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Transition Nations Press Review: Russia�s Relations With East And West

Prague, 9 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Relations between Russia and the United States and NATO, and between Russia and other nations of Eastern and Central Europe occupy much recent press commentary in the transition nations.

KRASNAYA ZVEZDA: Certain announcements and actions of Norway seem gratuitous

Using Norway as a case in point, writer Dmitry Elin complains in Krasnaya Zvezda that NATO increasingly is active militarily near Russia's borders. Norway is the only NATO country that shares a land border with Russia. Elin says that North Europe "traditionally has been considered the most stable and conflict free region of the continent" and Russia has been reducing systematically its military presence in its own northeast.

He writes: "Based on these facts, certain announcements and actions of Norway seem gratuitous. In mid-January, a number of high-ranking Norwegian government officials and the Storting (parliament) started to develop the hackneyed thesis of 'the threat to Norway from Russia.' Norway systematically has been increasing military activities in regions which are sensitive to Russia. Russian representatives have more than once expressed their anxiety about the active preparations to carry out NATO military exercises Barents Peace 99 close to the Russian border."

The writer asks, "Why is it planned to polish peacemaking skills in the north while all real and potential hot spots are much further south?"

NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA: The U.S. Administration is pursuing a methodical anti-Russian policy

Andrei Revunov, writing in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, cites what he says is evidence that the U.S. administration of President Bill Clinton is pursuing a methodical anti-Russian policy "on the territory of post-Soviet states." He says: "Specialists of the CIA's Information and Analytical Directorate are of the opinion that Russian influence is currently strong in Belarus, Armenia, Tajikistan, and Moldova. Thus appraising the place and role of Russia in the Eurasian political arena, analysts of the CIA believe that at present there are no conflicting spheres of influence between Russia and the United States, but that Azerbaijan, Ukraine, and the Baltic States are among potential stumbling blocks, since they are objects of interest to both countries."

Revunov goes on: "Washington's rush to the Baltic States and the Caspian region already have been given enough attention by the media. The United States has, to a greater or lesser degree, already achieved its aims in these regions. The U.S. administration itself admits that Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, which are historically in the scope of Russia's political interests, are currently under the total political protection of the United States. Apparently, everything is equally fine in Azerbaijan, especially taking into account the mechanism of shuttle diplomacy used by the United States as regards oil and gas deposits and the Baku-Dzheikhan pipeline."

The writer says: "Meanwhile, relations between Washington and Kiev have until now remained in the shadows. Let us dwell on them in detail. The presence of Ukraine on the aforementioned list of potentially conflicting spheres is caused by the general position of the U.S. White House, which believes that Ukraine should become a counterweight to Russia in Eastern Europe and the CIS integration process. This approach may serve as evidence of U.S. intention to conduct a policy of encouraging political opposition between Kiev and Moscow, which is in fact currently being observed. The scenario of American penetration in this case is analogous to the one tested on the Baltic states: via the declared acceptance of Ukraine into NATO."

NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA: An absurd situation has thus developed. Moscow �

Also in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Alexander Sergeev comments an what he calls the strange attitude of Georgia, which, he writes, "admits" that Russian troops stationed in Georgia are a stabilizing factor but makes evident its disdain for them.

Sergeev writes: "An absurd situation has thus developed. Moscow, Tbilisi and Yerevan equally acknowledge that the presence of the Russian Caucasus detachment in the two republics is the only factor of stability in the region. However, Georgia attempts to demonstrate its disdainful attitude towards Russian servicemen in every way possible. As for Armenia, it sees Russia as its chief strategic partner in the military-political sphere and, based on this position, is building a system of national security and mutual relations with the Russian detachment on its territory."

The writer continues: "Unlike Yerevan, Tbilisi purposefully makes difficulties for the Russian troops. This concerns first of all the introduction of fiscal sanctions against the grouping. After Georgia adopted a new customs code, despite its article on duty-free import of cargoes for the Caucasus detachment, Georgian customs officials started charging duties on commodities for the grouping. Soviet passports were declared invalid on the territory of Georgia starting in January 1999. At the same time, practically all family members of Russian servicemen in Georgia possess this type of passport. The situation may well come to the point when Georgian frontier guards will not let Russians out of the republic."

RESONANS: The Communists are preparing for revenge

In Georgia, the daily Resonans raises the specter of a communist comeback. The newspaper comments: "The Communists are preparing for revenge. This reflects closely events in Russia, where die-hard communist Yevgeny Primakov uses Yeltsin's sickness and appoints experienced communists to high posts. The events in Russia are reflected in the activity of the United Georgian Communist Party wing of Georgian communists. One of this wing's Central Committee members is the former security minister, Igor Giorgadze, widely considered an international terrorist." [Giorgadze's present whereabouts are unknown; he is believed to be in hiding in another country.]

Resonans says: "Revenge is planned in the oncoming elections (Georgia has parliamentary elections scheduled for November). The aim is clear -- bring communists into the Georgian political spectrum. The plan of action is clear as well -- rehabilitate Giorgadze's personality and stir sympathy towards communists amongst the socially deprived masses."

VECHERNAYA KAZAN: Everywhere ministers of finance are the same

Tatarstan's First Deputy Premier Ravil Muratov comments in Vechernaya Kazan after returning from budget negotiations in Moscow that "one has to keep his money in his own wallet."

The Russian Ministry of Finance has called for centralization of tax collections among all the Russian republics. Muratov commments: "Ministers of finance -- everywhere they are the same. Everywhere they want to put everybody in a lineup and order, 'Stop! About face!'"

Muratov continues: "All the checkups showed that, compared to other regions, Tatarstan is using its privileges (financial autonomy) in a businesslike way. We don't dwell in luxury and don't throw our money around. (Today and tomorrow) the package of treaties, including the interbudget treaty, will be initialed. I can say that the position of Tatarstan in the Russian Federation will not deteriorate."

RESPUBLIKA: It is strange to observe economic issues being dealt with by political means

Last week, the Russian oil company Lukoil stopped supplying raw material to Lithuania's Mazeikiai refinery. Two Lithuanian newspapers take positions on the event.

Daily Respublika comments: "Lithuanian officials state that this is a malignant and illegal action taken by Russia. Oil tycoons hark to the time of an economic blockade. Lithuanian officials decide to send Russia a note asking for an explanation."

The paper says that the Russian Foreign Ministry obviously has enough problems with Kosovo, Iraq, and the United States without concerning itself with the oil business. The commentary says: "It is strange to observe such economic issues being dealt with by political means." It says: "This is another example of professionals trying to hide their ignorance with politics."

It concludes: "The Lithuanian Ministry of Economy must make arrangements with the ambitious Russian Lukoil. It is not easy to negotiate with Lukoil but Lithuania has no other supplier. Alas, the Lithuanian Ministry of Economy has demonstrated an absolute ignorance."

LIETUVOS AIDAS: Who can remember when the Russian winter wasn't cold?

Lietuvos Aidas comments: "We have been and are destined to live near the absolutely unpredictable Russian bear." The paper says that the action may appear to be based on pure emotion or one can point to some economic reason for stopping supplies, such as the cold winter in Russia. But, it says, "Who can remember when the Russian winter wasn't cold?" The newspaper says that Lukoil's interest in buying 33 percent of the Mazeikiai refinery is no secret, nor is Russia's economic interest in the Baltic region.

DIENA: We have to rectify political errors

The Latvian press likewise concerns itself with a scheduled visit of Lukoil President Vagit Alekperov to Latvia and Lithuania. Diena publishes a letter by Mayor Aivars Lembergs to Latvian Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs urging a more conciliatory approach to Russia. Lembergs writes: "Certain levels of government and indeed certain individual politicians must initiate more active contacts with Russia and we have to rectify our political errors. Government endeavors to attract Western support haven't resulted in success and further plodding may result in Latvia's casting away the Russian market."

In response, the Latvian foreign minister acknowledged Lembergs' right to express his opinion, but said this wouldn't change Latvia's foreign policy. Diena comments that Birkavs has refused to make public any similar letters. The paper quotes Virkavs as saying that Lembergs fails to consider "the political and historical context of Latvian-Russian relations." In another commentary, Diena says that politics doesn't seem to be affecting Russian oil transit quantities, which have increased despite Russian disapproval of Latvia's policies.

NARODNAYA VOLIA: The government wants to return the Belarus to the times of slavery

In Bulgaria and Belarus, recent press comment focuses on internal human rights. The Belarus daily Narodnaya Volia says that restrictions on the rights of collective farmers to seek other employment amounts to a reestablishment of serfdom. The newspaper says: "There was peasant slavery in Russia until 1861. It took a little bit more than a hundred years for sovereign Belarus to revive the practice of serfdom."

The paper says: "In January 1999, Navapolatsak city council and the regional council of the neighboring city of Polatsak concluded an agreement which bans Polatsak companies and organizations from employing those who have worked in the kolkhozes (collective farms). The kolkhozes today are bankrupt and need reforming. People run away. The authorities cannot keep the people there. The introduction of an employment ban isn't just another violation of human rights. The government wants to return the republic to the times of slavery. Slaves are silent and don't demand quality food."

KONTINENT: An undercover war is being waged between many Bulgarians

In Bulgaria's daily Kontinent, commentator Dimiter Lazarov writes that economic reforms have aroused hostilities in an unprepared society. Lazarov says: "Currently, an undercover war is being waged between many Bulgarians - the Bulgaria of private businesses, the Bulgaria of state employees, the Bulgaria of students, of medics, of teachers, of unemployed and even the Bulgaria of members of hunting and fishing sports clubs. All those Bulgarians are united only in their negative social attitudes, their hatreds -- be it toward the electricity utility or the tax authorities. The enemy already has no definite political hue: the boss at work, the neighbor, the business competitor, the corrupt or even the simply lazy bureaucrat is The Enemy. For the average Bulgarian, any change in his status quo, his professional career or his income is a dramatic event."

Lazarov asks: "Is it so very difficult to link economic reform with social policies? Up to date information technologies allow not only for the gathering of data but also for the creation of nationwide models for the development of human resources." He says: "For an economy in the process of privatization, this simply is a must. And until developing such models becomes a priority for the ruling class, the destructive processes in society are unlikely to come to an end."

SLOVO KYRYZSTANA: There is no financial crisis

Correspondents in Kyrgyzstan report that there has been no recent independent press commentary. The governmental Slovo Kyryzstana carries a discussion by newly appointed National Bank Chairman Ulan Sarbanov denying that the plunging value of the som signals an economic crisis. Saranov argues: "There has not been and is not now any financial crisis in Kyrgyzstan. The som has fallen due to other reasons. There is a mass of money substitutes -- debtor and creditor debts, barter is flourishing, more and more dollars in cash serve during deals. These circumstances lie heavy on the som, and influence its rate."

(NCA compiles the Transition Nations Press Review from contributions by the broadcast services)