The press has lashed out at Javier Solana, the European Union's High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, for saying that the Czech Republic and Poland should not automatically agree to host an American anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system on their territory. Journalists believe that western European politicians are striking deals with Russia at the expense of eastern European nations.
"It appears that the 'security' that the EU was supposed to grant us in our relations with Russia is a treacherous double-edged sword that Moscow and the self-centered, short-sighted and greedy states of old Europe are skillfully using to destroy the sovereignty of the former Soviet satellites... It is time for Estonia and its next-door neighbors to revise their foreign policy in order to wreck any agreements between Russia and Europe that would come at their expense." (Parnu Postimees, April 4).
Analysts doubt that Russia signed a border treaty with Latvia to improve its relations with the European Union.
"In signing a border treaty with Latvia, the Kremlin may be sending a positive signal to Brussels, but this is not the main purpose of the move because at the same time it is blocking the recognition of Kosovo's independence in the UN, an issue that is far more important to the EU than Russia's quarrel with a small member of the alliance. If Moscow really wanted to display goodwill towards the EU, it would meet the West halfway on the Iranian problem." (Nedelya, April 4.)
The press is very critical of Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov's appeal to the Russian people to boycott Estonian goods in protest against Tallinn's decision to relocate a monument to Soviet soldiers.
"Sergei Ivanov's scandalous appeal is just one of many examples of how the 'vertically integrated economy' is being used as a political weapon. The Kremlin and the political elite require both foreign and domestic enemies before the Duma elections in December and the presidential elections slated for next March. Today, Estonia is an outside enemy that is being subjected to a sound flogging. Domestic enemies have also been easy to find. They are the 'foreigners' who are no longer allowed to trade at popular markets selling food, clothes and other goods." (Diena, April 5).
"Transit policies are the prerogative of businessmen and government officials. But Sergei Ivanov decided that every citizen of Russia should take part in obstructing Estonia." (Biznes & Baltiya, April 4).
The press is watching the political crisis in Ukraine with concern. Journalists believe that the Kremlin's supporters are strengthening their position in the country.
"Even before, it was obvious that the reserves of Ukraine's pro-Western forces were almost exhausted and that the Kremlin's supporters were consolidating their position. The political upheavals in Kiev are demonstrating the extent to which pro-Moscow forces dominate government agencies and the media." (Lietuvos rytas, April 7).
Experts believe that the de facto transfer of Yukos property to groups close to the Kremlin is being covered up by the formal participation of Italian and British companies in the bargaining. They are convinced that the winner of the Enineftegaz [property of Eni and Enel] auction will resell the Yukos assets to Russian government-owned companies in exchange for definite preferences from Moscow.
"The participation of Western energy companies in the distribution of Yukos property between Kremlin-controlled Rosneft and Gazprom is supposed to make it look more elegant. At yesterday's auction, Italian energy companies purchased the gas assets of bankrupt Yukos, joining Britain's BP, which is helping the Russian government to dispose of corporate property that belonged to imprisoned Russian billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky in the hope of receiving gratitude." (Verslo zinios, April 5).
The press has noted Moscow's generally aloof position on Ukraine's procrastinated crisis but has not ruled out that the Kremlin will participate more actively in normalizing the situation. Observers believe that Ukraine will have to pay through the nose for such assistance both politically and economically.
"Moscow has already offered its 'services' in settling the conflict in Ukraine, which means they will be rendered. It will take time to get out of this mess. Given Ukraine's dependence on Russian energy resources, Russia may nail down its neighbor with a price rise on gas alone. There is no sense in deceiving oneself." (Versii, April 5).
"Russia is not idle. It is trying to be 'vital' for the Ukrainian authorities... Ukraine is again losing the right to make decisions independently... If the Orange win in Ukraine, what will prevent Gazprom from raising the price of gas to $100 per 1,000 cubic meters?" (Versii, April 4).
Some analysts believe that dialogue between Moscow and Kiev will be threatened the most if the Orange camp wins the early elections. Ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko "is acting in her own interests and in the interests of the U.S. and Europe... The Americans are hoping to draw a Tymoshenko-led Ukraine into NATO... The Europeans are sick and tired of depending on Russian gas pipelines. This is why they are trying to turn Ukraine into a pain in the neck for Moscow." (Versii, April 4).
Political commentators are convinced that a rapprochement with Russia could cost Moldova its sovereignty.
"If your country has no other choice but to buy Russian hydrocarbons, if it has no cash to pay its mounting bills, it has nothing left to do but sell its sovereignty to Moscow... By entering the EU, Moldova could develop its economy and political institutions. As an equal EU member, it would be able to take part in decision-making." (Moldova Azi, April 6).
Analysts point out that if Moscow wants to preserve its influence in Armenia, it should solve bilateral problems as soon as possible.
"Russian-Armenian problems are primarily economic. At the next elections, Russia will not find it difficult to preserve its influence in Armenia. However, if the sides do not come up with new approaches to the consolidation of their partnership and do not remove the existing difficulties, their problems will become political and will seriously affect the balance of forces in Armenia." (Hayots Ashkar, April 4).
Experts believe that Moscow is no longer interested in the continued existence of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
"Russia has stopped being cooperative in relations with other CIS nations... It seems that other CIS members need it more than Moscow. For this reason, when Kazakhstan or more rarely Belarus come up with new integration projects, Moscow, though it does not brush them aside like troublesome flies, never gives them any support." (168 zham, April 4).
Experts have been pointing out the connection between the events in Ukraine and Georgia.
"Events in such a big and interesting country as Ukraine are bound to have an effect on Georgia. It will not be long in coming... In Georgia it will have an impact on the revolution's prestige... The image of color revolutions has faded both in Ukraine and here. The assumption that such revolutions can lead a country out of a crisis is beginning to look like a myth." (Kviris Khronika, April 9-15).
"The partition of Ukraine is the worst-case scenario... It may again fall under Russia's influence. The Western-oriented Orange camp has failed to achieve stability." (Akhali Taoba, April 5).
Some analysts see the "hand of Moscow" doing all it can to further destabilize the situation in Ukraine in order to put more pressure on Georgia later on.
"Russia has its own scores to settle both with Georgia and Ukraine... But Russia does not have as much support in Georgia as [Prime Minister Viktor] Yanukovych has in Ukraine. Hence, Russia would like to influence Georgia using completely different methods. If Russia stops Ukraine from participating in Euro-Atlantic projects, it will then be able to deal with Georgia with renewed zeal." (Rezonansi, April 6).
The opposition press welcomes the U.S. secretary of state's declaration on Washington's resolve to develop relations with Russia's neighbors regardless of Moscow's response.
"Condoleezza Rice's statement... can only be interpreted as a clear warning to the Kremlin... Thus, predictions that in the near future former-Soviet republics will be the site of a decisive test of strength between Moscow and Washington are coming true. Azerbaijan is unlikely to be ignored because of its great geopolitical importance." (Echo, April 5).
An increasing number of Azerbaijani guest workers are receiving Russian citizenship. The opposition media see this as a direct threat to Azerbaijan's political independence.
"Russia is very interested in getting more citizens from among able-bodied guest workers. However, these people, say about 2 million Azerbaijanis with Russian passports, cannot exert serious influence on political issues [in Russia] by using their right to vote. But the same 2 million will have the right to vote in Azerbaijan if they also have Azerbaijani passports. They are therefore becoming a serious constituency that can exert tangible influence on political processes in Azerbaijan under the impact of Russian propaganda." (Echo, April 7).
The media report that Kazakhstan is planning to equip its army with Russian weapons.
"This year, Kazakhstan has adopted a new military doctrine. It provides for the formation of a professional army capable of rapid operational deployment in accordance with the highest international standards. Kazakhstan will also modernize its weapons and military hardware. Astana intends to step up cooperation with Russia in this area." (Nomad, April 9).
Analysts point to the consolidation of Kazakhstan's position as a regional leader. The media observe that although Moscow remains a priority partner, Astana, an exporter of hydrocarbons, can build relations with it and other foreign countries on better terms.
"As a vendor selling goods that are much in demand, Astana was sitting pretty and could bargain, all the more so since [Russian Prime Minister Mikhail] Fradkov [during his recent visit to Kazakhstan] had something to offer his hosts. In the near future, when the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline is completed, Russia will be in a position to pump more Kazakh oil to Europe on a new route." (Turkistan, April 5).
The opposition media have observed that parliamentary rule is enjoying increasing support in the CIS countries, especially Russia.
"Strong presidential power is becoming less popular even among CIS politicians who initially opted for it. Heated debates on transition to parliamentary rule are taking place in Russia despite Vladimir Putin's successful rule, and also in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, not to mention our Kyrgyzstan." (Agym, April 3).
As usual, the press has been writing much about repatriation of Russian speakers from Central Asia to Russia.
"There are not very many ethnic Russians who would like to resettle in their historic homeland... The government program on assisting voluntary resettlement in Russia of compatriots residing abroad does not provide for the allocation of money for them to travel with luggage to their chosen place of residence. They are only entitled to a refund at the point of arrival. Clearly, people are very cautious because of the bitter experience of their friends and relatives." (Ferghana.ru, April 5).
"More than half of ethnic Russians [in Uzbekistan] are pensioners, or, to be more precise, lonely and abandoned seniors... The problem is that all these people, who once guaranteed the cotton self-sufficiency of a huge country called the U.S.S.R., cut down forests and built huge power plants, are no longer needed at home [in Russia]. They are not covered by the [repatriation] program unless they are lucky enough to be the parents of a working young man." (Vesti.uz, April 7).
The opposition press believes that Russia stands to gain from a potential U.S. military action against Iran.
"The facts show that America's struggle against Iran will only benefit Russia... Experts predict that a war in Iran would push oil prices up to $80-100... The war would reduce Iran's prestige in the Middle East, the Caspian region and Central Asia, while America will have to leave Iraq, and will also lose its standing in Afghanistan and the Middle East. In that case, Russia would grow stronger and become a respected player in the Middle East, the Caspian, Central Asia and Afghanistan. U.S. air strikes will hurt Washington's image; Georgia's and Ukraine's NATO entry will be called into question. Both countries will come back to Russia." (Nigokh, April 4).
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