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The CIS and Baltic press on Russia


Covering the hostilities in the Georgian-Ossetian conflict zone, local commentators are straining to guess the 'true' motives behind Moscow's peace enforcement operation. "Although Russia misleads the public with its statements about 'protecting the Ossetians,' its true goal is apparently a change of regime in Georgia... Its short-term program must be to achieve a situation in which Abkhazia and South Ossetia could host extensive Russian contingents while formally remaining Georgian territories. The Russian force deployed will be just large enough to prevent Georgia from moving closer to NATO." (Eesti Paevaleht, August 12)

"Russia can indeed call a halt to the military action. The invaded Georgian territories will remain occupied, and their alienation from Georgia is a very real prospect." (Postimees, August 12)

Taking into account the precedent of Kosovo and Western nations' heavy dependence on Russia for energy supplies, the media have arrived at the conclusion that the international community cannot stand up to Moscow. "Russia seems to be idly pondering what the West's reaction will be and how quickly it will react, if at all, during the most slumberous time of the holidays when most people are on vacation or busy watching the Olympics. By forcibly splitting Georgia, Moscow is trying to beat the West using its own tactics - you chip off Kosovo, now watch us do the same with Abkhazia and South Ossetia." (SL Ohtuleht, August 11)

"Russia has indicated the impotence of the U.S., NATO and the EU, intimidated Eastern Europe and reminded Western Europe of its dependence on Russia's energy imports... Washington does not have the muscle to militarily restrain Russia." (Postimees, August 11)

In some publications, Mikheil Saakashvili is described as a faithful disciple of Vladimir Putin. "Putin and his war against Chechen 'separatists' were a model for the Georgian government... Saakashvili used the experience to deal with Abkhazia and South Ossetia after the problem hit a dead end... He learned his lessons well... Saakashvili has made the world doubt him." (Eesti Paevaleht, August 11)

Journalists welcome any initiative to support Georgia. "A time has come when Estonia has to provide tangible proof that Georgia is our foreign-policy priority, with more than empty words." (SL Ohtuleht, August 11)

"Many will certainly want to do something in the face of Russia's aggression against Georgia, from buying Georgian wines to actually sending volunteers to the republic. Such civil initiatives can only be welcomed." (Postimees, August 12)


Commentators make a point of stressing that as Europe's oil and gas supplier, Russia is interested in maintaining its influence in the Caucasus. "Georgia is important for the West as an alternative route for energy supplies, and the armed conflict in that Caucasian state is also leading to a clash between the West and the Kremlin in their drive for influence." (Neatkariga Rita Avize, August 9) "One of the most important aspects of the Georgian conflict is that Georgia is a corridor for supplying energy resources to Europe from the Caspian region, bypassing Russia. Russia, having for the first time demonstrated the concept of 'defending its citizens', has at the same time won a tremendous advantage for transiting oil ... Now all the states of the Black and Caspian seas have their projects threatened." (Neatkariga Rita Avize, August 11) "Moscow might exploit the existing situation, not only to demonstrate its military strength, but also to redraw borders in the Caucasus." (Latvijas Avize, August 11)

All media say that Russia is no longer pretending that it respects the rules of international law. "In Moscow's view, Georgia is a test case for the Western community to probe its readiness to grant Russia a special right to use military strength against states that have no right to be democratic and follow a Russia-independent foreign policy... The signal is clear: to accuse Russia of aggression against Georgia risks being in its place... We are dealing with a Russia whose leaders have stopped pretending they respect the sovereign rights of other countries... Our neighbor is an aggressive regime." (Diena, August 11)

Some publications believe that events in the Caucasus will affect Russia's future relations with Western partners. "It may well be that Russia's far from easy relations with NATO and European Union countries will go into a deep freeze, including a new Cold War and an armed face-off along the entire border line." (Biznes & Baltia, August 11)


Collecting evidence for Russia's guilt in escalating the conflict, reporters point out that most of the leadership of the self-proclaimed republic has Russian roots. "Who is running South Ossetia? Ossetians? No. Russians. Mostly those with straps on their shoulders... Russia has wanted a conflict both in South Ossetia and Abkhazia and has purposely worked for one since 1991... The aim has been to hold Tbilisi by the throat: if you join NATO, you will never see Abkhazia and South Ossetia, we swear it with our tanks and our ability to kill the occupied civilian population." (Lietuvos Rytas, August 11)

Some authors are angry with their inactive leadership. "Russian tanks and aircraft are pounding Georgia. The Russians announced bank accounts to support the separatists. Meanwhile, our authorities are taking a time-out to watch the Olympics. Is this an active Ostpolitik?" (Lietuvos Rytas, August 11) "Georgia is pleading with Lithuania to support her in the conflict with Russia, but the leader [of the country] has found time only to attend a meeting of district chairmen of the Lithuanian World Community and the World Lithuanian Youth Union." (Respublika, August 8)

Some publications try to justify the Georgian president's way of solving the conflict by force. "It can only be regretted that urgings by Lithuanian diplomats and leaders of our country fell on deaf ears in Tbilisi ... Mikheil Saakashvili decided to take advantage of the occasion to solve the problem once and for all... The attack did not come on a whim... Georgia has chosen the path of war which the civilized world spurns. But could the civilized world have condemned Georgia if it had resolved this so-called 'frozen' conflict in one or two days, even by force?" (Lietuvos Rytas, August 12)

The media are full of warnings that developments in South Ossetia could have a direct effect on the situation in the Baltic countries. "The war in Georgia concerns not only Georgia and Russia. If Moscow is not stopped, it will take this as a sign that it can rule the roost everywhere where its so-called 'citizens' hold passports with a double-headed eagle. We may not have too many of them here, but Latvia and Estonia have plenty." (Delft.It, August 12)


The opposition press believes the world's increased interest in the armed conflict in South Ossetia will enable President Alexander Lukashenko to rig the vote in September elections for the Belarusian parliament. "The new war in the Caucasus will put all the other events within the former Soviet Union on the back burner. No one doubts that the U.S., Russia and Europe will now be preoccupied with the armed conflict in the Caucasus. They will have no time left to deal with Belarusian problems, and Lukashenko will hold parliamentary elections in a setting most favorable for manipulation and the doctoring of their results. This is not the first instance when a global conflict has helped the Lukashenko regime. Such was the case during the terror attack on New York, which coincided with Belarusian elections. And history repeated itself in 2004, when the terrorists seized the school in Beslan, while Belarus was planning a referendum on extending Lukashenko's powers." (Belorussky Partizan, August 8)

Analysts are not ruling out a possible armed intervention in the domestic political life of Belarus, whose leadership is engaged in a bitter squabble with Moscow over the price of Russian gas. "What can we, Belarusians, learn from this small but far from victorious... war in the Caucasus? Perhaps we should be ready to see in our streets Russian peacekeepers in tanks protecting their gas against nasty neighbors who are unwilling to understand the meaning of the words 'Pax Russiana' and accept them. Especially since the pretext will always be there." (Telegraf, August 9)

Analysts believe the conflict will have a far more adverse effect on Moscow than on Tbilisi, especially within post-Soviet states. "For Georgia, the results will depend on whether or not the international community sees it as an aggressor. The outlook for Russia is worse: it is bound to lose in world public opinion in any case because, however you look at it, Russia engaged in a war on other than its own territory. Nevertheless, for understandable reasons things will not go beyond moral condemnation. The CIS, however, is going to have trouble surviving in its present form." (Nashe Mnenie, August 11)


Even the day before Georgian forces attacked South Ossetia on the night of August 8, shelling residential areas of Tskhinvali with Grad multiple rocket launchers, the local media said that an armed confrontation between Tbilisi and Moscow was highly probable. "Russian - Georgian relations are the most strained in the CIS territory... The probability of a new conflict grows with every day. Georgia now has outstripped even the Middle East in terms of military spending as a percentage of GDP, and that is supposed to be the world's most conflict-prone region. It is now the world's second largest military spender. Weapons accumulated at this rate are bound to be fired one day." (2000, August 7)

Some columnists are attributing the Kremlin's ready interference in Georgia to its concerns over the 2014 Sochi Olympics. "Successfully hosting the 2014 Olympics is Russia's top priority in the Caucasus. Two conflicts next door to the site of the Games are a problem one has to do something about. There were two possible options - either to reach an agreement with Mikheil Saakashvili and jointly stabilize the region (which would have thwarted the plans of certain groups in Russia engaged in smuggling with Abkhazian and South Ossetian accomplices), or to try to subdue the region by any means available, including hampering Georgia's NATO accession plans and provoking its aggression." (Gazeta, August 9)

Many political analysts believe that Ukraine ought to provide all-out support to Georgia in order to ensure its own territorial integrity. "If we bury our heads in the sand now instead of standing up to support Georgia, then we might as well forget any deals with it in the future, including building oil and gas bypasses around Russia. But, if Ukraine assumes a firm position, if it tells Russia that its aggression against Georgia makes it impossible to keep its fleet in Sevastopol, that is, if it puts forth an ultimatum, it would be a real act of support for Georgia and will cut Russia down to size. It would help achieve some progress on the Russian fleet's withdrawal from Sevastopol into the bargain. If Ukraine does not stand with Georgia now, Russia will view it as weakness, and quickly defeat us, too, in the Crimea and Sevastopol. It is a strategic issue for Ukraine." (Gazeta po Kievski, August 9)


The Moldovan media draw parallels between Russia's policy in Chechnya, where it 'restored constitutional order,' and Georgia's actions against South Ossetia, condemned by Moscow as 'genocide,' and accuse the Kremlin of applying double standards. "The Russian-Georgian war was yet another proof that the current world order is distorted and illogical... Moscow thinks that what is allowed to [Vladimir] Putin is not allowed to [Mikheil] Saakashvili. The Russian prime minister even had the nerve to act as a 'peace mediator', condemning Tbilisi's actions as 'genocide', and to teach Georgia morals, claiming it has lost all rights to the breakaway region." (Jurnal de Chisinau, August 12)

The media controlled by the breakaway republic of Transdnestr feature proposals about conflict-resolution in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. "By urgently launching the process to recognize the self-proclaimed republics Russia could radically stop the escalation of tensions around them. There is nothing more to discuss about their future - they will be independent from Georgia forever, whether Saakashvili recognizes it or not." (Lenta PMR news agency, August 12)

Interestingly, the author of this plan admits that it might not work in Transdnestr's case. "Humiliated by the Georgian failure, the West will certainly try to get revenge. Although similar atrocities and genocide are unlikely to occur in Transdnestr, local residents will be gradually manipulated into making the 'right choice' of the Western master, now that they are locked between Ukraine, which sides with Saakashvili... and the cunning Moldova, ready to sell anything it owns for thirty pieces of silver to anyone who will pay." (Lenta PMR news agency, August 12)


By accepting the option of using force to resolve the South Ossetian conflict, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev lost the opportunity to gain real power in his hands, experts say.

"Russia has two centers of authority, the first one being Vladimir Putin's ('siloviki', or members of the security services, the military and the police) and the other one being Dmitry Medvedev's ('liberals'). Mikheil Saakashvili may have thought that such a dual power in Russia would make it possible to smoothly bring South Ossetia back into Georgia, since after giving up South Ossetia Medvedev's wing could hope to gain actual control with the assistance of the international community. If Moscow had not decided to put its foot into the Ossetian quagmire, Medvedev would have become a person favored in the West's eyes, though he could have met some resistance from Russia's imperial circles. This was Medvedev's only way to power, and Georgia showed it to him, but he failed to notice it." (, August 11)


Analysts say Russia's proposals for resolving the conflict are only part of a plan aimed at far reaching goals that are not restricted to the dismemberment of the Georgian territories. "Russia's plan does not imply any mutual compromises. Moscow, Tskhinvali and Sukhumi unanimously demand that the agreement on non-use of force be signed, claiming that otherwise the talks are devoid of sense. The major thing about Kremlin's plan for resolving the conflict is the absence of any resolution. What Moscow proposes in the guise of peaceful talks, is called differently - a capitulation. The key issues - the breakaway regions' status and the return of refugees - are not only being shelved but becoming officially irresolvable... Russia has found a pretext to bring its regular troops into Georgia and now will try to bargain to the maximum to receive the most and realize its dreams. If Russia succeeds, the country will gain great benefits - it will have a direct land passage to Iran thus obtaining a new tool for putting pressure on Europe and the United States." (Rezonansi, August 12)

Commentators regret that the West failed to realize the danger that was coming from Russia. "When fascism wins in Russia and this fascist and brown-shirted country knocks on Europe's door, Europe will start considering serious steps against Russia but it will be too late... If it becomes a fascist state, this will be more dangerous for the world than Nazi Germany." (Akhali Taoba, August 9)

"Russia's actions are a slap in the face of the civilized international community, and if this community still has any self-respect... it has to come to its senses." (Kviris Palitra, August 11)

Most writers are convinced the present military conflict in South Ossetia will inevitably worsen Russia's relations with countries, and not only with Western states.

"Russia will surely face an acutely aggravated attitude from the Western countries, particularly the U.S., and from most countries in Eastern Europe... Russia will face serious obstructions from European Union countries. It has also spoilt its relations with post-Soviet states, which feel they may possibly become future targets of Russian aggression." (Rezonansi, August 11)


Experts share the view that escalating tension between Russia and Georgia was a direct result of the confrontation between the U.S. and Russia. "The U.S. is eager to involve Russia in the conflict and then use the situation to its own benefit." (, August 8). "The lack of neighborliness between Russia and Georgia reflects strategic contradictions between Russia and the U.S.. Russian officials have repeatedly announced that if Georgia and Ukraine enter NATO, Moscow will take actions to secure its own interests. After these events, Georgia will have to carefully weigh its further steps, with one eye always on Russia." (Zerkalo, August 8)

Some analysts spoke in favor of a Georgian victory in the confrontation with Russia and expressed their confidence that Russia will inevitably leave the region. "Georgia's actions are a model scheme for resolving the ethnic conflict for Azerbaijan to borrow. We will be very happy if Georgia wins." (, August 8)

"Russia has demonstrated it is ready to destroy whole countries and nations to pursue its own imperial ambitions." (Zerkalo, August 12)

"The latest events in Georgia have revealed that Russia is an empire which does not intend to change... The Russians will soon be forced to sign a truce, and if Georgia holds out for several more days we will witness Russia's shameful departure from the southern Caucasus. Despite the sharp statements of the Russian authorities, the country's army is facing a deep crisis." (, August 10)


The armed clashes in South Ossetia prompt the media to highlight Kazakhstan's new role in the world. "South Ossetia is formally a Georgian territory, so Tbilisi did not attack Russia with its onslaught. It is hard, however, to appeal to international law after Iraq and Kosovo ... Medvedev and Putin, for their part, say they are defending Russian citizens, who make up more than 80% of the South Ossetian population. Oil, or oil and gas transportation, to be more precise, is a pronounced factor here, as in many other 21st century wars and conflicts. We can also say that Russia is anxious to prevent a NATO presence on its south approaches... Astana will hold the presidency of the OSCE in 2010. The problem of self-proclaimed states will not disappear from the OSCE agenda by that time, and Kazakhstan will have to prove its worth as a peacekeeper, because peace in the Caucasus is certainly in its interests." (Zona KZ, 12.08)

The media also discuss competition in the former Soviet space. Commentators say Moscow has nothing to offer as an alternative to precise and purposeful moves by world political leaders-only aggressive diplomacy and the establishment of another bureaucratic office (a new federal agency for CIS affairs). "Russian diplomacy in Central Asia and Transcaucasia is extremely passive compared to the U.S., West European, Chinese and Turkish... The Russian President demands a certain 'aggressiveness' of his diplomats-probably, to make up for an absence of clear and predictable policy toward the rest of the post-Soviet area ... If Barack Obama wins [the U.S. presidential election], CIS leaders... might increase their slant toward the United States... to get Moscow thinking ... how to make the republics' ruling elites... at least less hostile to Russia and its interests (Delovaya Nedelya, 08.08)

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