The CIS and Baltic press on Russia




Moscow's proposal to the United States to jointly use the Gabala radar has, the media say, allowed Russia to hijack the initiative at the G8 summit in Heiligendamm, which marked a kind of diplomatic defeat for the West.

"Basking in the limelight, Putin jibed [the Americans] at a news conference: the U.S., he said, could think of deploying interceptor missiles in Iraq as a justification for its presence there. It was a mighty slap in the face to U.S. prestige, because it became clear that the Kremlin had improved its position even in Baku. <...> The West got nothing from Russia. According to the Kremlin, Bush did not even raise the issue of democracy at the meeting." (Parnu Postimees, June 12).

The newspapers are discussing at length the reduced volume of Russian goods carried by the state-owned Estonian Railroad. They note that Russia is increasing freight carriage via private Estonian firms with Russian capital. Commentators see in this a political motivation connected with the recent relocation of the monument to the soldier-liberator.

"Spacecom and Westgate Transport, which are closely connected with Russian business circles, have benefited from the boycott of Russian transit. <...> The market is being rearranged. We have simply given Russia a good pretext for doing that." (Erileht, June 13).

The media call for a wider celebration of Day of Mourning to secure funds from the European Union to preserve the memory of the victims of Stalinism and explain the crimes of communism in the West.

"Now is the time to integrate the Kremlin's past into a system of customs and beliefs in Europe. <...> The Nazi crimes in the death camps, ghettos and communities are known by three words: Hitler, Auschwitz and the Holocaust. An attempt to find three similarly convincing symbols in relation to Stalinist terror could become one of the major objectives for Estonian foreign policy." (Parnu Postimees, June 14).


The press has noted that although Vladimir Putin's proposals to organize a missile defense system in Europe are unlikely to receive Washington's support, he nevertheless has killed two birds with one stone, demonstrating his wish to agree to a missile defense shield and alleviating fears caused by his recent threat to re-target missiles at Europe.

"In effect, Putin has made a proposal to Bush anticipating a refusal, which will play against Washington. The U.S. will not trade the deployment of its radars in Poland and the Czech Republic for the possibility of using a radar in Azerbaijan. <...> But now Washington will find it difficult to argue for the establishment of a missile defense facility in Europe." (Vesti-Segodnya, June 9).

"After several months of accusing Vladimir Putin of triggering a new Cold War, Western mass media have unleashed an avalanche of ecstatic comments." (Telegraf, June 11).

"The word 'relief' could be the most fitting description of feelings shown by Western European media concerning Putin's proposal. <...> However, one could observe an entirely different response from countries with a hand in the affair: official representatives of the Czech Republic and Poland are in no hurry to rejoice with the rest of the European Union. <...> The position of the leaders of Poland and the Czech Republic is understandable: aside from the military aspects, the European nuclear shield project promises no small economic gains for their countries." (Chas, June 13).

The press has highlighted the fact that the president of a country seeking to enter the WTO is not afraid to criticize the leaders of the world economy. Commentators explain this by saying that the Russian economy has considerably strengthened.

"Even though he is trying to win a place in the WTO, the Russian president criticized the organization's discriminatory policy towards developing nations. <...> It is the improvement of the economic situation that is behind Russia's ever more active and often aggressive policy on the international stage, as is evident from the critical stance adopted recently by the Russian leader towards the order established by the Western countries." (Neatkariga Rita Avize, June 11).


From journalists' point of view, proposals by Baltic politicians to expel Russia from the political club of the world's leading nations are unlikely to be heeded by the G8. Besides, hypothetical sanctions will prove useless - the Kremlin will not give up its chosen strategy in the face of any odds.

"Putin knows perfectly well that the West's current political leaders would not dare to refuse an invitation to sit down at the same table with him, whatever the Kremlin's behavior. That is why he was quite at his ease at the G8 meeting. You say that the West is ratcheting up its criticism of Russia? Well, what of it? Putin is surely the one least concerned. To any cutting remark he has a ready-made reply strongly reminiscent of the Soviet-era cliche: 'Your country lynches blacks.' What is more, the Putin regime already feels bold enough to issue an open challenge to the West and delights in the latter's inability to accept it." (Lietuvos Rytas, June 9).

Observers believe that Vilnius risks becoming a pawn in the political games of the great powers. The lack of unity in the EU, plus Moscow's attempts to expand its scope of influence in the Baltic countries, could result in a gloomy state of affairs in Lithuania.

"Lithuania at all times falls under the wheels of Russian aggression. <...> Russia treats the Baltic countries as an outpost in its resistance to the West's overly rapid expansion eastwards. It still views these countries as a 'fake West' or its 'near abroad'." (Veidas, June 9).

The uncertainty surrounding the resumption of oil deliveries to the republic through the Druzhba pipeline is prompting the press to talk about ways of overcoming the country's energy dependence on Russia.

"As for the 'blocked' pipeline, the deadlock is still there. <...> Russia is one of Lithuania's potential electricity suppliers, and it cannot do without it. It has not yet been hooked up via any 'bridges' to Western European power networks. <...> Although Lithuania has several aces in the hole, such as possible repairs on the railroad line to Kaliningrad or a veto on treaty talks between the EU and Russia, they are nothing but dud parachutes." (Verslo Zinios, June 13).


Observers call Vladimir Putin's proposal to jointly use the Gabala radar a provocation.

"In fact, such a missile defense scheme to counter the threat from Iran is connected with a series of diplomatic and technical problems. As far as we can see, when he was making an offer to his American colleague, Putin expected a refusal, which in turn will act against the United States." (Our Opinion, June 12).

According to opposition analysts, America's rising confrontation with the EU has pushed the Kremlin toward a rapprochement with Minsk.

"Russian foreign policy has fallen on hard times. During the G8 summit in Germany, the main topic was the aggravation of relations between the U.S. and Russia. <...> The more Western democracies push Russia, the more important such allies as Belarus will become for Russia. It is likely that <...> Russia will even sacrifice a part of its natural resources, preferring to continue subsidizing our "economic miracle." (Solidarity, June 7).


Observers believe that the former Soviet republics' negative attitude to Russia is based on Moscow's own behavior. Moscow, weighed down by its imperial complexes, is cultivating the image of an "external enemy" among its own people.

"A country should put its own house in order before it starts to rule the world and to teach others how to live. It would be easy to dispute the reports of the rising living standards and other achievements in Russia. We are getting an impression that the Kremlin is doing its best to convince the Russian people that "no one likes us, we are surrounded by enemies. Yes, it is really easy to blame it on someone abstract. <...> But the dislike of a country's people is a sign of narrow-mindedness and stupidity." (Gazeta po-kievsky, June 9).

Political scientists think that Putin's proposal at the G8 summit to use anti-missile radars was an act of propaganda, meant to draw the West into further discussion on Moscow's terms. Meanwhile, some politicians regret that Kiev did not take part in the hypothetical joint project of Russia and the U.S.

"Putin made his proposal to find out America's true intentions. <...> So, Ukraine is 'out of the game.' We have two stations in Mukachyovo and Sevastopol, which could be included in the missile defense system." (Kommersant-Ukraine, June 6).


The press has again resumed the discussion of whether the "Kosovo precedent" could become a pattern for solving conflicts in the Commonwealth of Independent States. Journalists point out that the West and Russia have radically different views on the change in the province's status and its ability to serve as a precedent for other domestic conflicts.

"Though the Kosovo problem has its own specific features, a unilateral decision may cause a real threat for a number of countries facing separatism. In these circumstances the protectorate of the European Union over Kosovo would be the most acceptable option. Certainly, any rash decisions can have far-reaching consequences." (Moldova Suverana, June 14).

"It is not in the interests of Russia for a decision on Kosovo to become universal because the problem is unique. There has been an ethnic genocide in Kosovo." (Moldova Suverana, June 19).


The media attribute great importance to President Putin's proposal to the United States for joint use of the Gabala radar station in Azerbaijan, which he put forward at the G8 summit in Heiligendamm. Most observers say the Russian president outplayed his American counterpart.

"President Putin's proposal for joint use of the Gabala station has put the White House in a difficult situation. Washington has been trying for over a week to formulate its position on the matter. Most analysts tend to believe that President Bush will not be able to make use of the idea of his Russian counterpart. To accept Moscow's plan would mean the rejection of an expensive project intended to become a major achievement of the Bush administration. Moreover, the American president does not understand Putin's motive: is it a step toward cooperation, or determination to thwart talks on missile defense, or an attempt to complicate Washington's life whereever possible?" (Novoye Vremya, June 19).

There is a great deal of attention to Putin's statement about Moscow's unchanged stand on the issue of Kosovo's independence. Political scientists consider this statement as part of a "big game" around the U.S. plans to deploy a missile defense system in Europe.

"The territorial integrity of states is not a goal but a means not only for the U.S. but for Russia as well. One player needs this principle in Kosovo, the other does not. But a solution to the problem does not depend on the game of principles, it depends on the growing 'big game' started by the U.S. in connection with the deployment of a missile defense system in Europe. Since Russia is holding its ground and the United States is not going to take the 'Gabala bait,' a collision of the principles of territorial integrity and independence in this strategic standoff will objectively result in the preservation of the status quo." (Aiots Ashkhar, June 14).


Experts are discussing the prospects of Russian-U.S. relations in light of the recent Russian proposal to jointly use the Gabala radar in Azerbaijan and forecasting its influence on Georgia.

"The situation after the G8 summit makes our authorities' policy of crying, 'Wolf! Wolf!' no good - the rescuer, that is, the United States, has too many problems of its own. <...> First, if Washington turns a deaf ear to Putin's offer and continues according to its initial plan, Russia will have an opportunity to put American sincerity to doubt concerning ABM deployment in Europe. Second, if the U.S. agrees to a joint security system based on the Gabala radar, Russia will naturally pose the question of long-term regional neutrality. <...> Both options are equally dangerous for us." (Mteli Kvira, June 11).

The press regards President Vladimir Putin's behavior at the G8 summit as a blatant demonstration of strength. Commentators are jeering at certain Georgian politicians' recent allegations of Russia's weakness.

"Spokesmen for the parliamentary majority said, in their time, <...> that Russia had practically disintegrated and was not presenting any considerable danger, while we were strong enough to give Putin a heart attack. What are they thinking of Russia now that Putin has intimidated the whole world at the G8 summit? <...> The results of the summit and the comments we received after it, along with Europe's and America's guarded attitude to Russia, show that Russia has not disintegrated or weakened." (Mteli Kvira, June 11).

Experts tell the authorities to shift their foreign political orientation towards Europe.

"We must orient ourselves towards the European Union because our orientation towards America makes us Russia's enemy. <...> As for America, it couldn't be more indifferent to our conflicts. If we join the EU, we shall automatically join NATO. But we have not been of any interest to the EU for the last 10 years as America's flunkey country." (Kviris Khronika, June 18).


President Vladimir Putin's proposal to jointly use the Gabala radar in Azerbaijan as an ABM element aroused indignation in the media.

"The Russian president's statement is the peak of political tactlessness, so Azerbaijan should respond with the utmost harshness"; "With his proposal, Russian President Vladimir Putin is grossly interfering in Azerbaijan's domestic affairs, casting doubt upon its sovereignty and territorial integrity." (Day.Az, June 8).

"Baku's assent to Putin's idea will only irritate Iran. Iranian radio has even now threatened Azerbaijan with serious problems." (Ekspress, June 9).

Analysis of the situation surrounding the CFE treaty has led the media to the conclusion that Moscow is out to have a free hand at its Western partners' expense.

"What is Russia really after in its maneuvering around the CFE treaty? Moscow merely wants to make its Western partners assume obligations in the CFE treaty framework so that it can, for its own part, refuse to fully comply with the Istanbul agreements and refuse to withdraw its troops from Georgia and Moldova." (Echo, June 13).


According to commentators, Moscow has a strong position in the Caspian region, where Russia, the U.S. and Iran are contending for spheres of influence.

"Moscow made everyone see that it has the final say in matters pertaining to the eastern part of the Caspian region. It has formidable levers with which to influence developments in our country's west - especially the richest oil- and gas-producing regions and the sites of major energy projects. We mean the Astrakhan-Mangystau water pipeline, laid in the Soviet years. It supplies drinking water to many cities and big villages in and around the gas and oil fields of the Atyrau and Mangystau regions. Shutting it down would paralyze a major part of Kazakhstan's Caspian coast. On the other hand, Kazakhstan matters a lot to Russia, and it will never fall out with us for no reason at all." (, June 7).

Summarizing the informal CIS summit in St. Petersburg, commentators point out the desire of CIS countries' leaders to maintain bilateral contacts.

"The summit turned into a series of bilateral meetings, which some were not happy about. <...> However active the leaders might have been during the summit, not a single integration idea was mentioned at a majority of meetings and discussions. All of them were aimed at reaching bilateral agreements, while national leaders alone continue to take part in routine Commonwealth work - or its imitation." (, June 12).


The press has been discussing the burning problem of workforce shortage in Russia. Measures to improve the demographic situation in the country, to attract migrants from former Soviet republics and to promote a relocation program for Russians living in the former Soviet republics are referred to as the government's wide-scale action to rally qualified professionals and skilled workers.

"The current social programs are neither well designed, nor supported financially. One can expect results only in 15-20 years while there is a bad need for manpower already today. There are attempts to fill the gaps by introducing changes to the migration policy, but guest workers come, earn money, transfer it home and go back, repeating the vicious circle now and again. The ambitious plans boil down to receiving several million people, providing them with accommodation and work, and helping them to adapt to the Russian environment. But problems have already cropped up. Most regions that were only recently claiming to be the promised land for Russian migrants have now turned their backs on them - the government that once promised its support has, for the umpteenth time, proved to be unprepared to keep its word." (, June 7).


Experts share the opinion that Kyrgyzstan is hoping to make a pretty penny out of the geopolitical confrontation between Russia and the United States in the region. Bishkek has been reported to display readiness to let Moscow modernize its rented air base in Kant, but, on the other hand, the Kyrgyz government shows no intention of getting rid of the American military presence.

"Kyrgyzstan treats the United States as a donor and strategic partner, as seen from the Manas military base. Strong anti-American sentiments have given way to humble assurances of eternal friendship and fervent love. Against the background of mounting confrontation and the coming division of the world in the strategic and crucial energy spheres, the United States cannot be expected to lose ground to Russia. The members of parliament who used to be very eloquent concerning the inadmissibility of the deployment of the U.S. air force are now all out for the base, while those who once accepted it now support Russia (MSN, June 12).


During their meeting in St. Petersburg, the presidents of Russia and Tajikistan declared their determination to cooperate effectively in building hydropower engineering and other facilities in Tajikistan, but the feasibility of these declarations seems to be questioned by the press.

"The firm decision to build a Rogunskaya hydropower plant and aluminum works in the Khatlonskaya Region was announced by RusAl rather than the Russian government. It goes without saying that a protracted and costly construction hardly pays off for a private company, which usually seeks to make an easy profit. In most cases, the management of such companies does not accomplish the task, and the government is not authorized to interfere in the operation of private companies. As to the agreement signed between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Tajikistan in 2004, it was a mere declaration and has not been converted into anything more serious since then." (Nigokh, June 14).


Prospects for the construction of a Caspian gas pipeline and alternative projects have been widely commented in the press. Some experts from opposition periodicals argue that, at best, the construction will either drag on indefinitely or, at worst, will not be even launched.

"Russia and the United States have come up with a multitude of increasingly more tempting plans for the construction of a gas pipeline around the Caspian Sea and along its bottom, but the actual construction effort is hardly in the offing. Both Russia and America are well aware that there is no final agreement on the legal status of the Caspian Sea, and therefore any talks, let alone agreements, on the necessity of extracting something from the Caspian shelf and laying something on its bottom remain invalid. Turkmenistan's gas deposits are an equally peculiar point. Both Russia and the United States are rather skeptical about the allegedly inexhaustible gas reserves in Iolotan. When Saparmurat Niyazov in his day invited Gazprom to take part in prospecting in the region, the Russian company rejected the Turkmen leader's offer for some mysterious reason." (Gundogar, June 15).

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