The press points to Russia's significant political and economic influence on Belarus and, consequently, the Kremlin's great desire to keep the current regime in Minsk intact. "Lukashenko's rule rests on a well-structured vertical of power held together by security forces. This is similar to what Putin is now trying to build in Russia... Belarus is Kremlin's latest outpost on the western front ... Moldova and Ukraine have already distanced themselves from Moscow, and, naturally, the Kremlin will be protecting the Belarusian regime to the end." (SL Ohtuleht, March 18.) "Russia needs Belarus as a worse oppressor of democracy in Western eyes". (Postimees, March 21.)
The reaction to celebrations of Waffen SS Commemoration Day in Latvia was the key theme this week. "Publications in the West and in Russia seem not to have paid any attention to the events in Latvia on March 16 extensively covered in the local press... Surprisingly, the campaign in Riga received insignificant coverage in Russia's most popular publications, which in the past used to closely follow the Latvian developments on March 16." (Diena, March 18.) "The security measures taken in Riga on March 16 did not pass unnoticed by foreign news agencies and the media. Russian media were most intolerant, though statements also appeared in some Western media that the commemoration day was a Nazi event." (Neatkariga rita avize, March 18.)
The Russian-speaking press fears improved economic relations with neighbors may be nullified by Latvia's irreconcilable stand on political issues. "Our politicians' stupid statements have heavy consequences... Last year, railway deliveries made up almost 50 million tons. This year's figures have been more modest... Our Sejmas [parliament] has decided to teach Lukashenko democracy. As a result, part of Belarusian fertilizers went straight to Kaliningrad, bypassing our ports." (Chas, March 20.)
The local media were focused on the past presidential election in Belarus, highlighting Russia's huge political and economic support for President Lukashenko.
"Belarus's model of 'miserable prosperity' is based on Russia's cheap energy. Lukashenko's power depends on oil and gas prices. If Moscow, for some reason, wanted to have the Minsk regime changed, it would do it easily, by raising energy prices and then looking at Belarusians' response to hiking utility expenses." (Verslo zinios, March 20.)
The media see Belarusian opposition leaders' repeated pleas to Russian President Vladimir Putin as another piece of evidence to Belarus' heavy dependence on Russia.
"Social Democrat leader Kozulin said the people of Belarus hoped for the help from the Russian leader. These hopes are probably not taken out of the blue. It is sometimes hard to predict how combinations created by the Kremlin tenants with security backgrounds will unfold. The stronger the anti-Lukashenko protests, the better for Moscow, because Lukashenko, while stiff-necked and not bowing to Russian dictate now, will see Moscow as the only source of help if the opposition corners him." (Lietuvos rytas, March 18.)
Many Ukrainian media sources are sure the Kremlin was piling up PR pressure upon the Orange government in the run-up to the parliamentary election.
"The Russian media were rife with debate on Ukraine's thievery of Russian gas all winter. Now that the topic seems to be well worn-out, they became hot on prisons. This hoax [about CIA secret detention centers in Ukraine] could well come from Russian intelligence services. (RUpor, March 17.)
"In the run-up to an election, anything that could put the Orange into a defensive position while inconspicuously playing into the hands of [pro-Russian] forces in Ukraine comes very handy." (Glavred, March 15.)
The media suggest Russia has in fact shot itself in the foot.
"This undermined [Ukraine's] Russian-speaking population. Back in February, the Committee for Equal Opportunities first moved to ban the cable TV transmission of Russian channels, and now the piece about a CIA prison [aired by Russia's state TV network RTR] is bound to strengthen the Ukrainian hardliners." (Podrobnosti, March 20.)
The fact that Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin aired the name of a new Ukrainian Ambassador to Moscow earlier than the Ukrainian Prime Minister is seen as evidence of Moscow's meddling with Kiev's political decision-making.
"The fact that such an important appointment was aired by a Kremlin representative paints a grim though traditional metropolis-and-colony picture... A real question arises, was it actually Mr. Yushchenko or Mr. Putin who appointed Mr. Dyomin?" (ProUA, March 17.)
The media accuse their Transdnestrian and Russian counterparts of deliberately escalating the tension on the border between Moldova and Ukraine. With its huge political and economic interests in Transdnestr, Russia is seen as the main benefactor of what the Moldovan media termed as "information warfare."
"Reading only Moscow newspapers, one could get an impression that something infernal and on-the-brink-of-explosion is going on here." (Nezavisimaya Moldova, March 17.)
"On Transdnestr, the Kremlin seems to be playing firmly on Tiraspol's side... Entities that have bought companies from the left bank for a song belong mostly to Russians and are operated through offshore tax havens. While shady money are being invested in Transdnestrian companies, all attempts to establish law and order are denounced as 'unilateralism' aimed at 'destablization'." (Moldova Suverana, March 21.)
The media see U.S. policies in the South Caucasus as a drive to squeeze out Russia but warn this could backfire on Washington.
"The United States hopes to remove Moscow from the South Caucasus as it prepares for a military standoff with Iran... [However,] the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is not just a conflict inside the Caucasus: its scope is well beyond the region because it maintains a balance of forces inside the Turkey - Russia - Iran triangle. If Washington tries to topple this balance through its demands to withdraw the Russian military base from Armenia, this means at least two of three regional powers - Russia and Iran - could be sent off... Azerbaijan, on its part, risks being cornered between Russia and Iran if a basic agreement on Karabakh is in place... U.S.'s drive toward a quick solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict through exerting pressure on Armenia and Azerbaijan might basically strengthen Russia's clout in Yerevan and Baku, rather than weaken it." (Hayots Ashkhar, March 18.)
The Georgian media debate is still themed around seeking an alternative to Russian natural gas.
"We saw how things were unfolding around energy supplies in Georgia, Ukraine, and other parts of Europe. In the face of a Moscow openly using its resources for political pressure, a European security system requires that Caspian and Central Asian resources could be delivered to the market bypassing Russia. (Rezonansi, March 18.)
"In terms of foreign policy, the European Union is too dependent on Russia as Russia holds the [gas] key to its economy. This explains well enough EU's commitment to seek alternative energy sources, in which case gas pipeline routes running through Georgia come as the most reasonable alternative." (Rezonansi, March 18.)
Amid tension and Russo-American standoff on Iran, the Azerbaijani media highlight Moscow's initiative to set up Casfor, a joint naval force of Caspian states, intended to help address possible threats in the region.
"Russia will benefit from a Casfor deal more than others because Iran cannot increase its military presence on the Caspian under the 1940 Soviet-Iranian treaty, while Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan have no navies to speak of. This in fact means that, should the Caspian states approve the Casfor concept, the Russian Caspian flotilla will effectively control the entire Caspian Sea... Casfor also means that Russia's military domination on the Caspian is likely to continue in the future, something the United States is unlikely to be happy about." (Zerkalo, March 17.)
Journalists say that the single voting day in Russia on March 12 foreshadowed the future alignment of political forces in the country. The opposition media explain the leadership of United Russia by the conservative attitudes of the voters and the low popularity of liberal ideas. "Russia has not changed its political preferences... For the time being, rank-and-file Russians are quite happy about the existing model of 'controlled democracy' with strong power vertical. The electors believe that old wood is the best to burn." (Liter.kz, March 15.)
The media are writing about the clash of U.S. and Russian interests in the oil-rich Caspian region. Analysts say Washington wants Kazakhstan to dominate the area in order to enhance its own positions and weaken Russia's influence. They write that Kazakhstan should not give up its policy of maneuvering, which brings good dividends to its economy. "In the Caspian rivalry, the U.S. left Russia far behind. Statistics support this conclusion. In the estimate of the Kazakh Foreign Ministry, the U.S. investment in the Kazakh economy reached $11.43 billion from 1993 to the first quarter of 2005, whereas trade between the two countries amounted to $1.7 billion in 2005. These relations are obviously rational and mutually beneficial. It is clear that our big, northern neighbor is in a very deplorable position." (Liter.kz, March 17.)
Some publications accuse Moscow of sympathy for a number of Kyrgyz officials, whom it protects from justice and allows to live a comfortable life. "Ex-Prime Minister Nikolai Tanayev is now in Russia. Ex-Mayor of Bishkek Boris Silayev and Kyrguz Vice President German Kuznetsov have also recently escaped to Moscow. They breathed Kyrguz air, drank Kyrgyz water and then "spat in this well" and fled to the state ruled by Vladimir Putin. It is rumored that Tanayev is getting a prestigious job at Gazprom." (Agym, March 17.)
The press welcomes Moscow's interest in increasing the presence of Russian business in the Kyrgyz market, and in inviting Kyrgyz specialists to work in Russia. "The demand for labor migrants from Kyrgyzstan is huge in Russia, especially in Siberia. This demand is generated by Russia's economic achievements, and the demographic situation." (Kabar, March 17.)
At the same time, some publications are reminding their readers that the stay of migrants from Central Asian countries in Russia is fraught with dangers. Kyrgyz guest workers were killed in a Russian region. "The so-called 'cutthroats' case in the Samara regional court is drawing to a close. The defendant (a Russian citizen), together with his accomplices, captured two Kyrgyz citizens working on a construction site. In May 2005, the criminals brought their victims to the forest and cut their heads off. The investigators believe that the workers from Central Asia had been seized to scare others." (Gazeta. KG. March 17.)
The press is actively discussing the forthcoming changes in Russia's migration legislation. Pro-government publications insist that they could bring illegal migrants out of the "shadows". "The legalization of all migrants will do historical justice in respect to the once-friendly nations. (Vesti.uz, March 18.)
The opposition press is skeptical about this process, describing the killings and humiliation of guest workers in Russia. "The decapitated men were illegal migrants, citizens of Tajikistan. The criminals abducted them from the construction site in the hope that nobody would look for guest workers. They were seized expressly to bully others." (TRIBUNE-uz, March 16.)