the 60th anniversary of Victory over Nazism." (Vesti segodnya, January 24.)
The press writes that West Europe has been too slow to recognize the need for united energy policy, which has long been stressed by the Baltic and East European nations. "Not everyone in Europe is alarmed. The restraint which is displayed by Germany, France, Scandinavia, and a number of other countries shows that they are placing their bets on the North European gas pipeline, which will allow Russia to reduce gas prices for friendly European countries." (Litovskaya narodnaya gazeta, January 22.)
A number of articles cover the visit of German Chancellor Angela Merker to Moscow. They point out that Germany is pursuing strictly practical aims. "The new German government has started seeking a balance of relations with Russia and the United States. If Angela Merkel wins the trust of George Bush, Germany could gain enormous influence in Europe. This is why the Chancellor intends to give up Shroeder's idea to offset Europe against the U.S., at least for the time being. At the same time, she does not want to turn away from Russia, because the German economy largely depends on relations with the latter. The fact that Germany imports a third of its natural gas from Russia seriously limits the freedom of its geopolitical maneuver. (Lietuvos rytas, January 21.)
The media continue writing about the RosUkrEnergo, which has become the mediator in the sale of gas to Ukraine as a result of the Moscow-Kiev agreement. They do not question the fact that high-ranking Russian and Ukrainian government officials and businessmen are behind the official stockholders - Gazprom and Raiffeisen Investment AG. "The participating companies have satellite firms, which are implicated in international scandals. It is this shady background that draws Russia and Ukraine together better than any natural gas." (Podrobnosti, January 18.)
Some experts warn Kiev against a possible denunciation of the gas pact with Moscow. They point out that the root cause of discontent among diverse political forces with the terms of the pact and playing up RosUkrEnergo's "dubious reputation" lies in the conflict between Ukrainian oil and gas market players. "There are grounds to believe that the Ukrainian side has made serious attempts not only to reformat the system of Russian-Ukrainian gas relations but also to 'appoint' its own intermediary structure, which would fully control the transportation of gas to the Ukrainian border. The Ukrainian government took steps in this direction as early as last spring." (Versii, January 20.)
Many sources view Russia's temporary ban on the import of animal products from Ukraine in the context of the recent Moscow-Kiev fuel and energy dispute. " Russia has banned the import of dairy products from Ukraine in order to speed up the process of establishing a joint venture with RosUkrEnergo. The latest debates in Ukraine around the advisability of a joint venture with the dubious company seem to be forcing the Russians to take more active steps." (ProUA, January 20.)
The high-profile scandal that erupted following a sentence passed on Valery Pasat, Moldova's former defense minister and adviser to the CEO of Russia's Unified Energy Systems, became one of the central topics of the week. Many publications quote the head of the energy monopoly, Anatoly Chubais, as sharply condemning the court decision. The pro-Romanian press interprets his words as a serious threat to the personal security of Moldova's President Vladimir Voronin and members of his family. "The Putin regime, which has blasted several apartment blocks in Russian cities in order to gain a firmer foothold in power and deliberately unleashed a bloody war in Chechnya, does not have any moral inhibitions against dealing brutally with its foreign political opponents. So we must not entertain any illusions. Moscow's threats, any way you look at them, are a bad sign. Chisinau politicians should sit up and take notice." (Flux, January 24.)
Russia's gas price hike remains the central issue in Armenian media. Experts consider Armenia's burgeoning partnership with NATO to be the real cause of Moscow's decision. "Russia raised its gas tariffs in response to Armenia's adoption of an Individual Partnership Program (IPAP) with NATO ... In effect, Russia is now using gas as a geopolitical factor in relation to countries which try to disobey it." (Eib Fe, January 20.)
Some political forces in Armenia are beginning to emphasize the need to revise relations with Russia. "The foundations for inter-state relations between Armenia and Russia were laid down when Russia was a different country, seeking democracy and pursuing a clear domestic and foreign policy. Today the interests of Armenia's citizens and our state interests demand that we review the concept of our relations with Russia." (Aikakan Zhamanak, January 18.)
"If Russia's actions continue to demonstrate that it does not need Armenia as a partner, we will have to look for other friends ... The U.S. grants Armenia $100 million in direct cash aid annually, while Russia, by way of recovering Armenia's state debt, has taken over five Armenian enterprises and still has not launched them." (Ayots Ashkhar, January 1.)
The blasts on the North Caucasus-South Caucasus and Mozdok-Tbilisi gas pipelines and damage to the Kavkasioni power transmission line have provoked a flood of anti-Russian comments. "The energy war, which Russia has been fighting by manipulating prices and using blackmail, has entered its 'acute' phase." (24 Saati, January 23.)
The most widespread interpretation of events in the media is that the blasts were engineered by Moscow to exert pressure on Georgia. "Our enemies want to cause panic, but we should not give them this right ... [The blasts] cannot have been accidental since there were simultaneous explosions on two gas pipelines and a power transmission line. It is a pre-planned provocation." (Civil.Ge, January 23.)
The country's contribution to the solution of the energy problem in Georgia explains the media's focus on the deteriorating Russo-Georgian relations. "While the Kremlin is losing face, Azerbaijan is strengthening its positions in the transportation of energy resources. Unexpectedly, Azerbaijan has surged ahead in the energy transportation from Central Asia to the [Caucasus] and on to the West." (Zerkalo, January 24.)
The reports about a U.S. helicopter downed in Iraq by a Russian-made missile provoked a new wave of accusations against Russia of illegal arms traffic across Armenia. "Experts say that Armenia cannot possibly use all the weapons it has received from Russia. It is clear that large batches of arms were transited via that country, which has solid ties with radical Arab regimes and terrorist groups, to end recipients." (Ekho, January 20.)
The media present Russia as the main obstacle to the settlement of the Karabakh conflict, claiming that Moscow needs it to keep Armenia and Azerbaijan in its zone of influence. "An analysis of Russia's position shows that it is not interested in settling the Karabakh conflict. A peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan runs contrary to Moscow's interests." (Zerkalo, January 20.)
The republican media write about a clash of economic interests of Russia and Kazakhstan. "The drawn-out bargaining over the division of the gas market has come to a dead end. Astana is searching for new allies among the rivals of the Russian gas giant Gazprom with whom to emerge on the European gas market. This change of policy will reroute investment flows in the gas sector of the former Soviet Union. Kazakh bosses are studying the project of a Trans-Caspian gas pipeline and the possibility of transiting Kazakh gas to Europe via the Caucasus." (Kompromat.kz, January 18.)
The opposition press criticizes the Russian law on non-profit organizations, which allegedly points to the strengthening of the authoritarian regime in Russia. "Moscow is limiting political freedom at home and assuming the role of the guarantor of autocracy in neighboring states. Curtailing the NGO's operation is one of such measures. The Kremlin is pondering other steps, creating tame agencies of a pseudo-civil society whose main goals would be to help implement the regime's policy. Outside Russia, they are represented by 'observers' who confirm the absence of violations at demonstration elections in neighboring states." (Aikyn, January 18.)
Kyrgyz media write that the country's authorities would like Russian companies to gain a stronger foothold on its market and are taking measures to improve the investment climate. "The profit tax has been reduced by 50% to 10% in Kyrgyzstan. The parliament is debating a resolution on reducing the VAT to 10%." (Gazeta.KG, January 19.)
Some publications spotlight the interest of Russian business in the Kyrgyz telecommunications market, in particular the recent dispute between Russia's MTS and Alfa-affiliated Rezervspetsmet over the Bitel GSM operator. "If it loses the battle for Bitel, MTS may set its eyes on Kyrgyztelecom, which has offered AFK Sistema to take part in the tender." (Kabar, January 20.)
The local press points out that Gazprom may gain control over the export of Uzbek gas. "The main goal of the visit by Gazprom's CEO to Tashkent is to finalize the agreement granting the Russian company the right to develop three biggest gas deposits in Uzbekistan - Urga, Kuanysh and the Akchalak fields - on conditions of product sharing. If the sides sign the agreement, the Russian gas monopoly will become the controlling player on the Uzbek gas export market." (Musulmansky Uzbekistan, January 19.)
The main intrigue behind the Moscow visit by the president of Turkmenistan is the talks on gas tariffs for Russia and Ukraine. "The conclusions on the results of the Moscow talks will be made in the next few days. If Gazprom raises the price for Ukraine, it will mean that Turkmenbashi has raised the gas price for Russia. If not, it will mean that he has raised it for Ukraine. But Kiev will protest in any case." (TRIBUNE-uz, January 24.)
The Tajik press denounces the policy of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, who allowed his country to become an associated member of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Journalists write that Turkmenbashi is using conflicts between other CIS states, in particular Russia and Ukraine, to the benefit of his country. "A reliable source in Ashgabat has reported that one of U.S. assistant secretaries of state has thanked Niyazov for delivering gas to Ukraine upon Washington's request at the height of the gas conflict" with Russia. (Asia-plus, January 19.)
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