The main topic of the week was the Russian authorities' refusal to grant a visa to Estonia's Foreign Minister Urmas Paet. Paet was to attend the St. Petersburg session of the EU-Russia round table on cross-border cooperation. "Moscow is avenging itself on Estonia, or perhaps is just continuing its condescending policy towards the neighboring state. Apparently Russia expects Estonia to swallow the diplomatic insult, because larger EU countries will not lock horns with Russia over the honor of a minor novice." (Parnu Postimees, November 11).
The press writes that Russia "has got into a silly situation," because after a strong reaction from the EU, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had to apologize for the regrettable incident. "[Lavrov's] telephone call to Paet followed soon after the ambassador of Britain, the country holding the EU rotating presidency, voiced concern and disappointment to Russia's Foreign Ministry ... It is one of the strongest manifestations of support for Estonia on the part of the European Union in Estonia's confrontation with Russia." (Postimees, November 12).
A visit by M. Kolerov, head of Russia's presidential department on inter-regional and external cultural ties, is at the focus of attention of the Latvian press. Analyzing his remarks, the national press concludes that Moscow is moving away from direct accusations of Latvian authorities to resolving problems of relations through EU structures and abandoning the policy of unconditional support for the Russians in Latvia. "It became evident in the course of the conversation that in its policy Russia has given up making direct charges against Latvia, and refers to 'European standards' when expressing its demands. When, to conclude the meeting, Kolerov was asked what Russian speakers in Latvia should do - it emerged from the conversation that they could not hope for any Kremlin support, and least of all financial - the visitor replied: 'They should fight for their rights.'" (Latvijas Avize, November 9, November 10).
The local press in Russian, on the other hand, quotes the Kremlin official as saying that Russia has not changed its positions on the discrimination of Russians in Latvia, rehabilitation of Nazism in the republic, a North-European gas pipeline, and compensation for the "Soviet occupation." "Kolerov has disappointed the Latvian ruling elite. He clearly stated that troubled times and absence of distinctly formulated principles in Russia's foreign policy were over in 2000. Today Russia has its own policy both in the West and in the East, and in relation to its compatriots. Russia will no longer conclude dubious deals like 'oil for human rights,' and others." (Vesti-Segodnya, November 10).
November 10 was the closing day for bids to purchase the Mazeikiai Nafta (MN) oil complex. This has evoked a spate of comments in the printed media. "Both the East and the West are putting pressure on Lithuania as it chooses an investor for Mazeikiai Nafta. The Polish oil company PKN Orlen is demanding that the buyer should be selected on financial grounds alone. Representatives of Russia's giant LUKoil are complaining that they have been disqualified from the game for political motives. On the one hand, Lithuania faces the possibility of Poland freezing transport and energy projects and on the other, provoking the displeasure of Russia, the energy supplier." (Lietuvos Zinios, November 12).
Some media are skeptical of the moves undertaken by the Lithuanian government, whose representatives met with potential MN buyers during the week. "The target of the negotiations is shares, which do not belong to Lithuania, to begin with. There is only an intention to buy them out from Yukos for later resale. Second, Yukos is not selling them yet, because they have been frozen by the Amsterdam court. And third, if they are sold, it will probably not be to Lithuania." (Litovskaya Nardodnaya Gazeta, November 14).
A contract signed by Russia's gas monopoly and Kazakh firm Intergaz Central Asia to transport Russian and Central Asian gas across Kazakhstan in 2006-2010 has, in the view of the press, sealed Russia's monopoly on the export of gas from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. "Now Ukraine has lost even the hypothetical possibility of securing gas from Central Asian countries in the next few years. Ukraine has only one argument left and is trying to use it to get out of the present situation: it possesses a gas pipeline Gazprom needs". (Delo, November 15).
Some of the media see the reason for Ukraine's "gas" defeat not only in Kiev's uncompromising stand, but also in the lack of professional skills displayed by the Naftogaz Ukrainy Chairman A. Ivchenko. "Observers have already noticed that if Ivchenko is present as a delegation member, the talks are sure to be thwarted, the representation levels lowered, and the terms get tougher. There is no doubt that Ukraine, to quote Ivchenko, will continue to blackmail Russia that unless it supplies gas to Ukraine at practically give-away prices, and agrees to pay for transit through the nose, Ukraine will start siphoning EU gas from the pipeline." (Oligarkh, November 15).
The republic's press reported on the visit by Patriarch Alexius of Moscow and All Russia and made restrained comments in this connection. The pro-Romanian press stated that the visit aimed to pressure Moldova and to show Russia's leading role on post-Soviet space. "It is common knowledge that the Church in Russia has always sided with political authorities. Alexius II, who is a typical representative of the collaborationist ecclesiastical nomenclature, continues to insist that the Moscow Patriarchate's territory includes Russia, as well as Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, the Baltics, Azerbaijan and Central Asia. In other words, the Russian Orthodox Church is still helping the Kremlin to implement its policies. Instead of piety and good will, Alexius II came to Moldova hoping to settle the score." (Flux, November 9.)
The local media claims that Moldova's President Vladimir Voronin lacks political will, and that he wants to enlist the services of Alexius II in order to mend his relations with Russia. "If the president wanted to free Moldova from Russian domination, he would respond to the Patriarch's anti-NATO zeal and his insulting hints with regard to the West. However, the President acts as a typical member of the former nomenclature. He obeys visiting Moscow dignitaries and consistently implements Russian interests in Moldova." (Jurnal de Chisinau, November 15.)
The local mass media notes Russia's alarm over changes in Yerevan's foreign-policy priorities. "Sources close to the Armenian Presidential Administration report that Moscow has expressed its concern to President Robert Kocharyan over diplomatic channels in connection with Yerevan's evident pro-American policies following Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisyan's talks in the United States." (Iravunk November 9.)
Journalists write that the Yerevan visit by Army General Yury Baluyevsky, head of the Russian General Staff, on the eve of Sarkisyan's visit to Washington, highlights Moscow's tough control of Armenian foreign-policy actions. "It is obvious that the Armenian leadership continues with its policy of so-called complementarism. Sarkisyan coordinated all of his Washington statements with Moscow to a varying extent. In other words, Yerevan still implements a limited policy with regard to Washington. However, the desire of Kocharyan and Sarkisyan to sit on two chairs prompts both the White House and the Kremlin to doubt the reliability of Armenian leaders as partners." (Aikakan Zhamanak, November 9.)
Numerous tough statements on the part of Georgian newsmakers confirm that Tbilisi is prepared to demand the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers. For instance, Kote Gabashvili, chairman of the Georgian Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, and a traditional hardliner, said "We gave the Government time to call things by their proper names. If they (Russian peacekeepers) do not agree to leave, we will give them the status of occupying forces." (Sakartvelos Respublika, November 11.)
Zurab Samushia, commander of Georgia's White Legion guerrilla squad, which was disbanded over a year ago on Tbilisi's orders, told the Russian media that he planned to resume guerilla warfare in Abkhazia. His statement caused panic in the Georgian press. "The government has every right to take such action, including guerilla operations, if it considers them necessary. There is nothing criminal in this, but it would spell disaster for the country. The people who are planning to resume guerrilla warfare are following Russia's orders." (Rezonansi, November 10.)
Some experts are saying once again that Georgia would prefer to maintain relations with the Russian Federation, rather than the West, if Moscow discarded its imperial ambitions, and if it treated Georgia as an independent country. "There would be no problems if Russia were a truly democratic country, if it wanted to have a strong neighbor, and if it treated that neighbor as an equal. We have more historical, geographic and cultural similarities with Russia than with any other country." (Akhali Versia, November 14.)
The media predict a decline in Russia's influence in East Europe and the Baltic region. "The route laid for Azerbaijani oil to the Baltic Sea has led to major changes in Ukraine and Georgia and, likewise, the delivery of Azerbaijani oil to the Baltics (in case of the construction of the Odessa-Brody-Gdansk pipeline) may greatly diminish Russia's ability to use this energy lever." (Ekho, November 10.)
The press discusses the continued Russian military expansion into the independent countries of Central Asia and South Caucasus, where Azerbaijan may become a new victim. "The U.S. pressure forced the Uzbek president to take the ill-advised step of seeking the support of Russia. By all appearances, Moscow is trying to do the same in Azerbaijan. Russia is providing apparent assistance to the regime of Ilkham Aliyev. In case of a clear danger to the ruling Azeri regime, Moscow might formalize its support as a treaty similar to the one which it is going to sign with Uzbekistan." (Azadlyg, November 15.)
Nikolai Bordyuzha, General Secretary of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, said that the U.S. and NATO bases on the perimeter of Russia were a potential threat to its security. The local media interpreted it as the revival of the Kremlin's Cold War rhetoric and an attempt to reinforce Moscow's exclusive status in the former Soviet states. "Moscow seems to believe that after the VE-Day celebrations in Red Square in 2005 it can push the world back, if only for a short while, to the times of Yalta and Potsdam conferences. And this is not simply a wounded post-imperial ambition. The Kremlin is again hatching geopolitical structures designed to 'reinforce influence' or 'restore positions.' It is likely that the most terrible events will take place in those former Soviet states that do not want to follow in the Russian political wake." (Ekho, November 15.)
The republican media provide broad coverage of the meeting of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Prime Minister Danial Akhmetov with Russian Vnesheconombank CEO Vladimir Dmitriyev. They describe the Russian banker's statement on the possibility of a bank union within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as a sensation.
The media point to Moscow's hopes for the victory of the incumbent president in the forthcoming election. "In less than a month the people of Kazakhstan will elect their president. Not only Kazakhstan but also Russia is closely monitoring the situation in the republic. Moscow needs a strong strategic partner because too much is at stake, including good neighborly relations and large-scale economic projects." (Liter.kz., Kazakhstan, November 12.)
It quotes Andrei Kokoshin, Chairman of the State Duma Committee for the CIS Affairs and Contacts with Compatriots, who attended a forum of political scientists in Moscow on the forthcoming presidential election in Kazakhstan. Kokoshin said that numerous questionable methods applied by the West, including OSCE observers, would certainly be used to distort the real picture of the Kazakh elections.
The recent summit of the SCO premiers in Moscow prompted some media to write about the unenviable role of Kyrgyzstan in the SCO and in Central Asia. "The key question for Bishkek now is Kyrgyzstan's place in the hierarchy of SCO interests. The irrational policy of Bishkek regarding its SCO partners can force the organization's leaders to make negative conclusions, because to them Kyrgyzstan today is more of a geographical term rather than a serious partner." (Obshchestvenny reiting, November 10.)
Some media question the expediency of introducing dual nationality for Russians and Kyrgyzstan. In the Kremlin interpretation, "Russian-speaking people are ethnic Russians, which is why it has offered the treaty" on dual citizenship. "But Russian speakers in our country also comprise Uzbeks, Uygurs [who also live in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan], Dungans [a Chinese nation] and Koreans. It would follow from this reasoning that ethnic diasporas could demand that we signed dual nationality treaties with Uzbekistan and Korea." (Obshchestvenny reiting, November 10.)
The focus this week is on the treaty on allied relations between Russia and Uzbekistan, which was signed in Moscow. The press writes that should problems similar to Andijan occur again in the future, Uzbekistan would grant Russia the right to establish bases in its territory in return for military assistance. "The treaty states unambiguously that Moscow is prepared to interfere in crises in Uzbekistan if they threaten the stability of the regime. In return for such support, Tashkent must promise to house a Russian military base in its territory." (TRIBUNE-uz, November 12.)
The need for closer ties with Russia is discussed against the backdrop of reports about the amnesty of a million migrant workers from the CIS states, which the Russian Federal Migration Service is drafting. At present, the Russian "employers are mistreating illegal immigrants, paying them a pittance and harshly suppressing possible discontent... In addition to delivering a heavy blow on criminals, the amnesty of immigrants will also replenish the Russian treasury." (Vesti.uz, November 13.)
The amnesty for immigrant workers that is being drafted in Russia would benefit both Russia and Tajikistan, local journalists write. "This is a sound idea, as the harsh legal norms regarding foreigners force them into the shadow and the criminal world." (Todjikiston, November 10.) "We wholeheartedly support such statements and initiatives, especially if they come from the Russian Federal Migration Service, since nearly 90% of our citizens working abroad are in Russia." (Varorud, November 9.)