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    The CIS and Baltic press on Russia

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    ESTONIA

    Estonian mass media focus on the speech U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney made at the conference of Black Sea and Baltic Sea states in Vilnius, when he criticized Russia for restricting human rights and putting political and economic pressure on neighboring states. "The world is watching Russia more closely than ever now that it is hosting the G8 summit. And if Russia profiteers in its energy reserves, strangles the mass media, and reinforces central power, it becomes clear how far it is from democracy and prosperity. Russia accuses others of brining the shadows of the Cold War to light, but in fact it is Moscow that is step by step restoring the arsenal of that time, except for the direct threat of using force." (Postimees, May 9.)

    There are suggestions that the Vilnius forum was a rehearsal for the G8 summit in St. Petersburg in July. "The outcome of the Vilnius conference points to what the Russia-West political agenda will be. It should not be overdramatized, as some observers do when they speak of the beginning of a new cold war. The time and circumstances are different, and a major confrontation requires equal rivals. But Russia is no longer what it used to be, no matter how much it aspires to. It would be much shrewder to view Vilnius as a preparation for the St. Petersburg summit. What can be discussed in St. Petersburg in July? Instead of a friendly pat on the back Russia can expect criticism, first of all, of its domestic politics." (Parnu Postimees, May 11.)

    The campaign to discredit Russia as a reliable energy supplier is ongoing. "Old EU members have become so dependent on Russian gas that they do not event attempt to resist Russia, whose rulers have made clear their intention to use energy as a political weapon." (Eesti Paevaleht, May 5.)

    LATVIA

    National mass media view the Russian president's state of the nation address as a prelude to a new arms race. "Russian President Vladimir Putin's annual address to parliament, where he tried to jab at America and spoke at length about building up Russia's military might, can be seen as a starting shot in a new arms race between Moscow and Washington… Everything points to the Kremlin's determination to abandon the concept of a multipolar world, which it tried to use in the 1990s to resist the unipolar world order set by the world's only superpower, the United States. Russia's intention to engage in a new arms race testifies to its desire to restore the bipolar world order that existed during the Cold War, when the world was divided into two camps, led by the U.S. and the Soviet Union." (Diena, May 12.)

    Some analysts link the increasing number of nationalist crimes in Russia to the beginning of an election campaign. "Perhaps Kremlin spin doctors believe that radical nationalist groups and parties will come in handy for intimidating the West and Russian people. This should force people to vote for the incumbent authorities, mainly former KGB officers, at parliamentary and presidential elections in 2007 and 2008. It is important to ensure that as few as possible Russian voters and Western politicians support the remaining Russian democrats, whom the Kremlin paints as traitors and the main danger for the superpower. (Latvijas Avize, May 8.)

    LITHUANIA

    The media discuss the International Conference of Black Sea and Baltic Sea Nations held in Vilnius, Lithuania, on May 2-4. "There is no alternative to democracy. Lithuania and other democratic states are committed to teaching democratic principles to the countries that have fallen behind, first of all, Belarus and Russia." (Kauno diena, May 5.)

    "Although the central issue at the conference was the development of democracy in the neighboring eastern countries… it can be openly declared that its main goal was to spur the EU's and even NATO's further enlargement to the east or, at least, to probe for such prospects." (Veidas, May 15.)

    The Lithuanian press focuses on the Kremlin's decision to ignore the event and watches closely the negative comments made by Russian politicians and mass media, which compared Cheney's statement to Churchill's speech in Fulton in 1946.

    Newspapers agree that the almost defiant refusal to acknowledge Western criticism proves the Kremlin's confidence in its position on the global energy market. "The Russian president made it clear that he saw himself as the leader of a state that is becoming stronger; a state that has overcome the degradation of the last fifteen years, understands its national interests and is ready to protect them even if they are different from the U.S. interests… The address was clearly an answer to the criticism voiced by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney. Putin's speech showed that the U.S. is addressing Russia that is no longer there." (Lietuvos zinios, May 13.)

    "The revival of Russia's aggressive policies, based on high global oil prices, is underway. The Kremlin is positive that its almost inexhaustible energy resources will make Western countries back away. Even Russian democrats now say: whatever the Kremlin is up to, the West just pats Putin on the back and signs another profitable contract… There are fears that after the G8 summit Russia's behavior towards its neighbors will become even more insolent." (Lietuvos rytas, May 13.)

    UKRAINE

    The media are quoting a number of recent statements by Ukrainian officials, who doubt the expediency of further participation in the CIS, and interpreting them as a sign of a cooling off in relations with Moscow against the background of an imminent gas conflict. Predicting the Kremlin’s reaction to such statements, the media have no doubt about an adequate reply. “After all the gas, meat and dairy squabbles, it is hard to imagine what else Russia can come up with to punish the traitors of the bright idea of CIS unity.” (Gazeta po-kievski, May 10.) “If Ukraine quits the CIS, it will lose access to the markets… This will affect the transfer of money and social aid to the Ukrainians who live in other CIS countries… Withdrawal from the CIS will put the elimination of benefits on the agenda.” (Delo, May 10.)

    Some sources are advising not to rush with the final decision on quitting the CIS. “Is the withdrawal worth the negative consequences which we will face? There is no need to make a bad situation worse.”  (ForUm, May 12.)

    Other experts suggest looking for other forms of Ukraine’s partnership with Russia and other post-Soviet countries mostly in the economic sphere. “It is cooperation in the post-Soviet space rather than the presence in the CIS, that is economically justified.” (ForUm, May 12.)

    Some media saw in the Russia President’s speech a hidden hint of a further escalation of tension in relations with Kiev. “Putin has quite clearly put in a claim for leadership on the post-Soviet space, and is trying to subordinate its next-door neighbors to Russia’s interests… Taming of Ukraine is a key goal for the Soviet leadership.” (Obozrevatel, May 15.)

    MOLDOVA

    Commentators are writing that the summit in Vilnius has laid the foundation for an anti-Russian union, which has presented a kind of ultimatum to “Russia’s imperial ambitions.”  “Russia’s deviation from the free world has become so obvious that it can no longer be ignored. Washington has no option but to take preventive measures. The Americans have decided to separate the potentially dangerous Russia with a wall, a sanitary cordon…A Vilnius pact, the reverse of the Warsaw Treaty, is being born on its ruins in order to curb revenge-seeking Russia.” (Flux, May 12.)

    Commentators believe that the Russian political elite is unable to fully grasp changes in the post-Soviet space. “Russia has failed to develop new foreign policy instruments. It is using its old arsenal. Therefore, Rice’s statement (that the U.S. has lawful interests and relations with the countries that were once part of the Soviet Union) is being welcomed by all those who are sick and tired of the claims and follies of the ‘elder brother,’ who has not made a single constructive proposal to its CIS allies.” (Moldova Suverana, May 4.)

    ARMENIA

    Journalists are seriously concerned over the investigation of the air crash in the Sochi area. They are accusing Russia of an attempt to conceal the true reasons behind the crash of the A-320, which belonged to an Armenian company. “If Russia was really interested in revealing the reasons for the crash, and did not feel guilty, it would present the recording of the talks between the Armenian pilot and the Russian traffic controller.” (168 zham, May 6.) “The Russian media and some officials are trying to lay the blame on the pilots. Blaming the dead is the easiest and the most immoral way.” (Aravot, May 6). “The truth will surface if Russia so wishes. If the investigation of the crash is dragged out and shelved, it will be clear that Russia is to blame in the first place.” (Aravot, May 11.)

    The media are openly accusing Russia for encouraging skinheads. “It seems that Russian law-enforcement bodies are not particularly worried about the Nazi slogan ‘Russia is for Russians.’ Although all actions of these thugs are public, and usually seen by numerous witnesses, Russia’s law-enforcers are unable or unwilling to track and punish the criminals, and put an end to the skinheads’ proto-Nazi movement.” (Azg, May 4.) The attitudes, which may be described as xenophobic, fascist, Nazi, and chauvinistic, have become widely spread among Russians.” (Aravot, May 4.)

    GEORGIA

    In recent weeks, the media have been concentrating on Georgia’s prospects of quitting the CIS. While the authorities are talking about the need to thoroughly weigh its pros and cons, the press is treating the potential withdrawal as a fait accompli. “Hardly anyone doubts that Georgia will leave the CIS. It is rumored that the Georgian president is planning to reveal ‘a surprise’ to the nation on May 26, Georgia’s Independence Day.” (Rezonansi, May 12). “Both countries (Georgia and Ukraine) have simultaneously made a tentative application to quit the CIS. Moldova will probably join them, which will be the start of the CIS’s disintegration.” (24 saati, May 6.)

    Some experts believe that if it leaves the CIS, Georgia will not be able to cope with its economic problems. Others think that withdrawal from the CIS will further aggravate bilateral relations. “If we decide today to quit the CIS, we…should be prepared to pay even more for gas and electricity…Georgia does not have agriculture or industry anymore. It is a consumer nation with extremely low social standards… How can Georgia be part of the EU?…If we leave the CIS, we will not cope with energy problems.” (Akhali Taoba, May 8). “Russia will perceive our withdrawal from the CIS as a slap in the face. We have to decide whether it is worth it or not, and what benefits we will receive as a result. If we think with a pragmatic and cool head, we will realize that by leaving the CIS, we will worsen our relations with Russia even more.” (Sakartvelos Respublica, May 9).

    Analysts were not surprised to hear that following a ban on wine, Russia has also prohibited the imports of Borzhomi and Nabeglavi mineral water. They are warning that Moscow will not stop, and will continue increasing its economic pressure on Georgia. “Russia will not limit itself to a ban on Georgian wine and Borzhomi. Obviously, the people in the Kremlin are no idiots. They are professionals with supremacist views, and know all about expansion. A good neighborly regime is alien to the imperialist and expansionist Russian mentality.” (Rezonansi, May 10.)

    “Apparently, Russia’s next step against Georgia will be the cessation of air and ground traffic. The lobby of the Russian political elite is openly talking about curtailing cooperation in the banking sphere…The fact is that Russia has cornered Georgia… We are facing a real danger of destruction.” (Georgian Times, May 11-18.)

    AZERBAIJAN

    Commentators are writing that Georgia’s potential withdrawal from the CIS may become a bad precedent for the Kremlin. “For the time being, Moscow is trying to put a good face on the matter… Many analysts are convinced that Moscow should not underestimate the potential danger of the Georgian demarche – if Tbilisi follows through, a telltale precedent will be created. It is particularly sad that it was Russia itself that pushed Georgia into considering such a radical step. Apparently, Russia missed a minor detail: decisions are now made not only in Moscow but also in Tbilisi.” (Ekho, May 4.)

    The media are criticizing the activities of the Russian oil and gas companies in the Caspian Sea region. “Moscow is getting ready to invest billions into major oil-and-gas deposits in the Caspian area… In the past, Russia resorted to blackmail and threats in order to prevent the West from establishing control over Caspian energy resources. Now it has chosen another road – Russia is restoring its control of the region by investing in it billions of dollars, which it got from oil and gas sales.” (Ekspress, May 12.)

    KAZAKHSTAN

    The press is actively covering the growing conflict between Russia and Georgia. Commenting on Tbilisi’s intention to quit the CIS, the journalists are criticizing the anti-Russian policy of the Georgian leaders, and qualifying reciprocal accusations as useless. ”Pragmatists understand that even if they quit the CIS these countries will not get rid of Russia, which will continue exerting pressure on them. As Saakashvili admitted himself, Georgia and Russia are doomed to be neighbors… As for Russia, it is as usually going from one extreme to another… Today, it is carrying a stick, and wondering why it is disliked so much.” (Liter.kz, May 11).

    The media are writing about the idea of setting up a union of Central Asian states, which was voiced by President Nursultan Nazarbayev in February 2005. Commentators point out that the geopolitical interests of the world’s leading powers, Russia in particular, are a major obstacle in the way of such a union. “Russia does not want to lose its dominating influence in Central Asia. It wants maximum integration with Kazakhstan, not of Kazakhstan with other Central Asian countries… There are too many contradictions between the region’s countries, and the latter are too different… The only option is to continue scaring Russia and China with a possibility of unification, but not with its reality.” (Kompromat.kz, May 15).

    The media are commenting on Moscow’s indifferent attitude to the Russian communities in Kazakhstan and other foreign countries. Experts believe that this perpetuates anti-Russian attitudes in post-Soviet countries. “The U.S. is encouraging bilingualism and a bi-communal model of society on one condition only – if the Russian Ukrainian community is anti-Moscow. Considering that Russia’s policy on post-Soviet states only alienates the local Russians, the U.S. strategy has good chances of success… If the Russians of Kazakhstan launch a protest movement, they will seek support and legitimacy in the West.” (Navigator II, May 4.)

    KYRGYZSTAN

    Traditionally, the press focuses on the problems of labor migration to Russia. “Labor migration is a benefit so far… But Kyrgyzstan has practically lost its working elite. This outflow will deal economic, social, political, and intellectual damage on the republic.” (Kabar, May 11.)

    UZBEKISTAN

    The opposition press is paying particular attention to the appeal of the Uzbek president to let Russian business privatize Uzbek enterprises. Analysts suspect the Kremlin’s loyal attitude to the events in Andijan will be repaid with economic concessions. “Moscow stands to gain from the weakness of the Uzbek president. Russia is going to derive economic profit from the complicated situation of its Central Asian ally. Recently, high-ranking Russian officials and top managers of state monopolies have become frequent visitors in Tashkent.” (Ferghana.ru, May 12). “At a meeting in Sochi, Islam Karimov thanked Vladimir Putin for assistance, and announced his readiness to sell to Russian business a share of Uzbek mining industry and production facilities. Obviously, this is the price of support rendered by Moscow to Tashkent in May-June 2005.” (Ferghana.ru, May 15.)

    TAJIKISTAN

    The main theme is the future of the Rogun hydro power station. The media are writing in detail about the problems of delayed construction. They express the opinion that the mutual interests of Russia and Tajikistan will help overcome the discord and facilitate the completion of the project. “It is extremely important for Russia today to seal its economic and political presence in the region by translating declarations of intentions into concrete and steel. In this way, it will reinforce politics with economic considerations… For Tajikistan, this project is a chance to get out of the decade-long economic collapse, and to raise its role and prestige in regional politics.” (Avesta, May 4.)

    The press is increasingly concerned that Russia is largely pursuing political goals by implementing projects in Tajikistan (such as the Rogun or Sangtudin hydro power stations). “There is still time to revise the transfer of these facilities to Russia so as not to threaten Tajik independence, and not only in the energy sphere.” (Millat, May 4.) “The Tajik people are becoming disenchanted with statements by Russian officials about their plans for electricity exports, and the reduction of Tajikistan’s role in the projects… We badly need foreign investment. However, experts believe that the government should act in a way that would not prejudice the independence of our country.” (Nadjot, May 11.)

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