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The CIS and Baltic press on Russia

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ESTONIA

The press is writing that Russia may demand compensation from the former Soviet republics for Soviet property. "This is just another soap bubble. Such demands are not justified either by international law or international relations. But Russia stands to gain in both its domestic and foreign policy from pushing for such compensation. The core of the problem is Russia's reluctance to admit that it occupied the Baltic nations and forced them to join the U.S.S.R in 1940... Only demagogues can ascribe to Russia the right to demand that former Soviet republics pay their share of the Soviet external debt. It is common knowledge that after the disintegration of the U.S.S.R., all of the huge country's gold and currency reserves and foreign property went to the Russian Federation." (Postimees, July 28). "The Russian finance minister's demands that property from the former Soviet republics be returned are meant for domestic consumption... Moscow knows all too well that if Russia lodges such claims against ex-Soviet republics, it will have to deal with an avalanche of reciprocal demands, and this applies not only to Estonia." (SL Ohtuleht, July 29).

LATVIA

By receiving President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Moscow is demonstrating that if need be it can ignore Western criticism and find new allies. "Standing behind this self-confidence is the world's growing discontent with the U.S.'s arbitrary rule, and the revival of Russia's economic might owing to its oil and gas reserves. Analysts do not believe that Russia is serious about an anti-American military and strategic alliance with Venezuela, but the timing for the visit suggests that Moscow is sending a clear signal to Washington: there is no messing with the Russian tiger." (Dienas bizness, July 28).

LITHUANIA

National publications return to the idea of the growing pressure exerted by Russia on Lithuania. They are writing that Moscow is using economic levers not only to maintain its market positions, but also to expand its influence in the world political arena. "Gazprom has enabled the Russians to regain faith in their country, which was lost after the Soviet era. The gas giant has become Russian President Vladimir Putin's favorite weapon in this new type of cold war. Now the main threat is not nuclear annihilation, but having no heat during a cold winter. Europe's growing dependence on Gazprom allows the Kremlin to display its strength to the whole continent." (Lietuvos zinios, July 28).

A number of newspapers continue criticizing Russia for denying visas to this year's Second Youth Expedition. The young participants were planning to go to Siberia to fix up the graves of Lithuanians who had been exiled by Stalin. "Apparently, Russian diplomats see some political games behind the raising of the Lithuanian tricolor in the remote taiga, or in the straightening of a lop-sided cross... If there is a will to humiliate people from another country, there is always a way... The Kremlin continues to demonstrate without fail that it is the final authority. Every day Moscow lowers the Iron Curtain." (Lietuvos rytas, July 29).

UKRAINE

A number of media point out that a prolonged political crisis has put Kiev on dangerous ground. Journalists compare the situation with what occurred in Russia in the autumn of 1993, and recall Russia's failure to establish democratic institutions. "The triumph of democracy at this price has led to the formation of a state plagued by rampant bureaucracy... We have witnessed the emergence of a new system, which is quite effective, rigid, and self-sufficient. In this system, clans are ruling not only the government, the economy, and the media, but also human souls... This is a serious lesson for all of us... If we fail to grasp this today, tomorrow Putin's Russia will seem to us a model of democratic development." (Zerkalo nedeli, July 29).

The media are warning that Kiev will have to draft a more balanced program of Euro-Atlantic integration which will take into account the possibility of economic pressure from the Kremlin. "Today, energy resources are the source of Moscow's political power...Russia's position should not be ignored. Moscow is not happy... about President Yushchenko's decision to build a strategic road to Europe, and subsequently, to NATO. Hence, it is understandable why our northern neighbor is being tough on Ukraine." (Zerkalo nedeli, July 29).

MOLDOVA

Commentators believe it is crucial for Moldova to resolve the Transdnestr problem as soon as possible. They point out that Russia, conversely, stands to gain from dragging out the conflict. "The problem is that Moscow can wait. Neither Chisinau nor the West can afford such a luxury. The worse the Transdnestr situation becomes, the better for the Russians. They have nothing to lose while the conflict is frozen. But Moldova burdened with the Transdnestr problem is becoming a zone of uncertainty for the rest of the world. Meanwhile, the Euro-Atlantic community needs stability for its eastward expansion." (Flux, July 26).

Journalists think that the WTO talks have failed because of Russia's military presence in Transdnestr and its trade embargo against Moldova. "These are diplomatic games... Washington will slow down the talks as long as the Kremlin sticks to its position, or until an acceptable compromise is found. Needless to say, Chisinau will go along with this." (Flux, August 1).

ARMENIA

The press is writing about the failure of the Armenian president to take part in the informal CIS summit in Moscow, which was officially attributed to Robert Kocharian's illness. Experts see it as Yerevan's attempt to send a signal to the Kremlin about problems with their bilateral strategic partnership. "Moscow believes that Mikhail Saakashvili, Viktor Yushchenko, and Robert Kocharian were 'conspicuously' absent from the CIS summit in Moscow. They are being urged to decide whether they stand for Eurasian integration or against it and therefore going to join the West. Those who are against it will have to leave the CIS... If Moscow is not interested in the problems of its 'strategic ally'...why should Yerevan bother about attempts to improve what cannot be improved: the CIS?... In effect, it is not important whether Kocharian was sick or not. The problem is not that one man was sick. It is Armenian-Russian relations that are sick." (Yeter, July 27).

Traditionally friendly Armenia is deepening its cooperation with Georgia, Ukraine, and Iran. Analysts see this as a sign of its alienation from Russia. "The alliances between the four countries, which are primarily based on the gas pipeline going from Iran through Armenia and Georgia to Ukraine, and from there to the EU, could be seen as an alternative to Gazprom's monopoly... Recently, Gazprom has declared its intention to obtain the rights to the ownership of the Iranian-Armenian gas pipeline. However, the Armenian president's visit to Tehran has made it clear that nobody is going to give up the gas pipeline (at least of their own free will)... How are we going to deal with Moscow? Will we humbly continue receiving third-rate officials and allow them to insult our independence? Will we celebrate the anniversaries of the achievements of alien Russian soldiers, and consider them closer than our own army, which has won the war?" (Yeter, July 27).

GEORGIA

The media are enthusiastically commenting on the police operation carried out by the Georgian authorities in the Kodori Gorge in Svanetia. "Now Russian military experts will clearly have to reevaluate Georgia's defense potential. They will have to think about what will happen if Georgia is involved in a full-scale conflict, and if the Russian armed forces get into it. Georgia can quickly respond to an outside threat, make a timely decision, and mobilize its forces. It can fight and win. The results of the Kodori operation show that it has the political will and is ready for this." (24 Saati, July 28).

Analysts are not unanimous as to who has benefited from the conflict in the Kodori Gorge: Moscow or Tbilisi. "After the events in the Kodori Gorge, the Georgian Parliament's resolution on the withdrawal of Russian peacemakers will not be implemented for at least another 10 years. Our insolvent government has swallowed the bait dangled before it by a plan which was drafted by Russia's top organizations of state security." (Akhali Taoba, July 28).

"Only the [Georgian] authorities were interested in sending our troops there; [Emzar] Kvitsiani was sacrificed as a pawn to make the Russian peacemakers and separatists think that a terrorist had to be caught so they would let our troops pass... This man [Kvitsiani] was provoked and used in someone else's game." (Kviris Khronika, July 31 - August 6).

AZERBAIJAN

The press has concluded that the Kremlin is using any anti-American regimes it can in its global confrontation with the United States. "Moscow has attached no small importance to the 'alliance of the offended'... Being short of allies and satellites itself, Moscow cannot claim the status of a superpower... Today, it is not very choosy in its choice of allies: it has hosted Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hugo Chavez, Kim Jong-il... [The Kremlin] is demonstrating its readiness to exploit anti-American attitudes, no matter who displays them and where." (Echo, August 1).

The media are paying particular attention to Moscow's efforts to strengthen the ruble in the world currency system. "President Vladimir Putin has deemed it necessary to conduct stock trade in oil and gas in rubles. This will certainly expand the Russian currency's zone of influence. If a common economic space comprised of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan becomes a reality, the Russian ruble will be its dominant currency. Hence, Western participants will find it more difficult to compete in this market because they will have to convert their currencies." (Zerkalo, August 1).

KAZAKHSTAN

The crash of the Russian RS-20 Dnepr carrier-rocket launched from Baikonur has given the press an excuse to call into question Kazakhstan's space cooperation with Russia. "During the recent launch of [the first national satellite] KazSat, tensions were also running very high. It was obvious that Roskosmos executives were prepared for anything to happen. Nevertheless, the Kazakh government continues talking about exclusive cooperation between its space program and Russia. Several failures of Russian space technology - the Criosat and Arabsat satellites perished shortly after lift-of, and the launch of the European Meteo satellite was cancelled at the last minute - makes one ponder over the rationale behind this choice." (Liter.kz, July 28).

The media describe the purchase of 80% of the shares of Kazakhstan's Texaca Bank by Russia's Sberbank as an earthquake in the Kazakh financial market. The advent of the Russian mega-bank is seen as a test of durability and ability to compete. "So far we can only guess about the intentions of the Russian bank in Kazakhstan, but it is clear that it will not limit itself just to PR... If Sberbank intends to work actively in Kazakhstan, it may affect our market quite tangibly. A comment made last spring by a Kazakh banker, who said that many of the country's banks had no other option than to merge with others or leave the scene gracefully, will become very topical." (Kazakhstanskaya Pravda, July 28).

KYRGYZSTAN

Mass media commented extensively on the news that the country's former prime minister, Nikolai Tanayev, will head the project to build Gazprom City, a 300-meter high building in St. Petersburg. They noted pending criminal charges against Tanayev, who is now successfully doing business in Russia. "He has been accused of illegal car purchases and money transfers. He had to leave the country after the revolution in March 2005. Recently, Nikolai Tanayev was appointed director general of Gazprom Neft Invest. This company was established in May 2005 to carry out the Gazprom City project." (Obshchestvenny Reiting, July 27).

UZBEKISTAN

The official press quotes Maksim Meyer, aide to the deputy chairman of the Federation Council, Russian parliament's upper chamber, as saying during his visit to Uzbekistan that the republic's balanced social and economic development was "achieved without the painful crisis that Russia and other countries suffered in the 1990s... Here, a large enterprise still provides heat for the city, buys everything necessary for local hospitals and kindergartens and has its own developed infrastructure. In Russia, this seems to be a thing of either the good old past or of the bright new future. In Uzbekistan, however, this has come true and is functioning..." (Narodnoye Slovo, July 28).

TAJIKISTAN

Independent experts are alarmed and forecast that Russia's recently adopted program to lure back its nationals may rob Tajikistan of its best specialists. "The economic projects now under way in Tajikistan are designed for the future: for the next three, five or eight years. Our government does not seem to have sufficient economic potential to either suspend or reduce the flow of emigrants. There is no guarantee that the Tajik leadership will find any mechanism to influence the situation within the next two or three years." (Sobytia, July 27).

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