The press is jealous about improvements in relations between Moscow and Riga. "After the singing of the Russian-Latvian border treaty, Russia has started treating Latvia as a constructive partner. Yesterday Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov did not miss the opportunity to demonstrate his good attitude to Latvia by inviting Latvian President Valdis Zatlers to Moscow. "The retiring Latvian Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis compared the ratification of the border treaty with the Russian troops withdrawal from the Baltic nations... He said that the future generations would not have to worry about the inviolability of national borders or national security." (Postimees, December 12).
However, some commentators are warning against illusions in the big neighbor's foreign policy. "Of course, the Latvian President may go to Moscow, admire Red Square and have a cup of tea with Vladimir Putin, but will this fill with oil the pipeline that has been empty for years? Will Russia stop chanting about 'human rights violations' in the Baltic countries? There is no doubt that Latvia is in a better foreign policy position now than Estonia, but the Latvians themselves are somewhat skeptical about this success." (Postimees, December 12).
Assessing the border treaty as a major event, the majority of publications are skeptical about the prospects for bilateral cooperation. They believe that despite formal signs of rapprochement, Moscow and Riga are still unable to find a common language. "Depending on the specific situation, Russia will alternate the position of a good interrogator with the bad one ...but will not acknowledge the fact of occupation." (Diena, December 12). "Lavrov did not forget to mention that the situation with non-citizens in Latvia is not normal.' (Niatkariga rita avise, December 19).
Analysts are writing about positive changes in the Russian economy and see them as good prospects for Lithuanian business. "Although in 2008 very much will be said about the elections of the Russian president and the domestic political future, there are some other moments, which are worth mentioning. Having stabilized its economic situation, paid its foreign debt and saved a reserve of hundreds of billions of dollars, the ruling Russian elite has decided to improve the infrastructure and diversify its economy. Needless to say, Lithuanian business has hosts of opportunities for taking part in this. (Verslas 2008, the Verslo zinios annual publication, December 22).
Some publications are discussing the consequences of the conflict around the Bronze Soldier in Tallinn in the spring of 2007. Observers are talking about the ensuing damage to the Estonian economy and the worsening of interethnic strife. "The Estonians and Russians... living in the country have become further apart. Some integration existed before the April events, but now everything is backtracking. The Russians are even more reluctant to become Estonian citizens because this won't bring them honor, and may eventually turn into a dangerous fifth column." (Valstibe, December 19). "Latvian businessmen are going to 'put a monument' to the Estonian Prime minister who initiated the transfer of the monument to Russian warriors who died in action during Tallinn's liberation from the Nazis, because all Russian transit flows have been redirected from Estonia to Latvian ports." Verslo zinios, December 20).
A report about the granting of the Russian stabilization credit to Belarus has given many publications an excuse to discuss Minsk's economic and political absorption by Russia. "Moscow does not demand instant subjugation to its will. It will find gradual economic surrender quite suitable. Money will be given in portions in exchange for some reciprocal favors. Thus, in foreign policy, Belarus will have to act as a scare crow to scare away the Americans with their ABM system in Poland.... In the economy, Minsk will open its oil-and-gas industry and other appealing branches for Russian consumers. Although Belarusian officials are declaring that the credit has nothing to do with the selling of property... Most important, Alexander Lukashenko will be compelled to go for a real rather than decorative union [of the two states] with Vladimir Putin in the driving seat." (Belorussky partisan, December 21). "It seems that Russia has decided to stifle Belarus in its fraternal grip. The longer, the fewer chances to get out of it... 'Continuation of the banquet' will not be free for Belarus." (Solidarity, December 21).
Some media are discussing contradictory Russian-Belarusian relations in the context of the recent Duma elections. "United Russia's victory in the December 2 parliamentary elections has destroyed the remaining hopes of the Belarusian authorities for domestic political changes in Russia... Needless to say, there are still uncertainties about the presidential race in March 2008 but... the Russian ruling class will continue to pursue the same course. It means that Russia will be gradually reducing its financial support to the Belarusian economy." (Our opinion, December 19).
The press had a negative reaction to Vladimir Putin's address to his Ukrainian colleague when he spoke about "Ukraine's peculiar interpretation of common events, the efforts to portray war criminals as heroes,... attacks on the monuments and graves of Soviet liberation-warriors, and the growing discrimination against the Russian language." (Gazeta po-ukrainsky, December 19 with references to the Russian President's official site.) Commentators are indignant at Moscow's demonstration of imperial ambitions with a view to manipulating their own citizens on the eve of the upcoming elections. "Statements about growing Russophobic ambitions in Ukraine are beneath criticism... Vladimir Putin has to be a focus of the news... Apparently, this is some information campaign to fan up the patriotic sentiments and to recall the great mission of defending the Russian-speakers. (UNIAN, December 20). "The correspondence between the two presidents has revealed the desire of the Russian Lord to become a new Stalin. He is irritated by any manifestations of independence from those states, which he'd prefer to see his vassals." (Den, December 22). If the president said there are enemies... one has to fight them. Putin is not likely to limit himself to this statement... Indeed, how power can be abandoned when there are still live Bandera supporters in the neighboring country?" (Ukrainian Pravda, December 12). "With the Orange advent to power, Putin has lost his patience... He sounds very different from past Russian sweet statements - yes, we are ready to work with any Ukrainian government." (Gaseta po-Kiyevsky, December 20).
The media believe that the transfer of power pattern, which guarantees the continuity of the ruling class, will set an example for Moldova in 2009. "The Kremlin's new move... shows that the tsarist dynasty based on succession is being replaced with the clans governed by economic interests... This model may be attractive for the pseudo-democratic post-Soviet societies, such as in Moldova... Let's not have any illusions - Moldovan society is not immune to this model. Let's remember that according to the recent poll, Putin enjoyed the biggest trust among Moldovans." (Timpul de Dimeneata, December 19).
Journalists do not agree with the opinion of their Western colleagues who claim that the United States and the European Union will reward Russia with Transdnestr's independence in response to its recognition of Kosovo. They are writing that Russia is not likely to go for such a deal because without it, the Kremlin has more opportunities for political bargaining. "It's better for Moscow if nothing is decided. Putin has proved that he only wins as a result of riots or all kinds of problems that are happening in post-Soviet republics or the ex-socialist bloc... There is no doubt that the Kremlin can well afford to wait. (Jurnal de Chisinau, December 21).
Domestic political processes in Russia are causing responses in Armenia. "Just three months ago, the Russian President declared that there would be no successors, but that there would be several nominees vying for the presidential office. Vladimir Putin was trying to keep the intrigue going to the very end, keeping his influence. However, recently the corridors of power became a venue of serious struggle, even of a war between security-related services. In this situation, Putin decided to put an end to the intrigue and declare the name of his successor...The appointment of Dmitry Medvedev by Putin as a presidential nominee is a crafty trick of the neo-Soviet leaders who want to pose as democrats, while firmly gripping power." (Aikakan Zhamanak, December 21).
Political scientists believe that as Putin's successor, Medvedev is of less interest to official Yerevan than Sergei Ivanov would have been. "The Armenian elite missed the train... First, despite all predictions, its old friend Sergei Ivanov did not become the prime minister. This meant an end to all rosy dreams about the Armenian lobby at the top in Moscow... [And] one more fiasco - Vladimir Putin has named Dmitry Medvedev his successor... Now in order to resolve all questions in Moscow... they will have to start almost from scratch, making new bets in the Russian roulette policy." (Iravunq, December 19).
Experts maintain that Georgia has harmed itself by renouncing direct contacts with Moscow. "We have actually given up a direct dialogue with Moscow... and have decided to talk with it through our American and European partners. In reply, we got an adequate response from Moscow. Now it does not want to talk with us - 'What's the point of debates with the Georgian authorities - they are fully dependent on the West...' The West has more opportunities to help us. But the huge minus is that we have fallen out of this game. The West has too many problems of its own and quite often they are more serious." (Rezonansi, December 20).
Some media do not preclude Russia's recognition of Abkhazia in the near future. "Whatever it may be, but Russia will try to settle the Abkhazian problem before the Olympics [in Sochi in 2014]... Putin will try to lay the way for Medvedev by settling the outstanding issues before the his term expires... If this problem persists and Putin's successor will have to resolve it, it may happen that the Winter Olympics in Sochi will suffer the same fate (boycott) as the Moscow Olympics during Russia's invasion of Afghanistan." (Georgia Online, December 19).
Commentators believe that the United States is losing to Russia on the Iranian issue because it has adopted the wrong position as regards Moscow. "This has not happened for a long time. The American President is talking about his undisguised concern but nobody is even listening - let him talk. And we will do what we see fit and nobody is going to order us around. This is no longer even a challenge but a statement of fact... Bush has [long] been advised to be tougher with Putin... But Bush was too benevolent, and seems to have regretted this conduct before long... The time and opportunities are gone... The Russian President has changed the tune... The Russian leader has felt his power and the weakness of his American counterpart... Washington has felt that Russia gained power and confidence... A confident, strong and rich Russia with its new "vacuum bomb", and the permanently developing China with its constant tricks in space - this is too much even for the world's superpower." (Zerkalo, December 20).
Observers are afraid that Russia may start bargaining with the West over Nagorny Karabakh. "Russia is a strong supporter of Serbia, promising that Kosovo will not receive independence, but it does not say so about Karabakh. They key to resolving the Karabakh issue is in Russia's pocket... It can decide to make a concession to the West waiting for something in return... A frozen war in the region is a hindrance to Western plans. But Russia is not strong enough to block Western plans all the time. After some bargaining, Russia and the West may use Karabakh as a bargaining chip." (Musavat, December 20).
The press is concerned about the transportation of hydrocarbons to Western markets. Analysts believe that out of three export options - to Europe via Russia, to Europe bypassing Russia, and to China, the first one seems to be the best so far. "The trilateral agreement to build a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Russia through Kazakhstan, signed this week in Moscow, may be called a revolutionary event in the entire Central Asian energy policy... For the near future, this project confirms the stability of traditional gas exports from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to the foreign markets." (Gazeta.kz, December 25).
At the same time, Astana is not going to give up on other projects. Diversifying export routes, it is using the competition between Russia, the West and China, but Kazakhstan is not limiting its export potentialities to just one pipeline. It is going to build another one. The Kazakh national gas company KazMunaiGaz and the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) have already started joint feasibility studies to justify investment into the construction of a gas pipeline from Kazakhstan to China." (Gazeta.kz, December 21).
The press is traditionally interested in problems of guest workers. "The introduction of new Russian laws is making it easier for the migrants to get a permit for residence and a job." (Agym, December 21).
The media are worried about the intention of Russian authorities to lower the quotas for guest workers. Analysts believe that this will step up illegal migration and mass deportation of illegal migrants from Russia to Kyrgyzstan. "This year, Russia officially allowed six million jobs [for guest workers], whereas next year, the number will not exceed two million... Now our compatriots are envious of the Belarusians and are hoping that Kyrgyzstan will manage to agree on some benefits for their compatriots." (MSN, December 21).
One of the main subjects is also linked with migration to Russia. The media are quoting the data pointing to the enormous contribution of guest workers to the Tajik economy and stressing that Russia also stands to gain from guest workers. "2007 should see a new record on the money transfers by guest workers to the CIS countries. The Tajik National Bank reported record payments yesterday. From its information, in January-October alone, money transfers from Russia and Kazakhstan amounted to $1.18 billion, which is a 46.6% increase over the 10 first months of 2006. Money transfers by guest workers exceed one third of the Tajik GDP. Russia has nothing to lose from this practice. The Russian Federal Service reports that this year guest workers will have produced $50 billion dollars worth of goods, sending home only $13 billion." (Varorud, December 20).
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The growing outright rivalry between the United States and China gives Russia more foreign policy weight, enabling it to assume the role of a balancer. So far it has been doing so rather skillfully. Today it may participate in a joint naval exercise with China that Beijing positions as outwardly anti-American. But tomorrow it can team up with the naval forces of the Old World.