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The CIS and Baltic press on Russia

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ESTONIA

The media have been extensively covering economic issues. Politicians attribute a sharp reduction in Russian transit to Moscow's decision to use its own ports. "We have to realize that Estonia is no longer a major transit country between the West and the East. This wonderful time has gone never to return. Russia is now sticking to its own plan, and will send the majority of its massive supplies to its own ports." (Eesti Paevaleht, June 13)

"Prime Minister Andrus Ansip believes that Estonia should forget about Russian transit, and find another source of revenues... He explained that Russia has actively invested in the development of its own ports, and will now use them extensively." (Postimees, June 14)

Businessmen believe that the transfer of the Bronze Soldier in Tallinn in April last year has speeded up the collapse of the economy, and that it can only be stopped if relations with Russia return to normal. "Since April 2007 it seems that we can no longer count on profitable transit, or we need to find some magic Chinese trick to outwit the current strategy of our big neighbor Russia... If the Estonian Republic succeeded in restoring good economic relations with Russia, we could even increase the transit of some categories of goods. When relations are good, the transit is there, but when they are bad, there is no sense in talking about transit." (Eesti Paevaleht, June 13)

LATVIA

The conference of the Council of the Baltic Sea States in Riga has prompted the media to discuss topical problems in relations between the region's countries and Russia. "Gazprom is interested in taking part in the construction of a new electric power station in Latvia as a co-owner or on some other terms. Experts say that if Gazprom becomes part of the project, Latvia will make the Russian monopoly even more competitive by giving it government support." (Diena, June 4)

"Participants in the forum have unanimously fallen for the gas pipeline [Nord Stream]... Neither Poland, nor Baltic nations, nor Sweden... have resorted to the old line of defense - danger to the environment... The pipeline has suddenly become a guarantor of energy security for the whole of Europe, and Russia has become a welcome partner in the European energy network. Riga and Moscow have built up trust in bilateral cooperation - Latvian Foreign Minister Maris Riekstins observed that Riga did not have a single reason to question the reliability of Russian energy supplies." (Telegraf, June 5) "Russia is developing very actively, and Latvia may find a niche for transit between Europe and Russia." (Telegraf, June 13)

LITHUANIA

Local commentators insist that Vilnius is making every effort to establish a dialogue with Moscow, but the latter seems reluctant to meet Lithuania halfway.

"Lithuanian diplomats are working intently for closer cooperation between Moscow and Vilnius at the top political levels, but Russia is simply ignoring the initiatives." (Respublika, June 6)

Certain media are still highlighting the issue of the new Russian president's independence. Many analysts are convinced that Vladimir Putin is still in control, carefully fuelling his popularity with the help of a familiar promotion tool, television.

"[Vladimir] Putin still holds absolute power, or so it would seem. In today's society, power is built with television promotion. Putin is in fact a TV phenomenon. After a period of fewer TV appearances, he may have feared the public would forget about his "Father of the Nation" talk.  After sensing the threat of losing his position, Putin resumed his aggressive TV campaign. This only proves that he is the power over the power and has no plans to change anything anytime soon." (Respublika, June 9)

Russia's plans to build a nuclear power plant in its Baltic coast exclave, the Kaliningrad Region, have aroused serious concern among local observers. "A power plant on the other bank of Niemen will help the Kremlin to make Lithuania dependent not only on Russia's oil and gas deliveries, but on electricity, too. Isn't it a perfect way of strengthening positions in the Baltic region? If Russians want to build a power plant on Lithuania's border, they will have to take into account the latter's opinion." (Respublika, June 12)

"The Kremlin can afford to invest huge amounts in inefficient projects, if those projects serve its political goals... The Kaliningrad nuclear plant project could be Moscow's response to Lithuania's maneuvers on the international political stage. Lithuanian leaders have recently blocked the Moscow-Brussels talks, and often harshly criticized the Kremlin's foreign policy." (Respublika, June 14)

BELARUS

Covering the informal summit of the CIS leaders at the St. Petersburg economic forum, the local media spotlighted the Russian president's refusal to meet with his Belarusian counterpart.

"[Alexander] Lukashenko was the only CIS leader who had no chance of a one-on-one meeting with [Dmitry] Medvedev. The leaders of the two ‘union' states only met at larger protocol events. The Russian president clearly showed no eagerness for such a meeting." (Khartia'97, June 7)

"Analysts suggest it was Russia's way of putting pressure on Lukashenko to make him abide by the commitments signed during Putin's visit to Minsk in December. The agreements included introducing the Russian ruble in Belarus and selling Belarusian state assets avidly eyed by Russian tycoons - Beltransgaz, MAZ and major oil chemical plants and refineries." (Khartia'97, June 10)

UKRAINE

The press writes that the State Duma, the lower house of Russia's parliament, has appealed to the president and the prime minister to consider pulling out of the so-called Big Treaty with Ukraine if the latter is added to the NATO Membership Action Plan or takes other steps to join the NATO alliance.

"Russia is increasing pressure on Ukraine, taking actions and making statements to intimidate Ukraine or force it to abandon its policy of Euro-Atlantic integration. Anti-Ukrainian sentiments are spreading [in Russia] at an incredible pace." (Glavred.info, June 4)

"Ukraine is not ready to reconsider the treaty, and neither is Russia. The Russian parliament's hysterics and moves are designed to create a negative background for the Ukrainian president, if not prevent talks between Dmitry Medvedev and Viktor Yushchenko." (ForUm, June 5)

"This is a case of mutual blackmail by certain political forces in both Russia and Ukraine. Several other countries would benefit from such a conflict. One strategy aimed at splitting Russia calls for aggravating Russian-Ukrainian differences to the point that they would resort to special military operations." (Gazeta po-Kievski, June 5)

"This is going too far. It is a direct blackmail of Ukraine in its effort to promote its national interests." (Den, June 5)

"The State Duma is elected to adopt non-binding resolutions that outline possibilities for Russian politics." (Den, June 6)

The media describe the results of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's talks in Moscow as largely unproductive, and write that Russian-Ukrainian relations have entered a new phase of conflict.

"Russia has long abandoned [Boris] Yeltsin's principle of thinking about Ukraine first thing in the morning in favor of [Vladimir] Putin's ‘gas pragmatism' and a regular exchange of back-handed compliments." (Obozrevatel, June 4)

"It appears the talks [between Yushchenko and Medvedev] were somewhat difficult." (Zerkalo Nedeli, June 9)

"Their first meeting was not successful. Top-level Russian-Ukrainian dialogue has not resumed since it was disengaged during the Orange Revolution. The respective presidents are unable to agree or exchange opinions, because they view the world so differently." (Expert-Ukraine, June 9)

Ukrainian newspapers reacted fiercely to the statement made by Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky, commander of the Russian Navy, on a possible increase in the number of warships deployed in Sevastopol.

"Russia is a Black Sea power and is free to decide how many warships and seamen it needs. [But] it appears deliberations about the deployment of hundreds of warships plying the seas day and night, are designed above all for domestic consumption. Moscow apparently knows that it will have to withdraw from Sevastopol and other deployment sites soon. This is why Russian officials are talking desperately about hundreds of warships and thousands of men. It is simply wishful thinking. The prospect of a great naval power, which Russia has never been, remains a sticking point in Moscow." (Den, June 10)

MOLDOVA

The local media write about the Transdnestr problem and Russia's role in the efforts to settle it.

"Russia clearly has its own political motives regarding Moldova and Transdnestr. It may seem incredible, but Moscow wants the territorial reunification of Moldova. Why then is nobody happy? Like a Godfather who marries his daughter to his lieutenant in order to bind him for life, Putin and Medvedev have offered [Transdnestr President Igor] Smirnov and [parliament leader Yevgeny] Shevchuk in a bid to make [Moldovan President Vladimir] Voronin and his successors eternally loyal to the Kremlin and hostile to the West." (Jurnal de Chisinau, June 6)

Analysts write that during his short visit to Chisinau, Vladimir Pozner, president of the Russian Television Academy, had a private meeting with President Voronin.

"Pozner said Russia had supported pro-Russian forces in the former Soviet republics for a long time, often with negative results. Smart people have now moved to the top in Russia, and so when they talk about improving relations with Moldova, they mean they will not rely on the Transdnestrian leader, Smirnov. Replying to a question about Russian-Moldovan relations, Pozner said this is a difficult question bearing on Russia's relations with its ‘former colonies'." (Salut.md, June 11)

ARMENIA

The Armenian press writes about personnel shuffles in the Foreign Ministry that took place immediately after a meeting between the presidents of Russia and Armenia during the 12th International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg, held on June 6-8.

"The pro-Western Armenian ambassadors to Europe, [Kristian] Ter-Stepanyan and [Jivan] Tabibyan, were dismissed soon after [Serzh] Sarkisyan met with [Dmitry] Medvedev in St. Petersburg. This is an indication that Armenia may adopt a tougher policy regarding Strasbourg." (Iravunk, June 11)

GEORGIA

Lots of articles feature the deployment of Russian railway troops in Abkhazia and the decision by Vladimir Putin to support the Russian population in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Moscow is constantly accused of seeking to annex Georgian territory.

"Nothing changes in Russia, the same stubbornness, the same policy: might makes right." "Unprecedented and brazen actions by Russia's political leaders show they are sure Russia has annexed these territories belonging to Georgia." "Totally ignoring Georgia's territorial integrity, Russia's military-political system acts as an occupant ... Russia has definitely gone mad." (Georgia Online, June 4)

"The Kremlin's stance toward its troublesome neighbor is clear... moreover, they think, whatever happens, Georgia won't get anywhere without Russia." (Sakartvelos Respublika, June 5)

"The Russian political machine is going down in flames. Russian political leaders, entangled in their own lies, now believe them themselves." (Georgia Online, June 7)

"Arguments about whether Russia has decided to stick to the so-called ‘Taiwan scenario' or any other plan in its relation to Abkhazia usually end with ‘it's impossible to understand Russia with reason'... The Russian leadership has decided to build an aggressive energy empire instead of a liberal one, and they are succeeding in this." (Pankisi.info, June 11)

The media say the Georgian parliament is to consider declaring the mayor of Moscow persona non grata.

"The time has come for Georgia to declare ... Luzhkov persona non grata... in response to his statement that Georgia must acknowledge the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Luzhkov has been making anti-Georgian statements for several years already and... he has to understand that such statements will be paid back." (Georgia Online, June 9)

AZERBAIJAN

The media write about the recent visit of Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller, who proposed buying Azerbaijani natural gas at market prices under long-term contracts. Analysts interpret this as Russia's attempt to regain influence in the region.

"The United States and Europe are taking diplomatic steps to arrange the transportation of Caspian and Central Asian natural gas to Europe bypassing Russia, but Moscow's proposal may reduce these efforts to nothing." (Yeni Musavat, June 4)

"Russia wants to buy Azerbaijani natural gas because relatively inexpensive gas supplied from Azerbaijan to Georgia and Turkey has created political problems for the Kremlin." (Zerkalo, June 4)

"Azerbaijan should agree to concessions in the issue of oil and natural gas deliveries on the condition that Nagorny Karabakh is returned to Azerbaijan and that Armenians will not live there. Azerbaijani refugees must return to Zangezur. Azerbaijan must have complete sovereignty over the Megri railroad." (Zerkalo, June 6)

"The Kremlin's proposal should be considered from a political point of view.  Russia is clearly worried about the possibility that Turkmen gas will run across Azerbaijan." (Zerkalo, June 7)

KAZAKHSTAN

The press covering the leading powers' policies in Central Asia writes about Kazakhstan's future after the November presidential elections in the United States. Analysts believe the situation in Kazakhstan will not be influenced by the victory of any of the nominees, but rather will depend on how much Russian-American relations deteriorate after the elections.

In their opinion, partnership with the European Union, China and Arab countries could alleviate the consequences of a possible clash of Russian and American interests in the region.

"Regardless of who comes to power in the United States, relations between Moscow and Washington will remain complicated. Central Asian countries, for which excessive bias toward Russia or the United States promises political and economic implications, must prepare for this. It would be better to orient their foreign policies toward cooperation with the EU, China, Turkey and the Arab countries. By diversifying their relations, the Central Asian countries will be able to reduce the potentially negative consequences of hitches in Moscow-Washington relationship, and therefore get the most from both sides." (Delovaya Nedelya, June 13)

Journalists write about China's efforts to buy Turkmen gas, adding that China might opt for Central Asian gas if the planned natural gas imports from Siberia prove exorbitantly expensive.

"China's growing economy needs more energy. Russia's sales have pricing problems... China has proposed buying Russian gas at privileged prices because the distance from Siberia is shorter to China than to Europe. China has found an alternative to Russian supplies in possible purchases from Turkmenistan. Of course, China will be unable to equal Russia's volume in the short term, but direct rivalry with Russia is not a goal for Beijing. [The Turkmenistan option will strengthen] China's position in any proposed price structure with Russia.  Additionally, having one more major buyer for the region's energy resources will be a positive factor for local countries." (Gazeta.kz, June 9)

  UZBEKISTAN

Some opposition-minded observers think OSCE Chairman Alexander Stabb's visit to Uzbekistan is designed to do away with the West's attempts to punish Tashkent for the events in Andizhan. These observers believe the international community should strongly criticize the numerous violations of human rights in the republic. "The situation has been changing radically. The West...shows growing interest in Central Asia's hydrocarbons. The Unites States and the European Union have been doing their best to involve the region's countries in oil and gas transportation projects bypassing Russia. The visit's main objective is...to tear away this region from Russia and neutralize China's growing influence." (Musulmansky Uzbekistan, June 4)

TAJIKISTAN

The press is extensively covering Inter RAO UES' announcement that if it does not have a controlling stake in the Rogun Hydroelectric Power Plant under construction in the republic, the project will not be profitable for the Russian holding company. Observers say that it will be very difficult to implement the project without Russia, but that Tajikistan should not make concessions, otherwise it will lose control over one of Central Asia's key projects. "He who pays the piper calls the tune. Russia has a strong position in the Rogun project...  Russian investments will strengthen its political influence in Central Asia, and particularly in Tajikistan." "If Russia rejects entering the international consortium, Tajikistan will have a difficult time. But... the Russian partners exaggerate when they claim that without a controlling stake the project would not be profitable... If Russia insists on a controlling stake, Tajikistan should not agree to such conditions." (Asia-Plus, June 11)

 

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