When the Estonian delegation walked out of the Fifth World Finno-Ugric Congress, held after the EU-Russia summit in West Siberia's Khanty-Mansiisk in late June, the local media described it as an international scandal that destroyed all chances of improving Russian-Estonian relations.
"During the Russian visit of [President Toomas Hendrik] Ilves, Russians and, unfortunately, Ilves himself tried, although unwittingly, to present him as 'an American in Russia.' He spoke with the Russian president in English and disappointed Russians by making his speech at the congress in English. The Russian public saw this as proof that the United States controls Estonia." (SL Ohtuleht, June 30)
"Ilves left silently, but do we need such demonstrations? Taken together with the abuse poured by Russia officially and unofficially onto Estonia (and Latvia), the new criticism should not have come as a surprise, at least not to the president. If Estonians left Russia every time such statements are made, there would be no Estonians there now. ... The congress, which ended in an international scandal, showed that Estonia and Russia lack mutual trust and that their relations cannot be described as anything other than a 'cold peace.' The congress has confirmed that we should abandon illusions about a possible 'breakthrough' in relations with Russia." (Eesti Paevaleht, June 30)
"Ilves has become Russia's hostage. Moscow will now most likely plan other traps. If he [Ilves] walks out of every meeting, Russians will see him as a clown. As a result, no one will respect him and the country he represents." (SL Ohtuleht, July 1)
The Estonian media write quite aggressively about the Russian team's achievements at the 2008 European championship. "History and football make a dangerous cocktail. In the past few weeks, Russia has tried to mix it. A huge portrait of Peter the Great, which Russian football fans held, was meant to remind Swedes about their defeat at the Battle of Poltava. It may be a good thing that Russia has not made it past semifinals. Spain and Russia did not have to meet, and we can't imagine what would have happened had Russia lost to Germany." (Eesti Paevaleht, June 28)
"Those who said that Russia, if it won the championship, would have considered Europe its own backyard are right. We needed someone to cut short their victorious offensive, even if temporarily." (SL Ohtuleht, June 28)
Some publications write that the EU-Russia summit in Khanty-Mansiisk opened the door to developing a new type of relations, adding that Russia smartly negotiated its right to use hydrocarbons as a tool in political games.
"The new Russian leader has hinted that he would carry on Moscow's old policy, settling differences with each EU country separately, which allows Russia to use its energy resources as a political instrument. Not surprisingly, he again mentioned the problem with Russian speakers in Latvia and Estonia." (Latvijas Avize, June 28)
"The new Russian president seems to be averse to muscle flexing. Besides, he will need to address vital domestic tasks, notably to develop a stable middle class, invest in overhauling the dilapidated infrastructure, and modernize research and the educational system. He could benefit from partnership with the EU in all of these undertakings. At the same time, Europe needs energy resources, and Russia will remain their main supplier for a long time. Russia and the EU will certainly see that they are more important to each other than the fears lurking in their historical subconscious." (Business & Baltija)
Other publications write that issues of discord have been given full coverage at the congress, but the decision to keep them away from the general public was a smart diplomatic move. "Unlike Putin, Medvedev demonstrated a greater desire to cooperate and improve relations with Brussels. But even though the atmosphere at the news conference was optimistic, the sides failed to agree on energy issues, human rights and the conflict between Georgia and part of its territory, Abkhazia, behind closed doors." (Diena, June 28)
"Optimistic statements could not camouflage differences between the sides. It will take many rounds of talks to hammer out a common stance on Kosovo, the breakaway Georgian province of Abkhazia, democracy and other issues. The optimism one could sense in Khanty-Mansiisk does not mean that old differences and mistrust will not resurface." (Neatkariga Rita Avize, June 28)
The local media continue to discuss the possible deployment of the U.S. 'missile defense' elements in Lithuania. Commentators agree that it would provoke a highly negative reaction from Russia.
"The negotiations between the United States and Poland on the deployment of U.S. interceptor missiles in that country have run into a blind alley because of Warsaw's demand for extensive military aid in exchange. It was then that speculations arose that the U.S. could choose Lithuania as an alternative base. However, East European analysts, especially Russians, do not think the U.S. is seriously studying this possibility. They claim that Washington's goal is to try and persuade Poland into signing the agreement before George Bush leaves office.
"Other experts believe the Bush government will have trouble persuading Congress to allot financing for a base in Lithuania, as Bush has neither the time nor political capital to do it. They are additionally skeptical because Russia is strongly opposed to the prospect of a U.S. interceptor missile base built in Lithuania. Russia has been very open and vocal about the post-Soviet countries being its uncontested sphere of influence." (Lietuvos Zinios, June 26)
"If Lithuania decides to host a U.S. antimissile base, then Russia might respond by deploying nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus and the Kaliningrad Region, Russia's Baltic-coast exclave, aimed directly at Lithuania."
"Russia has made it abundantly clear that it is not going to 'swallow' the deployment of the U.S. 'missile shield' in Europe. The only question is which way to aim its weapons: at Poland, Czech Republic, Ukraine or Lithuania." (Litovsky Kuryer, June 26)
The media largely sees the EU-Russia summit in Khanty-Mansiisk as a kind of test President Dmitry Medvedev needs to pass to show his independence from Vladimir Putin. "The first such summit is like reconnaissance. European leaders are 'feeling the pulse' of the new Russian president, searching for his weak points and observing his behavior and statements. They are looking for signs to guess whether or not he has abandoned part of his well-known liberalism in favor of Putin's harsher stance. Medvedev, in turn, is also feeling his way around, possibly searching for a muscle twitching in the European politicians' rigid jaws at the mention of the Siberia's mineral riches, rather than totalitarian regime prisons." (Delfi.lt, June 27)
"For Medvedev, the Khanty-Mansiisk meeting is a perfect opportunity to show to the West that he is an advanced European-class politician, independent of Putin." (Lietuvos Rytas, June 27)
"Putin hasn't shown up in Khanty-Mansiisk, as if demonstrating the growing influence of the new Kremlin leader and his ability to make independent decisions." (Lietuvos Zinios, June 30)
Local analysts complain about the country's total economic dependence on Russia, which Belarus is unable to change for geographic and historical reasons.
"Belarus is doomed to integrate with Russia. It is being prodded to integration by the growing negative trade balance and aggregate foreign debt rising by $1 billion every quarter. With Belarus' independence, the country also inherited a Soviet-era economic structure based on cheap Russian fuel. Therefore, we have no other choice but to press Moscow for lower oil and gas prices, and for free transit and access to the Russian market for Belarusian goods - all that in exchange for friendship, because Belarus is unable to offer anything more valuable." (BelGazeta, June 29)
The latest Russian loan will be used as an instrument of growing pressure on Minsk, according to the local media. "Belarus is negotiating another loan from Russia, right after having obtained $1.5 billion, all that amid the on-going 'stable economic development' talk. If the economy is growing steadily, what do we need another loan for? Government officials seem to ignore the fact that a loan will have to be repaid... Russia is interested in issuing this loan as much as Belarus in getting it... In this case the Kremlin will avoid the Belarusian government's criticism for having hiked the gas price. Russia will also be happy to increase Belarus' dependence in order to make use of it later, for example, when discussing the sale of state property." (Narodnaya Volya, June 27)
Certain commentators urge Belarusians to stop using the Russian language in their daily lives. "The majority of Belarusians are now speaking the language of a nation which is going to sell us gas at $200 per 1,000 cu m next year, which makes going back to our native tongue an economic issue, not just an ethical or political one." (BelGazeta, June 29)
Many analysts believe that Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is trying to secure Moscow's support in the run-up to next year's presidential elections, and has already made some progress.
"After the recent Moscow meeting between Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Yulia Tymoshenko, the Ukrainian prime minister can expect the Kremlin to support her at next year's presidential vote... This conclusion was drawn after Tymoshenko made a series of conciliatory statements clearly abandoning her hard line on Ukraine's accession to NATO and the closure of Russia's Black Sea Fleet base in Sevastopol. Tymoshenko has thus gained a few points on Yanukovich, another presidential candidate who will also visit Moscow soon." (Gazeta po Ukrainski, July 1)
"[Vladimir] Putin has long been annoyed by [Viktor] Yushchenko, and recently disappointed by [Viktor] Yanukovich. But Tymoshenko looks like a rather authoritarian leader and a politician responsible for her statements. The Kremlin would prefer to make energy deals with her rather than with anyone else... A strategic gas agreement for the next five years was also her initiative. She linked it with a range of other issues which are important for Russia, especially Russian businesses operating in Ukraine." (Gazeta po Donetski, June 27)
Some journalists describe Russia's current political system as almost totalitarian, and far from democratic standards. "Many have guessed by now where Russia's policy is leading it, but few have the nerve to admit it. Russians wouldn't say it out of pure fear, or because some of them find a fascist model of society convenient. Other counties keep silent because being vocal about Russia would require a change in their attitude toward Putin's regime, which is difficult and far from convenient... A horrendous regime is emerging right next door to us. It presents danger not only to Ukraine, but other countries as well. We must think about it today in order to take adequate measures well in advance." (Den, June 26)
The media continue paying close attention to the settlement of the Moldovan-Transdnestr conflict, and Russia's role in it. "Settlement of the Transdnestr problem is impossible without Russia, and...Medvedev should understand that resumption of talks on this problem will bring him the laurels of a peacemaker...The new Russian president is attracted by the idea of posing in the world arena as a leader capable of resolving frozen conflicts...But, most important, Russia will receive in Europe a sovereign, neutral and strong state which does not want to join NATO." (Press-Obozreniye, June 18)
Experts believe that Armenia's multi-vector foreign policy will help it protect its national interests. "Many note that even the Armenian government, which is Russia's most faithful ally, is increasingly looking at the West." (Graparak, June 26)
"Armenia may successfully cooperate with Russia, Europe, and NATO at one and the same time...Armenia erroneously believes that it cannot deal with NATO and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) simultaneously; that its integration into Europe, and cooperation with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are incompatible with normal relations with Russia...Armenia should give up this view because it has no foundation, and does not promote its national interests." (Panorama.am, June 26)
The meeting between President Dmitry Medvedev and Abkhazian leader Sergei Bagapsh in Moscow has provoked a strong response in the media. "Medvedev has all the levers for facilitating real settlement but he cannot deviate from Russia's traditionally aggressive course." (Pankisi.info, June 27)
"Russia wants to change the world order...in the belief that it has become very strong. But it is a mistake...It does not have a sound political and social system that would be able to withstand upheavals...Russia is acting today as a hoodlum, who wants to intimidate all his neighbors in order to raise his prestige in the eyes of other countries... In this way, it is alienating itself from others, multiplying its enemies..., and acting against its own interests. Unwittingly, Russia is driving our convergence with NATO and other agencies; it is also helping us to look very truthful in the world's eyes." (24 saati, June 27)
"The meeting of the Russian president with Bagapsh amounts to open support for the separatists...Russia has again neglected its status as a peacekeeper." (Georgia Online, June 26)
"The meeting between Bagapsh and Medvedev is outrageous. In 14 years nobody has gone so far. With this step he openly recognized Bagapsh and Kokoity, which amounts to overt annexation on Russia's behalf." (Rezonansi, June 27)
"We are indignant that Russia receives at top level the separatist leaders who have subjected Georgians to ethnic cleansing." (Novosti-Gruzia News Agency, June 26) "The Russian president confirms himself that he is the initiator of the aggression." (Civil Georgia, June 26)
The Russia-EU summit in Khanty-Mansiisk has prompted observers to discuss settlement of frozen conflicts in post-Soviet republics. "Despite Moscow's suspicious attitude to the EU's attempts to influence Russia's next-door neighbors, Brussels' desire to help settle frozen conflicts in post-Soviet republics is well justified. Russia is afraid of losing its dominant role in the region it had previously controlled. Moscow believes that if Caucasian states are drawn into the West's political orbit, they will be cut off from Russia, and Russia will lose its influence in the region." (Zerkalo, June 25)
On the eve of Medvedev's visit to Baku many publications are actively discussing bilateral relations. "Moscow's blind support for Armenia and the Karabakh separatists makes its relations with Azerbaijan subject to chance, and prevents them from developing into strategic partnership." (Ekspress, June 25)
"Medvedev is bound to try to persuade Baku to accept Gazprom's recent proposal to buy practically all gas from the Shakh Deniz deposit which is also of interest to Azerbaijan's Western partners...Russia is to blame for our persisting conflicts... Putin's Russia did not do any better than continue staking on Armenia, its convenient satellite instead of building relations with Azerbaijan, which could become its more important ally...Russia cannot give up the bankrupt policy based on the premise that any inter-ethnic conflict makes both sides vulnerable and pliable...It makes no sense for Medvedev to visit Baku in order to discuss cooperation in the gas sphere without a serious proposal on settling its conflict with Yerevan." (Echo, June 26)
"If Azerbaijan states its desire to join NATO tomorrow, Russia will subject it to more pressure. Supporting Russia, the United States and France will try to pound us into a submissive peace. Any step towards NATO will consolidate the Russian-Armenian alliance." (Zaman, July 1)
The press is avidly discussing President Nursultan Nazarbayev's statement about the need to replace Russian geographical names with local ones. "If we sum up all reasons quoted by the advocates of renaming...Pavlodar and Petropavlovsk, they all boil down to one weighty argument - it is high time we gave up our colonial past, which once led to multi-million human losses and suffering. In this context, the position of those who want to keep old names is also very logical and is viewed by Kazakhs as the persisting nostalgia of some Russian great-power chauvinists for the former colonial order. This is the gist of these two positions if we brush aside the euphemisms that cover up the interests of both sides." (Megapolis, June 30)
The media continues discussing the construction of the Rogun hydro-power plant. Some analysts believe that the government wants to carry out a super project, which it views as "the last chance for triumphal entry into the family of dignified nations of our time." At the same time, experts note that the republic does not have the required sum (two to three billion dollars for the next ten years), and for this reason it can only implement this project by attracting Russian and other foreign investment.
"In the last six months...the Russian government asked the Tajik leaders several times to determine Russia's share in the Rogun hydro-power plant... Inter RAO UES (Unified Energy Systems) announced...its wish to get the controlling interest because the structure of capital on Rogun still remains unclear...This is a big professional mistake on behalf of those who are trusted by our president. The managers involved in the project are simply obliged to meet the investor halfway and make transparent its potential profits from funding the station's construction, supply of equipment and assembly work. Until the structure of capital is clear, all talks will be pointless. It will seem that politicians have not come to terms. In the meantime, it is obvious that Russia and Tajikistan have a political agreement on this score, and are interested in the plant's construction with Russia's financial and technical participation." (Fakty i kommentarii, June 25)
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