The CIS and Baltic press on Russia




Some experts believe that Moscow is ahead of Washington in the international arena. The press is particularly interested in the confrontation between Russia and the West in view of the NATO summit in Bucharest in early April that President Vladimir Putin is expected to attend. "Needless to say, Putin is going to Bucharest to engage in propaganda and to make new threats. This is easy for him because in a month he will occupy a different position. Bush cannot relax - he will be in office for another nine months... The Kremlin is willingly preparing for the summit because it has long understood Bush's determination to contribute to history. Bush continues to bark at the Moon - Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates, who made an unplanned visit to Moscow as a goodwill gesture, had to leave empty-handed, and to the accompaniment of reprimands for forgetting to put their proposals on paper." (Parnu Postimees, March 25).

The press is interpreting the growing pressure of Russian law-enforcement bodies on the Russian-UK company TNK-BP as one more attempt by the state to return a major private company to its sphere of influence. "The Kremlin intends to harness the last major joint venture, and establish what it considers proper control over a strategic company... Half of this oil firm belongs to BP and half to three Russian businessmen. The media are writing that Gazprom wants to buy the latter's share, and the current attack is designed to reduce the price." (Eesti Paevaleht, March 22).


Commenting on the results of talks with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, some analysts believe that Russia will agree to the deployment of the U.S. missile defense shield in Europe on certain terms. "The talks ended in a breakthrough. Officially, the details are not disclosed, but according to some sources, following these talks, the sides may sign a document on new strategic U.S.-Russian relations. Most likely, in exchange for its consent not to prevent the deployment of U.S. missile defense systems in Europe, Russia will sign the CFE and START-1 treaties on its own terms... The Russians and Americans are optimistic because of the letter sent by Bush to Putin on the eve of the 2+2 talks. There are indications that it contains a compromise vision for the future of strategic Russian-American relations." (Telegraf, March 19).

The media continue discussing the prospects for Russian-Latvian relations. Some experts note differences in the approaches of the Baltic nations to relations with Russia. "In discussing anything linked with Russia, the Latvian government is more scrupulous in their choice of words than the Estonian... In Russia's eyes, Estonia is an active partner with Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine because it wants to draw them into the anti-Russian orbit." (Diena, March 20).


The press is strongly critical of European officials and Gazprom in view of the need to soon shut down the Ignalina nuclear power plant because of an EU demand. "Gazprom's active lobbying boils down to bribing politicians - let's call a spade a spade. Recent scandals in Lithuania show that these activities are indeed impressive. The career of former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder shows that Western politicians can be easily bribed. Gazprom can rather easily coordinate a chorus of European bureaucrats chanting [slogans] about unsafe power stations in Eastern Europe." (Lietuvos Zinios, March 18).

On a par with traditional warnings against the laying of the Russian-German underwater gas pipeline that may cause an environmental disaster, some experts are emphasizing that its construction may lead to the expansion of Russian military presence in the Baltic. "After the gas pipeline is laid, Russian warships will be plying the waters off the Lithuanian coast - apparently to protect it." (Europos Laiku, March 22).


Experts believe that the planned deployment of U.S. missile defense systems in Eastern Europe, which is making the public wary in many EU countries, may indirectly consolidate Russia's positions in the European diplomatic arena. "Strange as it may seem, it is missile defense that is giving the Kremlin additional advantages. Not being able to prevent its deployment, Moscow may use it to influence public opinion in Europe. After all, the Europeans are not happy about the U.S. military plans, and will heed Moscow's voice with approval. Moscow can trade off its consent to the deployment of this system for concessions on other important issues on the world agenda... Concessions are not even the main point here, but rather the fact that they will be discussed particularly with Moscow." (Belarus Segodnya, March 19).

Journalists from opposition publications are writing that by exerting pressure on Minsk, the United States may be trying to speed up the ongoing process of the republic's economic and political absorption by Russia. They believe that Washington would consider the inclusion of Belarus into the Russian Federation a more or less acceptable solution to the problem of Alexander Lukashenko's regime. "The [U.S.] tough position on the Belarusian regime and sanctions against it is a big-time game - either Russia swallows Belarus in the near future, or the Lukashenko regime will collapse before this happens." (Belorussky Partisan, March 24).

The media are writing that by giving all-round support to Lukashenko's dictatorship, Russia is losing the trust of Belarusians. "Belarusian intellectuals are rapidly changing their attitude toward the Russian authorities. It is abundantly clear who has enabled the dictator to rule Belarus for 13 years now. You may squander your own money, taking it away from your pensioners, Chernobyl victims, and veterans, but you are giving money to a regime, which no longer wants to share it with its social security beneficiaries and students. Russia risks losing the hearts of thinking Belarusians." (Belorussky Partisan, March 19).


Commenting on the talks of Rice and Gates in Moscow, some specialists are writing that Russia cannot counter Western military might with anything else but aggressive rhetoric. "Luckily for all of us, the bellicosity of the Russian leaders is limited to putting on airs, making menacing grimaces, and roaring from a distance... After all the Kremlin's hysterics and threats to the United States and NATO, the statement by Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, 'Now that the United States has firmly decided to set up a third positioning area, it has become aware of our concern and is ready to minimize it' sounds like a rambling school boy caught doing a mean trick." (Den, March 21).

The media are reacting negatively toward new violations of Ukrainian sea borders by ships of the Black Sea Fleet. "It seems that the Russian Black Sea Fleet is enthusiastically resuming its practice of crossing into the Ukrainian state ... Russia does not want to be controlled because it itself wants to be in charge of what the Kremlin strategists believe to be its national interests." (Glavred, March 20).


Experts are writing with concern that Moldova continues to be a bargaining chip in the geopolitical games of Russia and the West. This is why no settlement has been reached on Transdnestr, and why Russian troops are still there. "We will not be far from the truth in saying that the West is totally indifferent to the existence of the young Moldova. The short war in 1992, when Moldova was alone resisting the 14th Russian army and volunteers from all parts of Russia, was barely mentioned by newspapers like The New York Times... It was followed by unequal tete-a-tete talks with Moscow, Tiraspol's partner, which produced fatal agreements for Moldova." (Moldova.Azi, March 23).


The press points out that NATO and the EU offer broad development prospects for their member states. In contrast, cooperation with Russia is not that promising. "Moscow is not regarded as a strong and promising economic and political partner today, no matter how offensive it may sound. Kiev, Tbilisi and Baku see the effectiveness of the united European system - common security, free movement of people, stable economic and banking systems. Ukraine's desire to join NATO and then the EU by all means can be explained not so much by anti-Russian sentiments, as by simple pragmatism...The same applies to Georgia... Its residents do not want to move to Europe together with Moscow."(Iravunk, March 19).


Most analysts perceive the State Duma discussions on the status of self-proclaimed republics as a means of pressure to bear on Georgia in its intention to join NATO. The Russian legislators' rhetoric is no more than a hysteria, which will not lead to any actions. "Ahead of the Olympic Games, Russia will not recognize any of self-proclaimed republics. Its statement today seems to be made by a state in panic and hysterics. We should show tenacity and be prepared for such challenges." (Rezonansi, March 21).

"At some point, when the issue of the Baltic countries joining NATO was on the agenda, Russia acted in the same vein but did not reach its goal." (24 Saati, March 21).

Some experts suggest using the State Duma statement as a reason to leave the CIS. "The resolution adopted by the Russian State Duma in connection with Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali Region is the best pretext for the Georgian authorities to make a legal assessment of Russia's actions and leave the CIS in protest... The Georgian side has a lot of discreditable evidence about Russian peacekeepers...and authorities should use this information in the right way." (Akhali Taoba, March 25).


Experts are writing that the new Russian president will encounter urgent problems - inflation, a threat of a global financial crisis, and corruption, to name but a few. The press concludes that the absence of an economic strategy will prevent Dmitry Medvedev from coping with arising difficulties. "The current social and economic course requires revision. The main conclusion is simple - the condition of the Russian economy is not as good as the authorities are presenting it. First, they have failed to fully use the advantages offered by the raw materials markets. High inflation is an obvious setback. Second, they have failed to diversify the economy and invest funds in high tech sectors. Third, despite substantial growth, the economic structure is becoming more and more simplistic," (Zerkalo, March 20).


Observers are interpreting Gazprom's recent agreement with energy companies of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan on European prices on Central Asian gas as a success. It will make European and Chinese alternative projects much less attractive to the suppliers. "The rules of the CIS gas market will not change. Being in charge of the situation, the Kremlin has further consolidated its position... Russia is tying Central Asian gas to itself even more. Before, this was achieved only because of the Soviet infrastructure and a condescending attitude toward semi-legal payments, but now the market price is playing the main role. What the presidents of the gas-bearing countries have discussed since 2003, has now come true - they have been given a fair price for national gas." (Respublika, March 21).

Some experts doubt that this agreement is advantageous for Astana, because a concrete formula for the price of gas, and transit tariffs have not yet been fixed. "For Kazakhstan, Gazprom's deal is not attractive for the time being. It looks even doubtful if Kazakhstan does not gain anything from the transit of Central Asian or Gazprom's gas (which it produced or bought in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan). To sum up, the Kremlin's loud gas ballyhoo has produced no effect in Astana, and even dealt a blow to its relations with Kiev." (Delovaya nedelya, March 21).

Observers believe that Moscow will drag out finally resolving the question of recognizing Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdnestr for fear of negative international repercussions, and dangerous separatist tendencies at home. "The international community will never consider the situation in the Caucasian republics a 'special case' by the available formal characteristics. In this situation, Moscow's unilateral steps will not produce the desired effect. They will only isolate Russia from the outside world... Moreover, apart from Chechnya, Russia has other territories, which may wish to become independent in case of a lucky chain of events. This applies, in particular to Tatarstan, and to big territories in Siberia and the Far East." (, March 20).


Some experts believe that for Tajikistan, cooperation with Iran is a bargaining chip at talks with Russia and other world powers. "To strengthen its positions in relations with Russia, Dushanbe should revise its attitude toward Iran - create special conditions for the Iranian government to invest, unilaterally cancel visa procedures, etc. The main thing is to realize that we need Iran not only as an economic partner and investor but also as a trump card in negotiations with Washington, Moscow, and Beijing. We should make this trump stronger." (Fakty i Kommentarii, March 18).

Quoting expert opinion, the media maintain that Russia has a good chance of winning the struggle for influence in post-Soviet space now that the European Union has failed to elaborate a single energy policy, and the United States has got stuck in Iraq. "Some political analysts believe that in order to preserve its influence in the region, Russia should turn into a regional boss that would buy economic assets in different CIS countries. Large-scale activities to this end will allow Russian companies (and, hence the Kremlin) to establish de facto control over the economies of key CIS nations. Russia has already started working in this direction, but experts believe it should considerably increase the scope of these operations." (Fakty i Kommentarii, March 18).

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