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    WHAT THE RUSSIAN PAPERS SAY

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    MOSCOW, April 1, 2004. (RIA Novosti)

    KOMMERSANT

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has published his first article in his new capacity, where he commented on the key problems of Russia's foreign policy. The article, written specifically for Kommersant and The Wall Street Journal, reads as follows:

    "International public opinion is asking where Russia is going. This is not the first time this question has been posed in the last fifteen years... President Vladimir Putin, after winning re-election for a second term, has set a series of new large-scale tasks: GDP should be doubled in the next ten years, a competitive market has to be created and on its basis worthy living standards for the Russian population have to be guaranteed. He declared that Russia had made 'an irreversible choice in favor of freedom' and that this choice would strengthen the foundations of democracy and civil society.

    It is obvious that all these goals can only be achieved through Russia's further integration into the global economy and the continuation of the country's multi-dimensional policy designed to develop mutually advantageous ties with its CIS neighbors, the European Union, the U.S., China, India, Japan, and countries in Asia, Latin America and other regions. There is simply no place for the 'imperial ambitions' that some try to attach to Russia. We have real experience in protecting Russia's national interests, but without resorting to aggressive methods or confrontation."

    TRUD

    When commenting NATO's expansion to the Baltic states, Colonel General Vladimir Kulakov, Federation Council member and doctor of military sciences, told a Trud correspondent:

    "It does not look too promising for Russia that the NATO club has received new members. The country's strategic position and the balance of forces at its western borders are changing for the worse. Somehow we are leaving aside the fact that admission of the Baltic states to the alliance is a direct violation of our agreement with NATO about the non-deployment of military facilities near our borders. In fact, Americans and their allies have shown us once again that they are not going to consider our interests. NATO bases in the Baltic states will create problems for the Baltic Fleet and will make our access to the European coast more difficult.

    Yet the trend goes even further. Georgia and Azerbaijan have spoken of their desire to join the military-political union of "the civilised countries". NATO instructors in these countries are already training armed forces according to NATO standards. As a result, we will find ourselves in a ring of NATO bases".

    NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA

    Hundreds of Aslan Abashidze's supporters are preparing a protest march to Tbilisi, the newspaper reports. Three dozens of buses have been gathered in the centre of Batumi to take followers of the Adzharian autonomy's leader to the Georgian capital, where they intend to protest against the preliminary results of the parliamentary elections.

    The still celebrating its success anti-Abashidze opposition has come out from the half underground and is inclined to view the Sunday elections results as a kind of referendum on Abashidze's further rule, Nezavisimaya Gazeta continues. Koba Khabazi, head of the Our Adzharia organisation, supported by the Georgian leadership, told the newspaper that he would try to call early elections of the autonomy's head, though legally Abashidze still has one and a half years to rule.

    In Batumi, there are numerous slogans on the buildings calling for Abashidze's resignation, Nezavisimaya Gazeta points out.

    GAZETA

    Russia's new Education Minister Andrei Fursenko has discussed the outlook for introducing religious subjects in schools with Patriarch of Russia Alexy II. The minister promised the head of the Russian Orthodox Church that religion in school (not only Orthodoxy) will be presented "in cultural and historical aspects", and the ministry will do "without cracks and revolutions" when introducing it in the curriculum.

    After the meeting, Fursenko specified that he was referring not to "teaching religion, but to providing knowledge on the basics of culture and not only Orthodox culture". According to him, "religion is the humanitarian ground of any civilisation, and properly taught Russian history, including the religious aspect, should be included in education".

    "No one is talking about bringing priests to schools," he specified. The main goal, according to him, is to make it "prestigious to be a good person".

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