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The CIS and Baltic press on Russia

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ESTONIA

The media are treating the idea of EU common policy on Russia as utopian, because every European nation has its own interests. By way of example, they quote the EU decision to divide its relations with Russia into four areas.

"Russia has rendered meaningless the initiative on the EU's common policy by splitting the four areas into smaller parts and then proceeding to pick and choose what suits it best. It has divided the economic area into energy and agriculture, and removed visa rules from the area of domestic security, freedom, and law." (Parnu Postimees, September 12.)

Commentators are talking about forthcoming changes in the Russian government and link it with the upcoming presidential elections. "Both United Russia (UR), which enjoys the parliamentary majority, and the Kremlin are interested in a change of government. On the eve of the elections, the UR will be able to attract the votes with its inflated budget, and the prime minister's weekly television appearances will further enhance the UR rating. This may be the reason why many analysts associate potential replacement of the prime minister and the cleanup of the government with the Kremlin's Operation Successor, which is aimed at putting onto the presidential throne a candidate who is close to the Putin entourage. This has lead Moscow politicians, political scientists and commentators to name Dmitry Medvedev as the most probable candidate for the post of the prime minister." (Postimees, September 8.)

The press qualifies the purchase of the Kommersant newspaper by oligarch Alisher Usmanov as another step towards suppressing the freedom of the press in Russia. Journalists are blaming the Russian press for this situation.

"The media decided to serve the state back in 1996, when they unequivocally supported Boris Yeltsin's reelection... The oligarchs, afraid of a Communist comeback, made all channels work for Yeltsin. If journalists thought that they had been bought just once, they made a mistake. The Kremlin saw how the media could be used." (Eesti Paevaleht, September 7.)

LATVIA

The press writes that Vladimir Putin's visits to South Africa and Morocco confirm Russia's ambition to increase its influence in the world, and restore the former status of the world power. Experts note that nobody expected the Russian president to score such results during his first trip to Africa.

"President Putin's visit to the Republic of South Africa is another example that clearly shows Russia's ambition to gain greater influence in the world..." (Diena, September 6.)

"The Russian president promised to invest a billion dollars, build a nuclear power station, a manganese plant, to supply nuclear fuel, and a great deal more. Nobody expected so many results from Vladimir Putin's first visit to Africa." (Buzines&Baltiya, September 7.)

The media discuss Putin's success at the talks with the leaders of Greece and Bulgaria. The three leaders have agreed on the construction of the trans-Baikal oil pipeline bypassing Turkey, which sets very high environmental demands on oil transportation by tankers. "Within a couple of hours, the Russian leader agreed with the Bulgarian president and the Greek prime minister on the long-awaited construction of the oil pipeline bypassing Turkey... This pipeline will allow Russia to deliver its oil to the Balkans and southern Europe without entering the overloaded Turkish-controlled Bosphorus... Although the specific dates for the project's implementation have not been specified yet, the majority of analysts are already sure that Russia has won the 'oil battle for the Balkans.'" (Telegraf, September 6.)

LITHUANIA

The media claim that even the new ferry-boat service organized by Russia will not allow Moscow to maintain normal contacts with Kaliningrad without Lithuanian railways.

"Lithuania, deprived of Russian oil, is talking about the possible repair of transit railways, which displeased Moscow. The Kremlin immediately said that it could do without that railway branch line, since a siding track had been prepared for freight to be delivered to Kaliningrad... Russia does not conceal that the new ferry service is also a response to problems that might arise in rail transit via Lithuania. Besides, it makes it possible to transport cargoes blocked by Vilnius... How many ferry boats will Russia need to completely give up Lithuanian transit services? About 20 million metric tons of cargoes are transported from Russia to the Kaliningrad Region every year. At least, more than 10 ferry boats would be needed to transport all these cargoes to the region. Obviously, only part of the cargoes could be transported by sea." (Lietuvos rytas, September 12.)

UKRAINE

The press is focusing on fuel and energy. Journalists are convinced that Ukraine will have to pay more to Gazprom due to the increase in the prices of Turkmen hydrocarbons.

"Ukraine has completely lost direct access to Turkmen gas and can only rely on Russian re-export; therefore it must get ready for a fairly steep rise in the price of imported gas." (Ugmk, September 6.)

Journalists are trying to peg Russian gas prices to Kiev's foreign policy line. "Gas prices for Ukraine depend on its strategic prospects of cooperation with Russia. Despite all hopes placed on the new Ukrainian government, gas price agreements remain vague... All declarations imply nearly the same thing: if we are satisfied with your government's policy, we can always agree on more acceptable prices." (Glavred, September 8.)

In the journalists' opinion, Kiev's ally in its confrontation with Moscow is Baku. However, Viktor Yushchenko's visit to Azerbaijan brought no success in this area. The issue of the two countries' cooperation in the Odessa-Brody pipeline construction project has not been settled. "Yushchenko again returned to Kiev from Baku without oil. Perhaps, it would be wrong to rely on intuition, but intuitively we feel that Caspian oil will not flow into the Ukrainian pipe soon." (Podrobnosti, September 11.)

Some experts stress that Ukraine's hopes for oil supplies from Azerbaijan are groundless. "Any shipment of Azeri hydrocarbons by any other route will mean a reduction of oil volumes transported via the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) Pipeline. There is also oil produced by the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR)... But even the volume of oil SOCAR could give to Ukraine will not resolve the country's problem of energy resource shortages... It is hardly realistic to talk about the creation of a new route... To date, all Azeri oil supplies have been distributed by the existing routes." (UNIAN, September 8.)

MOLDOVA

In pro-Romanian publications, experts condemned protests by the opposition parties and public and political movements against NATO-organized command-and-staff exercises in Moldova (Cooperative Longbow/Lancer-2006) as subversion, and called on the country to become a full-fledged member of the NATO alliance.

"When our country's neutral status is not recognized and Russia throws out a challenge to Moldova's neutrality and even sovereignty, it is obvious that the republic's security can only be ensured by its participation in a collective security system. NATO alone ensures this in our region. Moldova should not only participate in exercises and allow them in its territory, it should become a full-fledged member of the alliance." (Flux, September 6.)

ARMENIA

The press is trying to forecast the influence of the Russian factor on the forthcoming elections in Armenia. Analysts believe that Moscow will continue interfering actively in Armenian domestic affairs. "It will be only possible to judge about the real relations between Yerevan and Moscow after the parliamentary and presidential elections (spring 2007 and winter 2008, respectively). It will be then, some time after inevitable falsifications, that the Putin administration will attempt to intimidate the regime and increase its influence here, like it does in the entire CIS space... It is a fact that the Russians reserve for themselves at least the moral right to discuss the candidacies of the future president, prime minister, defense minister, and the head of the Armenian security service." (Zhamanak-Yerevan, September 6.)

Analysts qualify the Kremlin's policy as an attempt to set up a new union state in the CIS space. "Contrary to the plans of Western political technologists, Russia has not only preserved but also consolidated its leading economic, political, and cultural role in the countries, which Moscow lovingly calls 'the near abroad'... Could the Kremlin be thinking about bringing the integration processes in the CIS to a logical end, and creating a kind of a new union state - a certain EU-like association?" (Golos Armenii, September 7.)

GEORGIA

The media are describing massive arrests of the supporters of the Justice Party by the authorities as a brilliant operation, and a successful attempt to neutralize the Russian factor in Georgia. "With the help of its Georgian lackeys, Russia was planning to set up illegal armed units and trigger off civil confrontation, to be followed by the change of power by force." (Georgian Times, September 7-14.) "The authorities are pointing at Russian security services, and the opposition is almost of the same opinion... Presumably, the Kremlin will quickly start looking for ways to approach other opposition parties." (Alia, September 7.) "What happened was well justified - the authorities have declared an open war on Russian satellite forces in Georgia." (Ahali taoba, September 7.) "This was a failure of Russia's long-planned special operation, which was funded by Russian money, and included the runaway Georgian businessmen, politicians, and others." (Rezonansi, September 8.)

AZERBAIJAN

The press is emphasizing that the prospects of competition with Russia in the world oil and gas market are improving for Azerbaijan. "Since the commissioning of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, and the first purchases of Caspian oil by the region's countries, competition (with Russia) has become even worse. The Kremlin-instructed Rosneft, TNK-BP, Gazprom Neft and Transneft cannot make a step back. They are hoping to get additional opportunities for exporting oil to the U.S. and Asia via the Mediterranean in order to streamline the pricing of Brent, Azeri Light, and the Urals." (Express, September 7.)

Analysts are praising a well-orchestrated effort by states interested in overcoming their energy dependence on Russia. "Vilnius has cast another blow at the Kremlin's plans. During his meeting with the Polish President Lech Kaszynski, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamcus discussed the project for transporting Turkmen and Kazakh gas by the Nabucco pipeline. The Polish president said that he agreed to the deployment of an American ABM base on Polish territory in exchange for five billion dollars to pay for the project. Rzeczpospolita reported that this project of gas supplies to Poland and other EU countries would pass through the territories of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, and Slovakia, and become a real alternative to the North European gas pipeline, which Russia is trying to construct. The American companies Texaco and Chevron are ready to join this project." (Express, September 7.)

KAZAKHSTAN

Political scientists are analyzing how Mikhail Fradkov's possible resignation from the post of the prime minister, rumored in the Russian press, will affect Kazakh relations with Russia. They believe that a change of government in Russia is purely a technical issue. It cannot change the political course, which is determined by Vladimir Putin. There is no alternative to allied relations between Russia and Kazakhstan. "A change of government both in Russia and in Kazakhstan is technical rather than political, and will not influence bilateral relations or development strategies of the two countries... They are determined exclusively by the presidents." (Liter.kz, September 8.)

KYRGYZSTAN

The question of the Russian language in Kyrgyzstan remains in the foreground. The authors of the presidential project on changing the constitution insist that Russian should not be given the status of an "official language of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan", and should be downgraded to a "language of interethnic communication."

"Today, the Russian language does not need protection. It is an international language. Now we should defend the Kyrgyz language. If it disappears, the Kyrgyz nation will disappear as well... Moreover, Russians account for a mere five percent of the republic's population. If their language is recognized as official, Uzbeks will be offended, because they make up 18% of the total population. (Kyrgyz Tuusu, September 8.) "In their efforts to please Russia, the former Kyrgyz authorities made Russian an official language, but nobody explained the logic behind this step. It did not produce any benefits." (Erkintoo, September 8.)

Some publications are urging Russia to be particularly vigilant to any changes in the Kyrgyz domestic political climate, because yet another change of power is fraught with growing extremist attitudes, and is more likely to draw Moscow into a new conflict in Central Asia. "If a second revolution takes place in Kyrgyzstan, the consequences of the parliamentary crisis in Ukraine will pale into insignificance when compared to this... The threat of Islamist war is growing not on Russia's remote borders, but close to its strategic allies. Now the most important thing is not to lose any time, and prevent the war so as not to drown in the blood of one's own soldiers." (Gazeta.KG, September 11.)

UZBEKISTAN

The press carries an interview given to the German newspaper Tageszeitung by German Foreign Minister Gernot Erler, in which he describes the details of his meeting with Uzbek President Islam Karimov. Ostensibly, he told Erler that he does not want to side with Russia, and to see Russian military domination in Central Asia. "Karimov made it very clear that the Western impression about Uzbekistan's readiness to return to Russia's embrace is not accurate... Karimov said that he was sending signals to the West that he did not like stepped up military activities by the SCO in the region and in his republic. But the West misinterpreted his signals... It was clear that Karimov regards Kazakhstan as a rival, and does not want to side with Russia altogether." (Musulmansky Uzbekistan, September 10.)

The Russian Megafon company is planning to buy the local mobile operator. The media are writing that if the deal goes through, Russian companies will actually run the whole show on the Uzbek cell market. Megafon is considering buying Coscom... Director General of the Uzbek company Alexei Stepanov said: "I know that Megafon wants to purchase Coscom, but I have no information about the course of the talks." Coscom is Uzbekistan's third biggest cell operator... If Megafon buys it, Russian companies will have almost full control over Uzbekistan's cell market." (Vesti.uz, September 8.)

TAJIKISTAN

Analysts are writing that the current president Emomali Rakhmonov is the preferable candidate for Moscow in the fall presidential elections. "In addition to the officially declared goals, this event (bilateral interparliamentary forum, which ended a week ago in Dushanbe) was designed to show that President Rakhmonov has secured Russia's solid support on the eve of the fall presidential elections... Moscow would not like to lose its influence if another leader comes to power..." (Sobytiya, September 6.)

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