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The CIS and Baltic press on Russia

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ESTONIA

Analysts point to Russia's currently weak position on the international stage and its attempts to restore its damaged image at any cost. "The history of the Russian people, their religion and national individuality were the biggest targets of Soviet repressions. The current national awakening is still in the bud and is going through an identity crisis... The Orthodox faith, the main basis of the Russian culture, is awakening. But there are some causes for concern. The Orthodox faith, especially when controlled by the state, does not contribute to the weak Russian democracy. Russia seems to have two ruling ideologies now: the Orthodoxy and vodka, both being equally hailed... Russians have little collective memory, but without it a new national identity cannot appear. You cannot go back to the rural community to get it." (Eesti Paevaleht, June 9.)

The statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry, which supported the right of self-proclaimed republics to self-identity, is viewed as radicalization of Russia's old foreign policy. The press believes that the main reason behind this move is Russia's desire to politically oppose the U.S. However, it stresses the danger of such self-identity for Moscow, as it can spur separatism inside Russia. "If the United States can afford to behave in a way that the international community does not like, so can Russia. If the United States can afford Iraq, Russia can afford at least Ossetia... That is all very well, but Russia has forgotten that it is no United States. If the United States can afford to, say, support a coup somewhere in Latin America or to use its troops to change a regime in a Middle Eastern country, it does not threaten the territorial integrity of the U.S. In Russia, the situation is different." (Parnu Postimees, June 8.)

LATVIA

Strong attacks at Russia in the speech President Vaira Vike-Freiberga delivered at the U.S. Congress suggest to commentators that Russian-Latvian relations are unlikely to get warmer. "The Latvian President yesterday said repeatedly that it wanted to restore good relations with the eastern neighbor, but it was always accompanied by reminders of the difficult common past." (Vesti Segodnya, June 8.) "How can Moscow react to the fact that the leader of a neighboring state uses a third country as a tribune to discuss bilateral state problems? All the more so, as Vike-Freiberga went as far as taught Russia how it should interpret history - to enthusiastic applause from U.S. Senators and Congressmen... This way the President has buried any hope of a thaw in our relations. Now there will be no warming even after the election. [Latvia holds parliamentary elections in five months.] (Vesti Segodnya, June 9.)

LITHUANIA

The Lithuanian press views the destabilization in the Crimea as a Kremlin-planned provocation carried out by pro-Russian forces. It points out the harmonious moves by the Russian and Crimean parliaments. "The anti-NATO protests were organized by politicians that are considered Moscow's henchmen and enemies of the Orange revolution... Manipulating the Russian-speaking population, Moscow forces them to send Cold War curses to NATO... The Russian press reports that pickets and rallies are usually organized by women that are worried about the future of their children and grandchildren. But on the Russian television you can see clearly that there are men with military bearing behind these shouting women... Masterminds of the protests have given themselves away by the attempt to appeal to the imperial past. The Russian State Duma intends to consider the possibility of annexing the Crimean Peninsula." (Lietuvos rytas, June 10.) "Protests are organized by Crimean Cossacks and Russian nationals that maintain that the Crimea must belong to Russia." (Kauno diena, June 10.)

Mass media watch closely the fate of Yukos' former owner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. "The imprisoned tycoon is persecuted even in jail. Last weekend Khodorkovsky once again found himself in the worst place for prisoners, in the punishment isolation ward... He was sent there for 10 days, which is the longest period allowed by regulations. He was punished for sharing his food with other prisoners... Khodorkovsky's former prison priest has dared to speak up about the conditions he was kept in. He called Yukos' former CEO a political prisoner and was fired." (Lietuvos rytas, June 7.)

UKRAINE

Some publications see "Moscow's hand" in anti-NATO protests in the Crimea and emphasize that the Kremlin's constant attempts to "take part" in resolving inner Ukrainian conflicts may threaten the country's sovereignty. "In fact, Moscow has resumed direct interference in the country's affairs... The Kremlin has failed to turn Ukraine into a buffer zone between itself and the West, and is now trying to build this zone on part of the Ukrainian territory and with Ukrainian hands. So far Russia has shown itself capable of manipulating the public opinion of part of our citizens." (ProUa, June 8.)

The lingering domestic political crisis, given Russia's announcement that it will raise gas prices on July 1, can lead to a collapse of the national economy. The press writes that Moscow will take advantage of the moment to go on with its program of turning Ukraine into its own foothold. "Russia is now regrouping its resources towards Ukraine so that in the near future it will be able to launch a powerful information campaign against Ukraine. The Kremlin is unlikely to resist the temptation of using the old principle of 'divide and rule.'" (Ukrainskaya Pravda, June 8.) "FSB officers asked some deputies of the Ukrainian Rada (parliament) to stage anti-NATO protests in Ukraine's Russian-speaking regions and to resort to any means to disrupt international military exercises in Ukraine in order to finally put Yushchenko at odds with his Western allies. In return, Kremlin representatives promised significant financial and political support." (Provokatsiya, June 9.)

MOLDOVA

The press has reiterated the thesis that the authorities of the unrecognized Transdnestr republic are in fact Russia's secret agents. "Trained by the Russian special services, the leaders of the Tiraspol regime are the only people who have something to lose from unification with Moldova. Showy optimism permeates their critical remarks about Chisinau, Kiev, Washington and Brussels, while all their praise goes to Moscow's political leaders, whose moves are becoming less predictable and behavior less reasonable." (Moldova Suverane, June 7.)

According to the press, the Euro-Atlantic direction alone can save the country from Russia's energy pressure and attacks on Moldova's territorial integrity. "Taking advantage of the growing world prices, Russia is making huge profits that foster its illusions about being a global superpower... Moldova should neutralize attacks on its sovereignty ... through more efficient cooperation with its neighbors, with support from Western democracies" (Moldova Suverane, June 8.)

Russia reportedly benefits from "freezing" the settlement of territorial conflicts in Moldova and Georgia to prevent the two countries from integrating in Euro-Atlantic structures. "Moscow does not consider it necessary to push the 'rebels' to seek an acceptable compromise with the countries they have branched off... Moscow pursues another goal - to use the "frozen conflicts" for punishing and discrediting Georgia and Moldova, which dared deviate from the Kremlin's orbit." (Independent Moldova, June 8.)

ARMENIA

Many publications quote an Armenian politician concerned about what is termed as Russian "domination" on the national television.

"All our TV channels are being russified at an ever increasing rate. The number of Russian language programs is growing. The people fall victim to this domination, this culture, this disgrace... The cultural platitude has grown into a real national security threat. People, if deliberately zombified and deprived of any cultural taste and thought, will become obedient and sheepish." (Aravot, June 13.)

GEORGIA

Georgian experts advise Russia to "let South Ossetia go."

"Holding South Ossetia so tight is doing Russia more harm than good in terms of international prestige as well as economically, because Russia, selling itself as a peace guarantor in the Caucasus, has failed to solve a single [security] problem here. Thus, Russia should make South Ossetians talk to Georgia and, if Russia keeps neutral, the problem will be resolved." (Sakartvelos Respublica, June 8.)

Leonid Lakerbaya, deputy prime minister of Abkhazia, a self-proclaimed republic in western Georgia, caused a stir in Georgia by his announcement that Abkhazia should not be treated in the same way as former Yugoslav newly independent republics. The media interpreted his rhetoric as a reach-out message from Sukhumi.

Georgian reporters said the Abkhaz leaders had finally realized that Georgia posed a far smaller threat to its identity than Moscow.

"For Abkhazia, Georgia is unfortunately still the top adversary. The other one, however, is clearly Russia. The Abkhaz realize that if they become part of Russia, the threat of assimilation and loss of their culture and identity will be far more imminent than if they become part of Georgia.

"Another possible factor behind the change of heart seems to be the role of the international community. If it plays an active part in resolving the conflict, which means that Russia will not be the only mediator, this will be better for Abkhazia. The Abkhaz are coming to understand that Georgia will be far more accountable than Russia in the face of the international community." (Rezonansi, June 10.)

AZERBAIJAN

Some observers claim the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict could only be resolved to the country's satisfaction when Western powers assume a stronger role, which will at the same time result in a new break up of the "Russian empire."

"We have made concessions but they were all worthless because Russia would not let Armenia sign a peace deal with Azerbaijan... We will have to wait until the Russian empire breaks up... It will happen in a decade. The West is also ever more reluctant to listen to Russia. As an Anglo-Saxon wave is sweeping over the Caucasus, the Grand Russian wave is backing down and will probably stop somewhere on the Far Eastern coast...

"Europe and the United States still need partnership with Russia on many issues, but big horse-trading is in process. Just as Russia once sold Yugoslavia and Iraq for a pittance, it is now poised to sell Iran - and, naturally, expects something in return." (Zerkalo, June 7.)

The redeployment of part of Russian troops formerly stationed in Georgia to Armenia has served as a pretext for another anti-Russian outbreak.

"Slowly but surely, Georgia is getting rid of Russian military presence on its soil. This is also a sign of hope for getting rid of separatists Moscow has long been using to its own advantage... That part of the Russian force pulled out from Georgia will be now deployed in Armenia is a source of concern...

"What we are seeing is a situation in which, should Baku formally take the pro-Western path, the Kremlin will do its best to 'persuade' Azerbaijan not 'to act in a hurry.' Today, in any case, Moscow is making it abundantly clear that its Armenia-deployed force will by no means tolerate U.S. military presence in the South Caucasus." ('Zerkalo', June 7.)

KAZAKHSTAN

Russia is being criticized for again postponing the launch of the Kazakh KazSat telecommunications satellite.

"Considering that the launch date for the Kazakh satellite is being consistently postponed, the public as well as businesses interested in using the satellite commercially are slowly turning their backs on the project... There is a feeling that some official will again postpone the launch date next month." (Gazeta.kz, June 7.)

KYRGYZSTAN

Some opposition sources suggest Moscow is not the sole guarantor of the country's economic stability, which makes any clashes with the West inadvisable. With Kyrgyz industries heavily dependent on external investment and what the media have described as a struggling Russian dimension will some day turn Kyrgyzstan back to its previous frame of reference.

"Why does Bakiev not seek help from time-tested partners? He has tried landmark declarations several times but each time had to go back on his word shortly afterwards... His anti-American zeal, while failing to win many points on the Moscow front, provoked a negative reaction in Washington.

"There is a wider backtrack between Russia and Kyrgyzstan... the two went no further than to declare their cooperation." (Gazeta.KG, June 13.)

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