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    The CIS and Baltic press on Russia

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    The press is apprehensive about Vladimir Putin's participation in the NATO summit in Bucharest, fearing that his presence may prompt the participants to delay the decision to give Ukraine and Georgia NATO's Membership Action Plan. "Vladimir Putin is going to attend the summit in Bucharest in order to make sure that its outcome is favorable for Russia. Only he can say whether he hopes to influence NATO's decision by his presence. But U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said that third countries have no right to influence NATO's decisions on expansion, and this statement shows that the alliance has misgivings about Putin's influence... Even if Kiev and Tbilisi are not put on NATO's path this time, the main thing is to prevent everyone from attributing this to Moscow's influence. NATO simply cannot afford this to happen." (Parnu Postimees, March 26).


    Commentators believe that participants in the Bucharest summit may concentrate on the Russian President. "For the first time, Putin promised to grace the summit with his presence... Everyone is waiting to see what he will do. He may wreck the summit." (Neatkariga Rita Avize, March 27).

    "The Putin factor has completely demoralized the summit's organizers because NATO officials are discussing one topic only - what Putin will say... One gets the impression that they are simply afraid of Putin." (Chas, April 1).

    The reluctance of some European countries to strain relations with Russia, and Washington's intention to get Moscow's consent for missile defense elements deployment in Europe, are reducing the chances of the two post-Soviet republics to join NATO in the near future. "The world public is waiting for a super-scandal with baited breath... But neither Ukraine nor Georgia will be given NATO's Action Plan. It is much more important for Bush to reach compromise with Russia on the deployment of the U.S. missile defense shield in Europe before the end of his presidential term than to expand the alliance to embrace two poor republics." (Telegraf, March 31).

    The national press is indignant at Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for reprimanding the Latvian government for allowing a march by former legionnaires of the Latvian Waffen SS battalion. "The Russian foreign minister hurled one more slanderous accusation against the Latvian Republic... Lavrov should not blame the mirror for showing a crooked face. The U.S.S.R. was number one aggressor in Finland, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania... The Letts are not obliged to bury this Soviet aggression in oblivion. The struggle against the Red fascists, who treacherously occupied Latvia and destroyed its statehood, was our obligation and our right... Today's Russia is also involved in crimes against the Baltic nations. And this stigma has not been removed by the current Russian rulers who can only lie and threaten, but are unable to apologize in order to pave the way to reconciliation." (Latvijas Avize, April 1).


    Some publications discussed Gazprom's potential decision to use rubles instead of the falling dollar in settling accounts with customers. "In expert opinion, if Gazprom switches to rubles, Lithuanian gas importers will have to pay more for gas, if the dollar continues dropping... Although prices on gas are controlled by the government, the Lietuvos Dujos, which buys gas from Gazprom, may ask the state committee on energy price control to raise tariffs for consumers." (Lietuvos Zinios, March 27).

    The media are quoting Belarusian political analysts as saying that Washington is violating the 2004 Budapest memo under which signatories may not impose sanctions against Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan; this violation could provoke Minsk into a renouncement of nuclear neutrality. "Experts are emphasizing that this does not mean that Belarus will go nuclear. But Minsk will receive a legal opportunity to host Russian nuclear weapons on its territory. Now, if the United States toughens its economic sanctions, Belarus will be able not only to use this 'nuclear right,' but also to demand that Russia should extend such a guarantee to all members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization." (Respublika, March 29).


    Most observers believe that in suppressing the opposition and ignoring Western accusations of a lack of democracy, the Belarusian president relies primarily on Moscow's support. "The tactic of the Belarusian authorities towards the West... is as primitive as the actions of spetsnaz [special forces] during the opposition's demonstrations - they decide either to beat the protesters or not... Politically and psychologically this tactic in respect of Europe and the United States is based on the following saying -- whom the good lord (Russia) a hand lends, no one (the West) in the way stands." (Belorusskiye Novosti, March 29).

    Opposition journalists are lashing out at the Kremlin for nurturing plans for the political and cultural absorption of Belarus. They are stressing that Moscow's imperial ambitions may set the two nations at loggerheads. "Russian policymakers seem not to understand well what they are offering, Lukashenko may agree to the anschlus but it will result in tough confrontation between our people and countries. Belarusians will never accept the loss of independence, and will resist by launching a national-liberation struggle. (Khartiya 97, March 28).


    Many authors are emphasizing that Moscow has lost its dominant role amongst the post-Soviet republics. "Ukraine's NATO entry may be either delayed or precipitated, but Russia will not be able to influence it. Russia has no opportunities for blackmail - the gas wars of the last three years have shown that Russia depends on Ukraine for gas as much as Ukraine depends on Russia... Russia lost all levers of influence over Ukraine when it ceased to be not only a Soviet-style global power but even a regional leader. It has lost its key role in the post-Soviet space." (Delo, March 31).

    The media believe that the growth of Russian nationalism is largely facilitated by the tacit support of the authorities. "Since the start of this year, Russia has set a record in race hate crimes... According to various estimates, there are about 70,000-80,000 neo-Nazis in Russia... The authorities regularly promise to 'clean the streets of the Nazi rabble' but human rights champions believe that their measures are far from sufficient. Moreover, some officials openly sympathize with neo-Nazis. State Duma Vice Speaker Sergei Baburin has taken part in the Slavic Union's marches several times." (24, April 1).


    The press is writing that President Bush accepted Putin's invitation to make a lightning visit to Sochi after the Bucharest NATO summit because both leaders want to create a favorable background for bilateral relations before they are replaced by their successors. "They will hardly resolve all their differences at once, and for this reason their main task is to alleviate the worst of these... For the U.S. leader, this is the last chance to improve relations with Russia before Putin steps down. During his unplanned visit to Russia, Bush is hoping to improve mutual understanding on the missile shield, Kosovo's independence, and NATO's expansion." (Press-Obozreniye, March 28).


    The media claim that Russia should understand that it needs a strong Armenia and not worsen the dependent position of its strategic ally. In connection with this, certain hopes are set on the new Russian president. "By gradually depriving Yerevan of its independence, Moscow is loosing a strong partner on the international scene. Russia should not try to turn Armenia into an obedient and dependent country, but rather help it become a regional power that will help defend Russia's interests... But things are not so bad because Vladimir Putin's successor is Dmitry Medvedev, who is known as a liberal and progressive politician. (Pakagits, March 29).

    Experts are worried about a future hike in gas prices. "It is no secret that Putin's Russia has been using gas as a geopolitical weapon in its relations with its neighbors and partners, waiting for them to make concessions in exchange for acceptable gas prices... The question is, what claims will Moscow make in exchange for the comparatively small or gradual increase in gas prices? Maybe it will require a new strategic object?.. Moscow may even ask for the right to build a new nuclear power plant on Armenian territory." (Pakagits, March 26).


    Journalists are speculating on the role that the notorious "Russian factor" will play in the expansion of NATO. The Russian president's intention to attend the Bucharest NATO summit raised concerns among experts. "Putin's arrival means that Georgia will not be given NATO's Membership Action Plan. Putin has contacts with European leaders and he is sure about it." (Saakartvelos Respublika, March 26).

    The media refer to the expected decision to grant Georgia and Ukraine the Membership Action Plan as a test of sorts which will show the degree of member states' independence from Russia's dictatorship. "The summit in Bucharest will be a test both for NATO's stability and for Russia's diplomacy. The decision, whatever it will be, will be a serious breakthrough - it will either be a blow to Russia's weakening position in the post-Soviet area, or an example of Russia's unprecedented influence on NATO's decisions." (24 Saati, March 29).


    The press notes that Russia has managed to split NATO into two camps - the United States and "the new Europe" support inviting Tbilisi and Kiev to join NATO, while Western Europe opposes it because it is afraid of Russia's negative reaction. "The bid by Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO is a headache... If rapprochement with Ukraine and Georgia is postponed, there will be no improvement in the situation, while Russia's reaction will not become less hostile in the future." (Zerkalo, Apil 1).

    Experts are positive about the signing of the memorandum on the construction of the Kazvin - Resht - Astara railroad. It will connect Azerbaijan and Iran, and will be a part of the north-south international transport corridor, which will connect Europe with the Indian Ocean. The project, which is to be implemented with Russia's participation, has been frozen for a long time because of the United States and EU's position of isolating Iran. Experts predict that the participants in the project will face opposition from Western countries. "The project is not likely to be launched because of the opposition of Western countries which are the main potential users of the north-south corridor. The United States opposes any development of economic relations with Iran, accusing the country of developing nuclear weapons and supporting international terrorism." (Ekho Azerbaijana, March 31).


    Analysts say Russia will not send troops to Afghanistan but may give NATO transport corridors because the alliance's continued operation in that country is in its interests. "In the past Russia supported the U.S. operation in Afghanistan. At that time strategists in Moscow believed that a prolonged war would damage the American economy and make it less efficient because building up military muscles indefinitely is impossible... The U.S. presence in Afghanistan is in Moscow's interests - it helps achieve the goal which the limited contingent of Soviet forces failed to do - to create a buffer zone defending Russia's southern border from the radical Islamic world." (Gazeta.kz, March 26).

    Public figures argue that Russian neo-Nazi groups have penetrated into Kazakhstan. "Skinhead youth groups in Russia who have raised the banners of fascism and chauvinism have gained so much strength that they have spread their activity to our land... There are skinhead groups in Petropavlovsk and Pavlodar. There are night clubs there where admission is permitted by the skin color." (Aikyn, March 28).


    The media warn that the Kremlin's flirtation with nationalist groups can lead to Russia's break-up. "Regrettably, there are a number of state figures in Russia who support the ethnic supremacy of the Russian people in the hierarchy of the peoples of Russia. The authorities themselves set up the moderate nationalist party Rodina, which quickly became not so moderate. If one recalls the recent past and the fate of the Soviet Union one can realize that the calls of nationalists are in fact calls for Russia to break up into pieces along ethnic lines. Obviously, these pieces will be far less competitive and become easy prey for other world powers." (De-facto, March 21).


    The opposition criticizes the hypocritical policy of the western democracies which are ready to support the totalitarian regimes in Asian countries in exchange for energy resources that are "independent from Russia". "The bloody regimes in Belarus and Turkmenistan are incommensurable and, more importantly, the West's reaction is incommensurable with the level of democracy in our countries. As Lukashenko is ostracized, European and American guests continue visiting Ashkhabad. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has held conferences in Ashkhabad. OSCE Secretary-General Marc Perrin de Brichambaut said he "valued highly the new initiatives of Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov"...U.S. Senator Lugar, a prominent human rights campaigner, after visiting Turkmenistan would like to see Berdymukhammedov in the United States. Can you imagine that?

    It is clear both Americans and Europeans want only two things from Turkmenistan: gas and gas bypassing Russia. Both the European official and the American senator could not care less about the human rights situation and democracy in Turkmenistan. All the laments about democracy in Belarus are of the same nature: they are not interested in democracy as such, they are concerned about the absence of anti-Russian rhetoric from the Belarusian government. And the absence of gas in Belarus makes the criticism of the Lukashenko regime ever more hysterical. (Gundogar, March 27).

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