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The CIS and Baltic press on Russia

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ESTONIA

The media have focused on the prospects of a second Cold War, provoked by both Russia and the United States. Some publications have even predicted when one will begin. "It goes without saying that the second Cold War will not be the same as the first one... It amounts to the very basic positions-of-strength policy, which President Putin has couched as a 'multi-polar approach'... It seems that the U.S. may be provoked into a Cold War in two ways: first, by Russia's moves (such as when Communists took over the Eastern bloc countries), and, second, by a change in the U.S. administration - the Democrats have never gotten along with Russia as well as the Republicans. But this would not happen until 2009." (Postimees, February 20.)

Commentators have emphasized the threat Russia poses to Estonia. "Since the very start of its drive to regain independence, Estonia has perceived a threat emanating from Russia, but its current defense policy is more focused on current problems like terrorism... We should not forget the geopolitical reality for a minute. We should take into account risks related to Russia when planning any defense reform." (Eesti Paevaleht, February 20.)

LATVIA

The media have portrayed the new appointments in the Russian government as the unofficial start of the presidential race. Experts believe that the new deputy prime minister, Sergei Naryshkin, will play a key role in the mission to succeed President Vladimir Putin in 2008. "Naryshkin has received the most profitable spheres of Russian politics and the economy, which will make him practically immune to any serious failures or widespread public discontent. Hence, his performance will not lower his ratings. Moreover, these are the spheres with real levers of power... And there is another telling point. The president's deputy chief of staff, Vladislav Surkov, advised political commentators to refrain from sharp criticism of Sergei Naryshkin or his performance." (Telegraf, February 23.)

Analysts are worried about Moscow's plans to withdraw from the Russian-U.S. Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and aim its weapons at Poland and the Czech Republic if they agree to host components of the American anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system. "Moscow does not have enough resources for a symmetrical response to the United States' deployment of an ABM system. But Russia's scientific potential is great enough for a cheap and effective reply. It is unlikely to repeat the mistake of the Soviet Union, which exhausted its economy trying to keep pace with the Americans in the arms race." (Neatkariga rita avize, February 26.)

LITHUANIA

Commenting on Russia's worsening relations with its neighbors, the press predicts that the conflict between Russia and Georgia will reach a climax in 2009, when Georgia is going to join NATO. The two countries "may become involved in an armed conflict. Russia may try to provoke interruptions in the operation of the South Caucasian and Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipelines to make them seem unreliable in Western eyes. This will allow Russia to destabilize Azerbaijan and Turkey, where radical forces may come to power. If this happens, Turkey may forego its integration in the EU and re-orient itself to the East." (Valstieciu leikrastis, February 21.)

The press continues writing about the Russian-German Nord Stream gas pipeline. "Despite its declared concern about environmental protection, the European Union has 'failed to notice' what a disastrous effect this pipeline might have on nature." (Atgimimas, February 20.) "An Estonian MP... has proposed a bill that would extend Estonia's territorial waters up to 12 miles. If it becomes law, the Russians and Germans that are laying the gas pipe on the Baltic Sea bed will have to come to terms with Estonians as well. (Verslo zinios, February 23.)

UKRAINE

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov's visit to the Crimea has been the news story of the week. Some media consider his statements outrageous. "Luzhkov is chanting the same lines: Sevastopol is a Russian city; the transfer of the Crimea to Ukraine is a historical absurdity... With a firm belief in these ideas, the Moscow mayor is touring the peninsula and pursuing his cause." (Gazeta po-kiyevsky, February 23.) "In Russia, a person would be prosecuted for similar statements." (Podrobnosti, February 26.)

Other publications are worried by Moscow's practical actions aimed at gaining a foothold in the Crimea. Observers believe that Luzhkov's initiatives, buttressed by solid investments in infrastructure, may pose a threat to Ukraine's stability. "Luzhkov came to the Crimea not just for his usual self-promotion. His visit was entirely pragmatic... 'We would like to participate in the large-scale development of the Crimea's eastern coast,' declared Luzhkov. He said he had the funds for this." (RUpor, February 22.) "It would be naive to assume that Mr. Luzhkov is so fond of the Crimea that he goes there out of great-power patriotism. His wife is Russia's wealthiest lady and has her own business interests." (Podrobnosti, February 26.)

Some media believe that Ukraine cannot stop Russia's expansion onto its gas market. Observers think that partnership with Moscow in operating the Ukrainian gas transportation system (GTS) is practically the only way out of the deadlock. "There are reasons to believe that if Ukraine loses part of its control over the GTS, its national security will come under threat. But a gas price of $230 per thousand cubic meters would be its funeral... We can still play by our own rules. Russia wants to gain access to Ukrainian gas pipelines. Hence, it may agree to concessions now. While politicians yell at the top of their voices about defense of national interests, the Russians are quietly gaining living space in Ukraine." (Korrespondent.net, February 23.)

MOLDOVA

Analysts are unhappy about Russia's persistent attempts to besmirch Moldovan leaders. "The Russian campaign to discredit and demonize Moldovan leaders has coincided with the Kremlin's efforts to bring together the Russian people and consolidate government institutions. In a bid to unite the people and distract them from domestic problems, the government has been portraying Russia as a 'besieged fortress' and inventing all sorts of external threats and enemies." (Moldova Azi, February 21.)

ARMENIA

Experts believe that by giving Moscow control over the Armenian economy, the national leaders are trying to keep power in their hands at all costs. "The transfer of the railway to the Russians is meant to neutralize the threat of revolution in Armenia once and for all. In order to achieve their goals, the Armenian authorities will also give the Russians bridges, the post office, the telegraph, and eventually launderettes." (Aikakan Zhamanak, February 21). "[President] Robert Kocharian is playing on the Russian team. In a bid to stay in power, in the last few years he has handed Moscow the Razdan hydropower station, electrical distribution networks, the Mars plant, the ArmenTel Telecommunication Company, gas distribution networks and the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline. Before long, he intends to let the Russians have the Armenian Railway and the mining industry." (Aikakan Zhamanak, February 27.)

GEORGIA

The media have quoted Abkhazia's de facto foreign minister, Sergei Shamba, as urging Russia to determine its attitude to the self-proclaimed republic. "It is clear already that Georgia will become a NATO member. Once this happens, Armenia will have no other choice. Guess what Azerbaijan will do? Soon NATO will stand at the border of the Psou River if Abkhazia does not fight against it... Russia should give serious thought to the future - does it want to have the South Caucasus or not?" (24 saati, February 20.)

AZERBAIJAN

Journalists believe that Russia's possible withdrawal from the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty will allow it to transfer more armaments to Armenia. "This problem is bound to affect Azerbaijan - its conventional arms are regulated by the same treaty, and it is in a state of war with Armenia... Moscow already has a military base in Armenia and undisclosed amounts of arms on occupied Azeri lands. It is easy to see what arsenals Moscow can redeploy to Armenia if it withdraws from the CFE treaty." (Echo, February 24.)

Local observers have qualified reports about American military bases in Azerbaijan as a "provocation by Moscow." "When talking about a potential U.S. military strike on Iran, Russian experts and journalists note the American naval group in the Persian Gulf; in the next instance, they usually mention that the United States has its own military bases in countries adjacent to Iran - Turkey, Iraq, and Afghanistan... They then declare that the U.S. has recently set up similar bases in Azerbaijan. This has become a pattern... It would be logical to assume that Russia's hinting at an American strike against Iran from Azeri territory cannot be explained by gross incompetence - it is rather a calculated attempt to provoke Iran into taking some pre-emptive measures against Azerbaijan." (Echo, February 23.)

KAZAKHSTAN

The press considers the Kremlin's aggressive policy the main reason behind the strategic re-orientation of eastern European nations. "In the eyes of the civilized world, Moscow looks like a worthy successor to the former czarist empire and the U.S.S.R. It has inherited from its predecessors the same imperial policy. The Kremlin believes that eastern European countries should sacrifice their national interests for Russia's. If not, they are soundly rebuked. In short, they are supposed to live as Moscow sees fit." (Yegemen Kazakhstan, February 23.)

Some publications have accused the government of favoring Russian as a universal language. They see it as an encroachment on the constitutional rights of ethnic Kazakhs. "The Kazakh language is again being neglected, while Russians do not experience the slightest inconvenience in Kazakhstan. They have at their disposal numerous media outlets, both national and foreign, satellite television, and the Internet. Moreover, Russian prevails even on local television's prime-time programs." (Turkiston weekly, February 23.)

UZBEKISTAN

The opposition media believe that Russia's law on migration is intended to make it difficult for guest workers to adapt. "A legal system regulating access to employment is a major obstacle to the adaptation of migrants to Russian society... Migrants are subjected to different forms of discrimination, which are manifest in the nature of their work, wages, promotion opportunities, and risk of losing their jobs." (Fergana.ru, February 21.)

TAJIKISTAN

The pro-government media have lashed out at Moscow for hosting a new Tajik opposition movement, Vatandor (Patriot). "Indeed, Russia is a 'relatively free' country, but not free enough to allow a movement in opposition to the Tajik president to operate freely in Moscow and, moreover, engage in preparations for a 'color revolution.' Moscow is not London or Paris. The said movement cannot operate without coordinating its actions with Russia. If Moscow allows it to function freely and step up its activities, that will send a strong signal to Tajikistan, particularly in the new geopolitical reality: it is no longer Russia's only and main 'strategic partner' in the region." (Asia-Plus, February 22.)

RIA Novosti is not responsible for the content of outside sources.

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