The CIS and Baltic press on Russia

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ESTONIA

The Estonian media still regards Russia as a highly aggressive and dangerous neighbor. "The Untied States, which has a professional army and hence is chronically short of volunteers for its undermanned units in Afghanistan and Iraq, cannot do anything now other than raise its voice in defense of the Baltic member states of NATO. It would be naive to think that our eastern neighbor is not aware of this. Therefore, the policy suggested by Defense Minister Jurgen Ligi and the Reform Party that stands behind him is a sure way to catastrophe." (Eesti Paevaleht, October 24.)

The media point to the dramatic demographic situation in Russia. "The number of population in Russia has dwindled by more than half a million in the first nine months of 2005. It has been dwindling since 1991, mostly because of poverty, alcoholism, migration and ineffective health care." (Postimees, October 24.)

LATVIA

A scandal over emigre businessman Boris Berezovsky was in the media's spotlight last week. The press reported that opponents of blacklisting Berezovsky described the authorities' decision as a concession to Moscow. "This is a black day for Latvia. A blow has been dealt at friends to please the enemy. They say that Berezovsky is dangerous to Latvia only to cover up the fact that the political decision was taken under Moscow's pressure." (Chas, October 19.)

Local newspapers write about the need to stop Latvia's dependence on Russian energy resources and point to a connection between Russian big business and Latvia's political elite. "Nobody questions the media's reports that gas monopolist Gazprom (an influential shareholder of Latvijas gaze) is following the will of the Kremlin. Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller has been a comrade of the Kremlin boss, Vladimir Putin, since 1990, when he worked in the foreign economic department of Leningrad city hall, which had always been connected with the KGB." (Neatkariga Rita Avize, October 20.)

A series of negative publications are devoted to changes in the Russian tax legislation. "The invalidation of the presumption of innocence means that the taxpayers' guilt will be determined not in courts but in tax agencies. Observers say that this will bury the hope for an improvement of the investment climate in Russia." (Business&Baltija, October 19.)

LITHUANIA

The interview which President Valdas Adamkus granted to the French and German press provoked a broad response, both positive and critical. The Lithuanian president criticized Germany for its failure to consult concerned states before signing an agreement on the construction of a gas pipeline across the bed of the Baltic Sea. "The news that Christian Democrat Angela Merkel would lead a new multicolored coalition in the government revived Lithuania's hope that Berlin would pursue a more acceptable eastern policy." (Panorama, October 24.)

Many authors write about the aggravation of the situation in the North Caucasus. "The Russian authorities are 100% guilty of everything that is happening in Chechnya and around it. The Kremlin has brought this onto itself with its imprudence, obtuseness and stubbornness." (Lietuvos Rytas, October 22.)

Some authors write that the Kremlin's policy in the Caucasus is not simply ineffective but deliberately encouraging terrorism owing to corruption at all levels of power. "Instability in the region brings profits not only to local authorities but also to influential forces in Moscow." (Lietuvos Rytas, October 22.)

UKRAINE

An auction for the Krivorozhstal iron and steel works was the main event of the week. "In early autumn four Russian companies - YevrazHolding, Smart Group, Metalloinvest and Severstal Group - planned to bid for Krivorozhstal. But only Smart Group filed a request, while the other three decided against participation in the tender. Russian companies tried to privatize the works in summer 2004, also without success. At that time, the additional terms made public by the State Property Fund at the last possible moment prevented the Russian companies from registering for the tender." (Korrespondent.net, October 21.)

A visit by a NATO Council delegation led by Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer stirred the media's interest in Kiev's plans of integration into Europe. They write that the reception of Scheffer in the absence of "political attacks" against Moscow pointed to the desire of the Ukrainian authorities "to sit on the foreign policy fence."

President "Viktor Yushchenko has said again that 'the key segment of the foreign policy should be integration into the EU and NATO.' However, the 'orange' authorities no longer set these goals against cooperation with Russia. In view of an imminent energy crisis whose outcome depends on the atmosphere of the Russo-Ukrainian dialogue, Yushchenko has changed the tone. In other words, Ukraine's foreign policy has again become multi-vector, as devised and pursued by [former president] Leonid Kuchma." (Korrespondent.net, October 20.)

"The NATO Secretary General did not even hint at the possibility of Ukraine's admission to the bloc. Neither was it a coincidence that the NATO delegation was extremely interested in the outlook of Ukraine-Russia relations." (Korrespondent.net, October 20.)

MOLDOVA

The media continues to comment on the recent visit to Moldova of a delegation headed by Yury Zubakov, Deputy Secretary of the Russian Security Council. Analysts say Russia's new proposals on the Transdnestrian settlement are no different from the famous Kozak memorandum, because the country seeks to restore its dominance in former Soviet republics and ensure that Transdnestria is internationally recognized.

"Russia's new proposals are meant to create the impression of a new approach, at the same time preserving the boldest and most provocative elements of the 2003 document. These 'amendments' are used to ensure international recognition of the so-called Transdnestrian Moldovan Republic under the pretext of its 'democratization', as well as to sustain Russia's military presence in Moldova." (Moldova Suverane, October 19.)

One result of the visit is said to be the agreement on arranging for international monitoring of Transdnestrian defense enterprises. However, the Chisinau press is skeptical about the initiative, calling it "hypocritical monitoring." "Transdnestria is increasingly becoming an element that supports the Russian defense industry, with all the consequences that entails. It can be said with certainty that monitoring will not resolve any serious problems." (Vremya, October 19.)

ARMENIA

The press once again takes up the subject of strategic partnership with Russia. A large article analyzes relations between the two countries. Experts are most worried about Armenia's economic dependence on Russia. "Unlike Russia, which, although believed to be a strategic partner, has all but suffocated Armenia in the issue of the $100 million debt, the United States has been annually increasing aid to both Armenia and Karabakh, which is not internationally recognized. As a debt settlement, Russia privatized several enterprises that are of strategic importance for Armenia (and which today stand mostly idle, with the Russians showing no signs of interest in investing there), but at the same time it wrote off $4 billion of Syria's debt, although the latter is believed to be a less [important] strategic partner of Russia." (Azg, October 19.)

Russian politicians' unfavorable statements about Armenia remain the second most important topic for a majority of Armenian mass media. "Over the past year, the Kremlin and pro-Kremlin structures have increasingly often spoken negatively about Armenia. As a result, there could be a growth in American and Euro-Atlantic influence and affinity both in Armenia and Karabakh." (Azg, October 19.)

The news that Russia intends to raise gas prices even for its CIS allies has received wide coverage. "The fact that the statement was voiced by the foreign minister and not, for example, the economy or energy minister, proves that it is a political decision that pursues political ends." (Novoye Vremya, October 21.)

GEORGIA

The dismissal of Foreign Minister Salome Zurabishvili was the main political event of the week. "She could be criticized... only for unsettled relations between Georgia and Russia, which she was unable to do due to many external and internal factors." (Rezonansi, October 20.)

The visit of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried revived a popular topic of the possibility of America's involvement in conflict settlement in Georgia. The press published Fried's statement in which he distanced himself from Georgia's claims against Russia. "Russia has an opportunity to play a constructive role in settling the conflicts [in Abkhazia and South Ossetia], and I believe in it." (Rezonansi, October 20.)

Analysts do not rule out that Russia might "cede" Georgia to the United States, enhancing its influence in other regions. "Russian and American interests clash in many regions and not only in Georgia. Perhaps, in other regions (Iran, Korea, Iraq, Central Asia, Ukraine) Russia has bigger stakes than in Georgia and it will more easily cede influence in Georgia than in another region where it will have an opportunity to expand its influence." (Rezonansi, October 24.)

AZERBAIJAN

The opposition press assumed a highly negative attitude towards Russia due to the dismissals and arrests of top-ranking Azerbaijani officials following a joint operation with Russian special services. "Apparently, Russia wants to take revenge on Azerbaijan and is taking steps in this direction. Head of the CIS Executive Committee Vladimir Rushailo, who is following the Kremlin's instructions, has called on the Azerbaijani authorities 'to take serious measures against radical opposition.' Russia's involvement in the latest developments in Azerbaijan was indirectly confirmed by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who said in Tashkent that the warnings about the destructiveness of revolutionary shocks justify themselves." (Eni Musavat, October 22.)

On the other hand, the processes ongoing in the country ahead of the parliamentary election are viewed by the opposition media as the result of a clash of Russian and American interests in the region, provoked by Moscow. "After the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, Russian spin doctors have done a good job of creating mechanisms to preempt such revolutions. One of the methods developed by Russian experts is being tested in Azerbaijan now. The current developments are the result of the first serious clash of interests of Washington and Moscow in pre-election Azerbaijan." (Eni Musavat, October 21.)

KAZAKHSTAN

The media speak positively of Kazakhstan's balanced policy of maintaining inter-ethnic civilian peace and accord in the country. "If the political leadership had tried to mechanically copy the Baltic experience and enforce the official language with appropriate legislation, narrowing down application of the Russian language, such a practice would have inevitably generated inter-ethnic tensions." (Kazakhstanskaya Pravda, October 19).

The press makes gloomy forecasts about Russia's future. Its social problems, journalists say, are provoking a demographic crisis. "These processes may visibly weaken Russia's political, economic and military influence, with more claims appearing to its most vulnerable Asian part. Problems are certain to arise with manning the armed forces, law enforcement and other security agencies. Compared with 2000, the male population aged 17-19 may reduce from 3.46 million to 1.99 million in 2016." (Navigator-II, October 19).

KYRGYZSTAN

The press makes the most of statements made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov following negotiations in Tashkent. The press say they confirm the existence of geopolitical competition between Russia and the U.S. in Central Asia, and Moscow's intention to punch its weight in the region. "Without referring directly to Caspian oil and gas, Lavrov plainly hinted Russia was not going to let third countries interfere in the affairs of Caspian countries, meaning apparently the U.S. and, to a lesser extent, an increasingly aggressive Europe and perhaps China. After saying that the situation in the area of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, particularly in Central Asia, 'is increasingly threatening the security of its member-countries', Lavrov made the point that 'Russia is prepared to render good services to reach compromises and mutually suitable solutions, provided the parties to them are interested.'" (Gazeta.KG, October 22).

Some media cast doubt on speculation that Moscow and Beijing are making contacts to oppose Washington in Central Asia. "Russia-China cooperation is sometimes viewed not in its own right, but as an effective counter-weight to the rising influence of the third empire - the U.S. This is an arguable point of view. In opposing the U.S., China looks self-sufficient. What is more, China is not interested in confronting the U.S. at all, while closer relations between Russia and China are not anywhere near the horizon ... It is difficult to see China as Russia's potential ally today, its development is so differently vectored. Rather the great Asian neighbor should better be seen as a non-bellicose geopolitical opponent." (Gazeta.KG, October 10).

UZBEKISTAN

The media give extensive coverage to the working visit to Tashkent by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Some sources see it as a "political answer" to the recent Central Asian tour by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "The negotiations held by the Russian minister in Ashkhabad and Tashkent ... are of prime significance for the Kremlin. Moscow is demonstrating its determination not to yield to Washington in the fight for influence in Central Asia, seeking to tie nations outside the orbit of American politics ever tighter to itself." (Uzland-uz, October 20).

A leading Internet publication quotes Russian analyst Sergei Karaganov, who comments on Russia's policy and its relations with the U.S. in the region. "Differences do exist between Russia and the U.S. in the area ... The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is seen as a kind of counter-weight to the U.S. We would not like a stronger U.S. influence in the area where we traditionally dominate, but neither would we be willing or able to bear full responsibility for stability and development there ... We want a stronger SCO, but do not want other SCO partners to dominate in the region. From this perspective, we are interested in having some measure of American presence there and a partnership with the U.S. ... Despite different approaches and contradictory aims, the basic interests are close or the same." (Vesti.uz, October 24).

TAJIKISTAN

The press writes extensively about the 13th anniversary celebrations of the establishment of Russia's Federal Security Service border department in Tajikistan and the completion of the handover of control over the Tajik-Afghan border sections to Tajik frontier troops. "Since 1992, Russian border guards have detained over 3,000 intruders, armed bandits among them, seized more than a thousand fire arms and 30 tons of narcotics, including 11.5 tons of heroin." (Avesta, October 19).

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