National media have reprinted a Wall Street Journal article by former Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar, who criticizes the Russian President's proposals on energy security. "Russian President Vladimir Putin raised a number of fundamental energy challenges in his Feb. 28 editorial feature 'Lighting the Way'. Somehow Mr. Putin's article reminded me of speeches of former Soviet leaders, when peace was praised but in reality preparations for war were made. Russia's recent actions against Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia have made absolutely clear that Moscow has decided to use energy deliveries as a political weapon. ...We can treat Mr. Putin's words as a cynical ploy." (Postimees, March 22.)
Analysts are looking for ways of reducing Moscow's "energy charm" and stressing Estonia's role as a Western ally. "Instead of waiting for one more gloomy attack from Russia, Estonia should seize diplomatic initiative itself. G7 leaders are not going to be pleased about their visit to St. Petersburg if the G8 summit produces tacit agreement with Vladimir Putin's version of democracy (read: sit, keep silent, and give money). Estonia should convene a conference on democracy in post-communist countries one day before the summit. This would allow the leaders of true democracies to make a face-saving stop in Tallinn in order to emphasize Estonia's status of an ally, and to distance themselves from the Fools Day tomorrow." (Eesti Paevaleht, March 23.)
The Russian-language press is enthusiastic about Vladimir Putin's visit to China, and describes its results as unprecedented. "The Kremlin can celebrate a major geopolitical victory. Having received such a huge customer for its gas, Russia has made it clear to Europe that it will have to compete globally for Russian resources not only with the U.S. but also with China, despite its long-term partnership in this sphere". (Telegraph, March 23.)
National publications lay emphasis on the issues, which have not been resolved during Putin's visit. "The oil-starved Chinese industrialists did not hear the coveted promise to lay a new pipeline for the delivery of oil from Siberia... As for oil supplies, Russian Minister of Industry and Energy Viktor Khristenko said that Moscow would finance the effort to find out whether it was feasible to build a 4,000km-long oil pipeline. Until then it makes no sense to talk about a schedule for its construction." (Diena, March 22.)
The meeting between Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas and head of LUKoil's investment analysis and investor relations department Andrei Gaidamak has caused quite a stir in the media. Many publications express concern that Russia's biggest oil company may still wish to get Mazeikiu Nafta shares. "General Director of LUKoil Baltija Ivan Paleichik ... said that LUKoil's proposal was the best because of all the claimants it was the only one to guarantee unlimited oil supplies, and full work load of the company. However, Brazauskas ... recalled that the government has a commitment to the Seimas not to sell shares to LUKoil... Last year's government report qualifies LUKoil as an objectionable buyer, which is controlled by the Kremlin, and which poses a threat to Lithuanian national security for this reason." (Penki.lt. March 28.)
The media continue being concerned over Russia's "secret information war" against Lithuania, which has a bad impact on the nation's mentality. "If we take some Russian TV products one by one, they are not particularly bad for the genre. But the abundance of these products on our TV channels forms whole fragments in the mosaic of our mentality and make it pro-Russian." (Atgimimas, March 28)
The media predict escalation of tensions at the Russian flank of Ukrainian foreign policy, no matter who forms the ruling parliamentary coalition, which is being negotiated now in Kiev. "Both the Party of Regions (led by Viktor Yanukovych) and the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko are ready to play a leading role in the union with Our Ukraine (President Viktor Yushchenko). The votes of these parties sent the Yekhanurov government into resignation. Now the new ruling party will have to decide whether to keep the agreements on Russian gas prices, despite a promise to get rid of them right after the parliamentary elections, or to accept the situation as it is, and cause the criticism of the party, which will not be represented in the government. Next on the agenda is Common Economic Space (CES), about which the Party of Regions talked so much during the election race. Tymoshenko is better off - she has never backed this idea... The Yanukovych-led Ukrainian cabinet shelved the CES papers. Now the Party of Regions will have an excuse. The same applies to the issue of Russian as a state language. In simpler terms, the new Ukrainian government will be foreign to Russia (The Russian-Ukrainian Review Gulyai-Pole, March 28.)
The media are emphatically negative about a statement of Russian Ambassador to Moldova Nikolai Ryabov on the Transdniestr situation. "The day before yesterday the Russian Embassy produced a flood of words, which were both menacing and brutal. It was hard to believe that a diplomat uttered them... Ryabov's lack of restraint produced a huge diplomatic row between Russia and the Czech Republic ten years ago... It seems that this trait makes him the right man in the right place and at the right time. Moscow needs him in Cisinau in order to talk with Moldova from the position of strength." (Fluks, March 22.)
The proposal of Russian Chief Epidemiologist Gennady Onishchenko to ban wine imports from Moldova has caused a morbid reaction. The media reject criticism of Moldavian wine, and qualify the proposal as an attempt to exert political pressure on Moldova. "The head of a major Russian-Moldavian winery described this statement by the Russian official as 'absurd and irresponsible'. 'We are confronted with more and more obstacles despite the international recognition of our wines. Some Russian politicians stand to gain from creating conditions for faking our wines on Russian territory.'" (News Agency Novosti - Moldova, March 23.)
According to the local press, Russia does not want to settle conflicts in the South Caucasus. "Contradictions in Armenian-Russian relations are fuelled by the fact that Russia supports the establishment of totalitarian regimes in the Commonwealth of Independent States, whereas Armenia links its future with democracy and European integration." (Azg, March 23.)
"Russia will do its best to keep up the pockets of paramilitary tension in Karabakh, Ossetia and Abkhazia, because this allows it to force all sides to do its bidding. This is logical, for Russia is acting to satisfy its own interests. Moreover, Armenia has actually become Russia's stick used to influence different processes in the South Caucasus." (168 zham, March 24.)
The republican media write about a possible revision of Russia's stand on the independence of Kosovo. "Russia and China have hinted to the United States that they would not hinder the adoption of a UN resolution on Kosovo's independence, preferring to abstain from voting. The Bush Administration has convinced Moscow and Beijing that the recognition of that country's independence would not create a precedent for the recognition of the independence of Chechnya, Tibet and Taiwan. Analysts note that certain quarters in Moscow may nevertheless use the example of Kosovo to request recognition for the independence of Abkhazia and other separatist regimes." (168 zham, March 22.)
The Georgian press spotlights the statement by Gennady Bukayev, an aide to Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, who said that South Ossetia would be admitted into the Russian Federation, and the intention of South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity to appeal to the Russian Constitutional Court to give the self-proclaimed republic access to the Federation.
"Our emotional authorities frequently fall prey to provocative statements. There is nothing serious in that statement, and therefore our authorities should not react to it." (Rezonansi, March 24.)
"Some political quarters in Russia have hinted to [President Mikhail] Saakashvili about their attitude to him." (Khvalindeli dge, March 25.)
"Russia's top officials are talking about the incorporation of the so-called South Ossetia, and some of them even named the president of the reunited Ossetia. It is widely rumored that Russia wants to appoint Arsen Pukhayev to this post. He is currently working in the State Duma [lower house of the Russian parliament]." (Akhali taoba, March 27.)
It is said here that Russia and Iran may benefit from a new armed conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. "A South Caucasus war would help Moscow and Tehran to tighten control of developments on their borders. This situation is similar to the early 1990s, when Moscow supported puppets on both sides of the conflict line [Levon Ter-Petrosyan, Robert Kocharyan and, for a while, Suret Guseinov]." (Ekho, March 23.)
The local media write about dangerous pits in the statement made by Gennady Bukayev, an aide to Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, about the admission of South Ossetia to the Russian Federation.
"It has not been confirmed here that the decision has been made and that Moscow has actually annexed a part of an independent neighboring state. But neither did it [Moscow] deem it necessary to express respect for the territorial integrity of Georgia. The danger of such statements cannot be overestimated. Refusal to recognize existing borders can fan a Balkans-type war in the former Soviet republics, with predictable consequences. Most importantly, it will become increasingly difficult for Russia to maintain control of the autonomous republics of the Caucasus and the Volga Region, as precedents do not recognize borders." (Ekho, March 24.)
Pained by Russia's attitude to the Karabakh problem, the local media write that Russia had made up for a rise in gas prices for Armenia by supplying it with cheap weapons.
"The compensation mechanism was devised in Moscow. Under it, Yerevan will receive gas together with a bonus, which will be almost more expensive than gas - Russian arms delivered at privileged prices. Some contracts even envisage free arms deliveries. ...This bonus will allow Armenia to save up to $50 million on arms acquisitions. As a result, the price Yerevan will pay [for Russian gas] will be much below the proclaimed level, because the generosity of the Russian defense industries will compensate for more than a half of Armenia's losses." (Ekho, March 28.)
The media write that Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to China pointed to Russia's desire to balance the raw materials and industrial components of its trade with China.
"An intensive growth of Russo-Chinese trade includes elements of stress. A close look at the growth trends will reveal a rise in raw materials deliveries to China to the detriment of high-tech exports. This cannot suit Russia. Putin has called for revising the unfavorable shift in the structure of Russo-Chinese trade and the raw materials domination in Russia's exports to China." (Liter.kz, March 25.)
The media explain a thaw in relations between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan by the growing cohesion of Russia and Uzbekistan. "The positions of the Moscow and Tashkent authorities largely coincide. Shortly before his visit to the United States, Russia's Foreign Minister [Sergei] Lavrov published a policy article hinting that Western values were not acceptable for Russia. The Uzbek-Kazakh geopolitical vector has become decisive in conditions of a growing bond between Uzbekistan and Russia." (Gazeta.kz, March 27.)
The local media see the recent Sino-Russian energy deal as Russia's effort towards a more diversified pool of customers and Kremlin's attempt to play importers one against another. "Vladimir Putin began his official visit to China with a top-newsmaking announcement that Russia was going to annually supply 60 to 80 billion cubic meters of Russian natural gas to China in the foreseeable future. Gazprom will try to ensure as good terms as possible with China... Beijing, the chief troublemaker on the global oil market, is also turning the tables in Russia's dealings with other customers, primarily with the European Union." (Kabar, March 23.)
Some media were apparently surprised by State Duma lawmakers' proposal to impose additional visa restrictions for the citizens of some Central Asian states. "Duma deputies claim the drugs come to Russia from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan... Why do the deputies ignore the fact that more Russians die of alcohol than of drugs every year in Russia? They should also remember that much of alcohol crippling the lives of Kyrgyz people comes from Russia," writes Bishkek Times. (Bishkek Times, March 24.)
The media is rife with talk about Russia's alleged push to dominate energy supplies. Russia is seen as a viable candidate for control over this geopolitical niche. "Russia has few chances to become what China is now - a new World Workshop, the global supplier of inexpensive goods, because it lacks China's virtually unlimited cheap workforce and has higher state legacy costs. What Russia could do is supply its energy commodities to global economic players - booming China and India as well as Western industrialized nations, ensuring maximum profit for itself and investing as much of that as possible into advanced energy technologies." (Novy Vek, March 23.)
Labor migrants remain one of the pressing and widely debated issues as the opposition, and even official, media warn about high death rate of Central Asian guest workers going to Russia, though official sources welcome latest changes to the Russian migration legislation. "Almost every day, at least one coffin with the body of a Tajik arrives by plane from Moscow, their overall number reaching 600 to 700 each year. People get killed at construction sites, in traffic accidents, in clashes with skinheads, criminals, even police. Some migrants feel so overstretched they commit suicide. Many die because medical aid is not available... If only the Russian people knew the degree of lawlessness and humiliation Tajik labor migrants often have to suffer! Sometimes people think to die would be the best rescue from what they are having..." (Fergana.Ru, March 24.)
"Migrants from the CIS have to pass seven circles of bureaucratic hell to get a registration in Russia." (Novosti Uzbekistana, March 23.)
The Tajik media focus on Gazprom chairman Alexei Miller's latest visit to Dushanbe. The media say Gazprom probably drives at monopolizing oil field developments in Tajikistan. "In the Russian-Tajik joint venture, no less than 75% are expected to go to Gazprom and 25% to Tajikistan." (Varorud, March 28.)