The CIS and Baltic press on Russia

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ESTONIA

The local press has been comparing current Russian-Georgian relations to the Russian-Estonian conflict of the early 1990s.

"We have seen this before. When Estonia adopted a pro-Western policy in 1992, Russia assumed a harsh stand toward it and started an economic war, doubling the customs duty for imports from Estonia and accusing it of infringing on human rights. A full-scale propaganda war was launched against Estonia, with attempts to deploy Russian troops in Estonia and block gas deliveries, as well as threats of war. The situation normalized only after Estonia's pro-Western policy became so obvious that Russia could no longer do anything about it." (Diplomatiya, November 4.)

Estonian newspapers rule out the possibility of Russia becoming "a Eurasian version of the Untied States."

"It would be a gross mistake to think that Russia, with its history, can develop into a modern state unless it embraces democracy, the rule of law and the basic principles of political discretion, and engenders trust. Modern Russia is not sufficiently advanced in these spheres, since the historical development of that mammoth state was complicated by authoritarian czarism and totalitarian communism. The country today is a cocktail of Kremlin demagoguery, oligarchs and organized crime." (Parnu Postimees, November 1.)

LATVIA

The Latvian media are outraged that the minister of economy, Aigars Stokenbergs, accepted Russia's plan to more than double gas prices.

"Natural gas prices will double in the next two years. Starting in 2008, Latvian consumers will have to pay nearly as much as in Western Europe. The price will stabilize in 2009, with tariffs changing only insignificantly, because they will have reached the European average by that time." (Diena, November 1.)

"Stokenbergs said that [Latvia] could pay high gas prices. Unlike him, most residents [of Latvia] are not prepared to pay such prices, and they have the opportunity to pay much less than their neighbors. To attain this goal, we should pursue a pragmatic policy toward Russia and take its concerns into account. If our politicians remember this and turn towards our eastern neighbor, we will have everything [we want]." (Vesti Segodnya, November 2.)

Observers write that the so-called Russian March on November 4 showed that nationalist ideas were growing stronger in Russia with the Kremlin's approval. However, the Russian authorities have lately revised their position and banned the nationalists' march in Moscow.

"Last year, this new holiday [National Unity Day], designed to demonstrate the unity of multiethnic Russia, turned into a parade of ultra-nationalist groups... Racism is gaining momentum in Russia. Racists have killed and wounded dozens of dark-skinned, non-Slavic foreign workers and students, and the majority of these attacks have gone unpunished." (Latvijas Avize, November 2.)

"According to experts, the authorities fear that the wave of xenophobia and nationalism, which they supported, could have unpredictable consequences in such a multiethnic country as Russia." (Diena, November 4.)

The press writes that the draft Russian law on economic sanctions against unfriendly countries could be used for putting political pressure on them, including on the Baltic countries, and for strengthening the Kremlin's influence in the former Soviet states.

"The lower house of Russia's parliament intends to give the president the power to unilaterally introduce economic sanctions against foreign countries. Putin may use this right in an 'international emergency.' The Baltic countries are the most probable candidates to feel the effects of this innovation. Russia intends to strengthen its positions in the former Soviet countries, aiming at stricter control over their economic, political and social spheres." (Biznes&Baltija, November 2.)

LITHUANIA

The hottest subjects in the local media are threats to Lithuania's security and the search for ways to get rid of dependence on Russian energy.

"Russia is using its security organizations to implement its energy policy. The government actually controls the oil and gas sectors, which means that the economy and politics are closely intertwined. The Russian security services know the eastern and central regions of Europe very well. They collect information about their energy sectors, watch their employees, and may stoop to blackmail. All countries in eastern and central Europe depend on Russian energy resources. An alternative is liquefied natural gas, but Lithuania will not be able to build an LNG terminal single-handedly. The Baltic countries should join forces to do this." (Lietuvos Rytas, November 6.)

The press continues writing about the Russian-Georgian conflict.

"Moscow has delivered one more blow to Tbilisi after Georgia repeated its intention to settle differences with Russia at the negotiating table. The Kremlin has shown once again that it does not want to find common ground with the Georgian authorities. Russia is again threatening Georgia with dire consequences for its pro-Western policy." (Lietuvos Rytas, November 3.)

"Georgia does not intend to buy Russian gas at $230 per 1,000 cubic meters. It will only pay such a price if it is set for all the countries in the region. But it will not pay if the price is a way to punish Georgia, said Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli." (Respublika, November 6.)

UKRAINE

The local media continue to highlight fuel and energy issues. Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin turned out to be one of the main newsmakers in the republic. He said the price of $130 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas was a "gift" for Ukraine, but experts interpret the results of bilateral gas talks differently. They believe that the new agreement reflects the real cost of gas, but the division of the contract into supply and transit ones was a gross mistake.

"The gas price for Ukraine is lower than the prices set for neighboring countries. But this interpretation [that it is a gift] can fool only ignorant people. Ukraine made a similar gift to Russia when it agreed not to raise the price of gas transit to Europe. The questions of gas price and gas transit are the same. A price of $130 cannot be called a gift." (ForUM, November 3.)

By suspending its policy of energy blackmail towards Kiev, the Kremlin has not forgotten its main goal, which is to control the basic sectors of the Ukrainian economy.

"The gas price of $130 is the main problem. Officially, it was a big victory for Ukraine, but in fact it cannot stop its economy from getting into Russia's 'caring hands.' The latter can and wants to save and preserve Ukrainian companies, which the new gas price is making unprofitable." (FromUA, November 1.)

MOLDOVA

Moldovan newspapers accuse Russia of applying double standards. They think Moscow is infringing on the principle of sovereignty, which includes, apart from territorial integrity, a country's political independence and the right to freely determine the direction of its political, social and cultural development.

"Russian leaders are infringing on this principle when they make the withdrawal of their troops from Transdnestr conditional on Moldova's conversion to a federal system, or demand the introduction of two or more official languages. They also infringe on this principle by hindering the accession of former Soviet countries to the EU or NATO." (Moldova Suverana, November 1.)

ARMENIA

The local media are focusing their attention on the future of Russian-Armenian energy cooperation. Analysts explain Russia's interest in the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline, which is under construction, by a revision of the Kremlin's energy policy in the Caucasus.

"The accelerated construction of the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline, the possibility of transferring a controlling stake (45-58%) in [Russian-Armenian joint venture] ArmRosgazprom to Gazprom, as well as the Russian gas monopoly's claim to the Iran-Armenian pipeline show that Russia is pushing for an exchange of gas pipelines in the South Caucasus. Under this scheme, Armenia will receive gas from Iran, while Georgia will be offered it at double the price." (Hayots Ashkhar, November 2.)

The authorities' decision to transfer control of the pipeline to Moscow is criticized as shortsighted and unreasonable.

"ArmRosgazprom will be put under Russian control, which means that the Iran-Armenia pipeline will be turned over to Russia, although the Armenian government has denied this. Armenia, with its [insufficient] stake [in the project], will be unable to make or block decisions, and will therefore lose the chance to become a transit country for Iranian gas, because Russia will not allow its pipeline passing through Armenia to be used for this purpose." (Aikakan Zhamanak, November 2.)

GEORGIA

The Georgian newspapers describe Gazprom's plans to raise gas prices as a political decision.

"Bush is flexing his military muscles, while Putin is using his economic ones. The Kremlin has established a definite order in the CIS, a task that was quite simple to perform. The Russian type of democracy allows Putin to compound the economic aspect of gas pricing with a political element. Ukraine will receive Russian gas more cheaply because Ukraine's prime minister said his country did not want to join NATO. Belarus, which is not eager to join in a 'brotherly union' with Russia, will have to buy Russian gas at $250. The price set for Georgia is $230, which is a bargaining price." (Alia, November 4.)

"Even $190 is not an economically justified price, let alone $230." (Rezonansi, November 3.)

Economists accept the opposition's proposal to nationalize Georgian energy assets, which Russia now controls. They warn that this must be done because otherwise Georgia will never free itself from Russia's energy blackmail.

"Russian gas and electricity supplies to Georgia constitute not economic relations but politics, and Georgia will always lose if it stands alone. The Georgian authorities seriously erred when they allowed Gazprom and other Russian firms to acquire energy companies during privatization." (Sakartvelos Respublika, November 4.)

"The issue is the nationalization of strategic energy facilities. The state must buy them from politically dangerous parties for subsequent resale or transfer to management by relatively civilized companies. This will cost us much more today, but unfortunately, we must do this for reasons of energy security." (Mteli Kvira, November 6.)

Analysts write that Russia is rapidly moving towards becoming a fascist state.

"Russian nationalists see the future of Great Russia in liberating their country from non-Russians. This surely runs contrary to the goals of the Russian government, because the movement [towards fascism] will soon become uncontrollable and may push Russia into isolation." (Akhali Taoba, November 6)

"Russia is a multinational country with a tradition of Russian chauvinism. This dual nature of the Russian state has become evident in attitudes towards Georgians. Russians both love and hate Georgians. However, this is not simply an anti-Georgian campaign. Russia is moving towards fascism, and this movement began not at the top as in Germany, but at the bottom, among the people." (Rezonansi, November 3.)

AZERBAIJAN

The opposition media in Azerbaijan warn that its privileged economic relations with Russia, especially in the gas sector, may turn Azerbaijan into one more Russian outpost in the South Caucasus along with Armenia.

"We should not be happy with Russia's pro-Azerbaijani policy. It sells gas to Georgia at $230 per 1,000 cubic meters but to Ukraine at $130, and to Azerbaijan for even less. The logical question is: What is the reason for this differentiated attitude toward the countries of the GUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova) group, which Russia considers hostile? Why is Russia so lenient towards Azerbaijan? Russia wants to preserve its influence in the South Caucasus, and to prevent the strengthening of NATO on its southern borders, especially now that Georgia is irrevocably leaving the Kremlin's sphere of influence. However, we don't want to think that Azerbaijan will become Russia's second outpost, alongside Armenia, in the South Caucasus. The Romans used to say, 'Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.'" (Zerkalo, November 7.)

The press accuses the Kremlin of readiness to undermine Azerbaijan's energy security if Azerbaijan supplies energy to Georgia.

"The situation with energy supplies in the region has come to a head. Russia wants a clear answer to one question: Will Azerbaijan supply energy to Georgia? The Kremlin knows that Azerbaijan, which has strategic relations with Georgia, will help its neighbor out with electricity and natural gas. Therefore, we should not be surprised if next year both Azerbaijan and Georgia are cut off from Russian electricity and natural gas supplies." (Zerkalo, November 7.)

Local analysts explain the Kremlin's decision to take a tougher stance toward nationalist and chauvinist movements, which tried to organize the so-called Russian March, by its unwillingness to allow relations with neighboring states to deteriorate beyond repair. This in turn is because it wants to preserve its influence on their leaders.

"Had the Kremlin given the green light to the demonstration, this would have strengthened anti-Russian sentiment in neighboring states and put an end to Russia's domination of the region. Russia's mass deportation of citizens of the Caucasian and Central Asian republics may encourage the people of those countries to overthrow their pro-Russian regimes. On the other hand, the mass deportation of Azerbaijanis may negatively affect Russians in Azerbaijan, which will subsequently diminish Russia's ability to influence developments in the republic, especially the outcome of elections. By spurring on nationalist groups, the Kremlin will continue to put pressure on the puppet regimes of neighboring states, using the country's two million Azerbaijanis, along with other non-Russians, as hostages." (Yeni Musavat, November 5.)

KAZAKHSTAN

According to the local press, the Kazakh authorities hope to develop nuclear technologies, including uranium production and enrichment, jointly with Russia.

"Atomic energy, high technologies and transport potential are the three engines that should propel our economy onto the global market. One of our most attractive advantages for foreign investors is our unique technology for underground uranium extraction, which significantly cuts production costs. The world has common interests on the nuclear raw materials market, because uranium reserves are becoming depleted and prices are rising." (Kazakhstanskaya Pravda, November 3.)

KYRGYZSTAN

The majority of the Kyrgyz media have been writing about the confrontation between the president and the opposition. The acute internal political crisis has nearly overshadowed all other information.

The press writes that the success of a program to resettle Russian speakers in Russia will depend on the policies of CIS governments.

"Russia has flung open its doors to ethnic Russians who live outside Russia. This policy has a direct bearing on Kyrgyzstan... The motives of those who decide to leave the republic are understandable. They have lived on a pittance for years, without any hope of a better future. There is also a psychological factor at play: Russian speakers in the former Soviet republics are becoming a national minority. Russians have been ousted from nearly all [state and public] bodies." (MSN, November 3.)

UZBEKISTAN

Journalists have been analyzing various scenarios for relations in the Russia-EU-U.S. triangle. Experts note a growing European wariness of the Kremlin's ambitions, and Moscow's fear of NATO expansion. They also write that the Russian authorities are unlikely to revive the western democratic model, which has proved unviable in Russia, in order to maintain stability.

"Russia has said openly that it wants to become a leader on the global political scene. But Europe cannot accept this. Russia is a little worried by the approach of NATO forces. Russia will not choose the path leading to democracy, but will opt for the authoritarian one that promises stability." (Khurriyat, November 1.)

According to observers, Russian aluminum giant RusAl will not resolve its conflict with Tajikistan's government over the Rogun Hydropower Plant. They believe the reason for this is the republic's intention to stop cooperating with the Russian company and sign a deal with Pakistan.

"The unfinished hydropower plant is a Soviet legacy, half of which belongs to Russia. In 2005, Tajikistan's parliament denounced the agreement on the completion of the plant [by RusAl], which provoked the conflict. Tajikistan's desire to cooperate with Pakistan may be one of the obstacles to settling the conflict." (Ferghana.ru, November 2.)

TAJIKISTAN

The local media are analyzing the experience of post-communist Russia to find a way to defuse the ethnic-clan confrontation in Tajikistan, which threatens the security of those who may have to cede power after elections.

"Everyone knows very well about the irreconcilable stand of the opposition forces in Tajikistan and their uncompromising approach to many issues. Therefore, everyone thinks that the opposition will be likewise uncompromising with regard to the security of those who will have to cede power. As for Russia, the leading democratic countries have silently accepted the Russian belief that Russian oligarchs, who appeared during the initial period of the accumulation of capital, should be left alone, for reasons of stability. President Vladimir Putin has attacked only Gusinsky, Berezovskly and Khodorkovsky, but ensured the safety of President Yeltsin and his family. All other oligarchs have become part and parcel of the global economy. In other words, the West and Russia have solved the problem of security for those who used to be in power, and ensured the security of their wealth, families and clans." (Vecherny Dushanbe, November 2.)

Writing ahead of the 15th summit of the CIS, the opposition press has raised the issue of whether the organization should continue to exist.

"There is one more reason in favor of dissolving the CIS: Russia, which has been the center of gravity of this international union. If Russia had a clear-cut foreign policy toward the CIS countries, it could preserve it as a powerful geopolitical and geoeconomic organization. Russia alone could encourage the spread of democratic values, which might also take root in Russian society. But it actually encouraged the de-modernization of Central Asia and the emergence of authoritarian regimes there. Russia's policy in the majority of the CIS countries relies on the political and economic elites, who are busy enriching themselves while a substantial part of the population is living in misery. The loyalty of the ruling elites is a key criterion of regional cooperation for Russian politicians. Russia supports the ruling elites in the CIS only if they remain loyal to Russia and refuse to cooperate with the United States or the West, acting on the principle of 'He may be an S.O.B., but he is our S.O.B.'" (Asia-Plus, November 2.)

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