The CIS and Baltic press on Russia




The press has been accusing Russia of preparing a coup d'etat in Estonia on May 9. This is what Estonian Minister of Justice Rien Lang thinks on that score: "No sensible person would doubt the existence of such a plan. If the State Duma delegation demanded resignation of the Estonian government on its arrival at the airport and is clinging to the same rhetoric in Estonia, I think its intentions are very clear." (Sakala, May 28).

The press has been criticizing Russia for lack of freedom of speech and almost total absence of the independent media. Under the circumstances, the holding of a five-day congress of journalists in Moscow seems incredible.

"The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists has listed Russia among the three countries that have cut the most freedoms of the media... In the past five years, 11 journalists have been killed for performing their duties. Not a single murder has been uncovered. The choice of Moscow as a venue for the congress is either very cynical or, to the contrary, the last sigh before the death of the free media." (Eesti Paevaleht, May 29).


The press has lashed out at the Moscow authorities for prohibiting sexual minorities from organizing a parade in the capital. Newspapers point out that not only the police but also aggressive young people were blocking the gay parade.

"The arrest of the activists who wanted to give [the authorities] a peaceful petition is a clear violation of rights. Among the detained is head of the Russian Gay Society Nikolai Alekseyev, who failed to give the Moscow mayor a letter whereby dozens of members of the European Parliament demanded that the parade be allowed." (Diena, May 28).

"The opponents of those who tried to defend gay rights were battering them, throwing eggs at them and shouting out the slogans 'Moscow is not Sodom!' and 'Death to Homosexuals!'" (Natkariga rita avize, May 28).


Analysts are blaming the Kremlin, which is escalating tensions in relations with the West for growing crimes against foreign diplomats. The media point out the indifference of Russia's law-enforcement agencies and society, which are doing nothing to prevent ultra-nationalist crimes.

"First Secretary of the British Embassy in the Russian Federation Nigel Gould-Davies was attacked in Chita... In the last few years, Israeli, Polish, American and Kazakh citizens were beaten up and robbed... The recent events make one wonder whether this is society's reaction to the Russian government's tense relations with foreign countries. Be it as it may, but the law-enforcement bodies are dismissing these crimes as hooliganism and paying no attention to them." (Respublika, May 29).


The media have focused on the Iranian president's visit to Belarus [May 21-22] and its potential aftermath. Commentators agree that intensive rapprochement between Lukashenko and Ahmadinejad affects Russia's fundamental political and economic relations in the republic.

"Alexander Lukashenko's foreign policy is based on ambitious, far-reaching plans. Russia is underrating them although leading Belarusian experts have long been trying to explain to their Russian colleagues that the Belarusian leader is not as straightforward as many think... Iran will take part in a number of investment projects in Belarus and is expected to buy high tech military hardware, most probably S-125 air defense missile systems... Both Moscow and Washington should think about the consequences of the Iranian president's visit." (Khartiya 97, May 23).


Analysts believe that Moscow's attempts to dominate the post-Soviet space and resort to economic arguments in political disputes with the newly independent nations are reducing opportunities for constructive dialogue and impeding integration in the CIS, thereby contributing to the crisis of CIS institutions.

"The CIS has already ceased to exist de facto... Russia lost interest in it after the Kuchma era. The new Ukrainian government makes it practically impossible for Russia to draw our country into joint energy projects like a gas transportation consortium. The idea of the common economic space has also faded... What's the point of talking about a common agricultural market if our northern neighbor is so enthusiastic about meat-and-dairy wars? Every country thinks about its own interests. Nobody needs the CIS anymore." (Gazeta po-kievsky, May 24).


Commentators believe that if Chisinau and Moscow sign a bilateral agreement on Transdnestr, Moldova can again land in the sphere of Russian interests. The press unequivocally connects the Chisinau visit of Yury Zubakov, Deputy Secretary of the Russian Security Council, with the success of the new Russian proposals on Transdnestr settlement although officially their existence has been denied.

"There is no doubt that Putin and Voronin have agreed on a new plan of Moldova's transdnestrization... Whether we like it or not, but the trenches of the new Cold War between Russia and NATO pass through Bessarabia. Russia is now denouncing the CFE Treaty so that it could keep its troops on the Dniester's left bank." (Jurnal de Chisinau, May 29).

"This agreement can again lead Moldova, once a pro-European state, into Russia's orbit. This would be a blow to a policy of friendly relations with Europe." (Press Review, May 29).


The media continue discussing why international analysts have been surprisingly positive about the Armenian parliamentary elections.

"The world public is glad that there were almost no victims... and that the new parliament will have a pro-Russian majority and a pro-Western opposition. This is different from the old parliament with its pro-Russian majority and pro-Russian opposition." (168 zham, May 23).

"Just imagine what would happen if these analysts said that the elections had been held with crude violations and did not meet international standards. In that case, Armenia would quit the EU New Neighborhood program; the NATO individual partnership plan and the EU-Armenia Action Plan would be frozen; the aid under the Millennium Challenge program would be stopped, and the isolated and poor Armenia would find itself under Russia's total control. " (Aikakan Zhamanak, May 23).


Experts believe that Russia's support for the breakaway republics - Abkhazia and South Ossetia - is the main catalyst of tensions in Russian-Georgian relations.

"What is behind the aggravation of Moscow's relations with former Soviet republics is separatism. Despite the declarations of its ardent support for Georgia's territorial integrity, Moscow is covering up for Abkhazia and former South Ossetia. They are mostly oriented to Moscow and are looking at it as a savior. Moscow could do more for the restoration of Georgia's territorial integrity but it is passive." (Sakartvelos Respublica, May 24).

At the talks on Russia's WTO entry, experts have advised the authorities to make proposals on legalizing customs and immigration checkpoints on the territory of the self-proclaimed Georgian autonomies instead of putting forth general demands.

"Tbilisi should suggest to Moscow a concrete plan of meeting our requirements... Russia should not only agree but also participate in it. Even if 100 paratroopers land on the Psou River [the border between Russia and Abkhazia] and the Roki Tunnel [between North and South Ossetia], what will they be able to do so far away from the Georgia-controlled territory?" (Rezonansi, May 29).


The opposition press is writing that Baku should make its final choice between Russia and the United States.

"The latest events in the region bear out that the potential of Azerbaijan's balanced policy is almost exhausted. The visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Azerbaijan on the eve of Baku's security consultations with Washington testifies to the growing U.S.-Russia struggle for this country. Azerbaijan must make a choice in this situation. If it continues its balanced policy, it will come under serious pressure from both sides." (Azadliq, May 26).

Despite the initial strong disappointment with the decision of Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to build a Caspian pipeline, the press maintains that Russia and Azerbaijan can supply energy resources from Central Asia to Europe in parallel.

"Azerbaijan and Russia are not rivals in energy supplies to the world markets... It is enough to compare the scale of oil and gas production in these countries to see that no competition is possible here. The problem boils down to the routes of energy exports... Azerbaijan and Russia can do this in parallel - Russia through the North Caspian region and Azerbaijan via the Trans-Caspian pipeline if it is built." (Day.Az, May 24).


Analysts are skeptical about the Russia-EU summit in Samara. They think that current Russia and Europe will never find a common language.

"When asked why oppositionists were barred from Samara, Putin referred to the experience of the West European law-enforcement agencies, which often break up the rallies of anti-globalists... [Chancellor] Angela Merkel remarked that European countries were restricting only hoodlums and marauders, and nobody was trying to use force against peaceful demonstrators. Whether she wanted it or not, but with these words she re-emphasized the gap that separates Putin's Russia from the rest of Europe." (Yegemen Kazakhstan, May 25).


The media are discussing a potential extension of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the influence of individual countries on its performance. Noting Russia's leading role in the SCO, analysts believe that it is more stable in its compact form and that its expansion is bound to cause political and institutional complications.

"If we are talking about Pakistan and India, we should not forget about Kashmir [disputed territory]. If we are talking about Iran, we should consider the nuclear threat. If the UN and individual countries cannot resolve this problem, there is no way the SCO can do it... For the time being, the SCO does not undertake to resolve its own problems... It all boils down to effectiveness. To have many members is not always a good thing." (, May 24).


Opposition analysts see Turkmenistan's rapprochement with Kazakhstan as the former's attempt to avoid a tough choice between Russia and the West. They are predicting the formation of a Central Asian union based on an alliance between Ashgabat and Astana. Experts note the U.S. interest in Central Asian unification.

"The project of a Central Asian union proposed by Kazakhstan enjoys widespread support not only in the region's countries (save the still wary Uzbekistan) but also in the United States. Turkmenistan and Tajikistan have enthusiastically supported Nursultan Nazarbayev's idea of reforming the CIS's entire structure with a view to diminishing Moscow's influence in the region... For this reason, American analysts believe that in Central Asia Kazakhstan is sooner Russia's rival than partner." (Dogry Yol, May 23).

A number of opposition publications are accusing Russia of supporting the totalitarian regime of Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov in exchange for economically and politically profitable contracts with Turkmenistan.

"Clearly, the European and Russian authorities were primarily fighting for the gas pipeline, while Asians had a choice and they chose Russia... It does not mean in the least that the pipeline through Georgia, Ukraine and Poland is better than one going through Russia. What matters is that Russia will be able to use its influence to fully protect Asian regimes against Western criticism and will never give them a hard time over 'freedom' or 'human rights'... Recent events have made it clear that the European countries and the United States, or rather their bureaucrats do not bother about democracy and human rights, either... The public virtually has no say in Russia. Russian bureaucrats and their Asian colleagues have similar views on the role of society and human rights. None of them look back at their public." (Gundogar, May 23).


Some media continue criticizing Moscow for its destabilizing foreign policy, primarily as regards former Eastern bloc countries and post-Soviet republics.

"Russia's dangerous actions... are becoming increasingly obvious... Ultra nationals are returning to power in Serbia. They are drawing their energy from the growing anti-Western rhetoric of the Russian leaders... Russia's strong nationalist stance is making a bad situation worse. It is enough to recall its vicious reaction to Estonia's decision to move the Soviet monument from downtown Tallinn. Both Serbian nationalists and Russians living in Estonia rely on Russia's powerful support... It continues pouring more oil on the flames in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine with different intensity." (Sobytiya, May 23).

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