Commentators are interpreting the apparent indifference of the Russian policymakers to the West's opinion of the election campaign as the Kremlin's interest in the presence of observers from the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). "Despite continuous anti-Western rhetoric and accusations of [Western] criticism of [Russian] values, the Russian leaders are dying to see these elections look good in the eyes of the world. Otherwise, why stage this show with candidates, observers and voting, if about half of Russian citizens are happy to see Putin as head of state for life?... [This] is in the Kremlin's interest - nobody will be able to say that Western observers did not attend the December 2 election. It does not matter that the observers will not be able to do the most important part of the work - to monitor this hugely dishonest campaign." (Postimees, November 22).
Analysts believe that the Kremlin is aggressively attacking the opposition in order to prevent even the slightest possibility of a velvet revolution in Russia. "The opposition planned demonstrations under the slogans 'Russia without Putin,' 'No to elections without a chance to choose,' 'Go away, your time is over' in 30 cities in Russia, but the authorities have done all they could to silence it ... Depriving the opposition of fundamental freedoms, the Russian government is losing credibility in the world arena." (Neatkariga Rita Avize, November 26).
At the same time, they think that the Kremlin is deliberately blowing the threat of a velvet revolution out of proportion in order to keep Putin in power as the guarantor of stability because there is no serious opposition in Russia. "In his smooth agitprop speech [at the United Russia-organized forum in his support at the Luzhniki Palace of Sports], the head of state went on and on about the threat of the Orange revolution in Russia, emanating from the advocates of the oligarchic regime. It is surprising how many words and emotions he devoted to this theme. However, there are no indications of discontent with the government in Russia, not to mention an attempt to overthrow it. The ratings of Putin and United Russia are going off-the-scale." (Telegraf, November 22).
Commentators are discussing the Kremlin's deliberate departure from the democratic principles of public life accepted in a civilized world.
"Excluding European observers from the election process and statements by Russian diplomats show that Moscow does not even bother to create the illusion of democracy." (Lietuvos zinios, November 21).
The press is emphasizing that by its inadequate actions towards the opposition, the Putin regime is only bringing closer its own downfall. "The Putin-created model of power has destroyed the opposition and pushed it to the edge of civilized politics. It would be absolutely correct to say that today it makes no sense for the opposition to play by the rules of Putin's power because they favor only one victor. For the time being, the Russian opposition is desperate and is trying to unite... but its time may come because Putin himself is anticipating his ruin." (Respublika, November 26).
Analysts are again discussing Mikhail Gutseriyev, the fugitive former head of RussNeft, who has been put on an international wanted list by the Russian Prosecutor's Office. They believe that his illegal status may have an adverse effect on Belarusian economy, because the rights to 25% shares of the RussNeft-Bryansk oil company, which he has presented to the Belarusian government, may be challenged in a court of law. Commentators are emphasizing that the motives of the businessman, who had been granted tacit political asylum in Belarus, were other than pure generosity: "At one time, this project cost Gutseriyev $90 million. Nevertheless, he decided to donate the shares to Belarus. This generous gift was made with an ulterior motive in mind - before his resignation as head of RussNeft, Gutseriyev had repeatedly tried to get under his control oil processing and petrochemical plants in Belarus. The 'gift' was supposed to speed up the talks and bring them to successful completion. But eventually, the only benefit he derived from Minsk was an opportunity to leave from a Belarusian airport for an unknown destination when his life in Russia became difficult." (Zavtra Tvoyei Strany, November 21).
The press is interpreting the Kremlin's tough rhetoric as its reluctance to get involved in a serious confrontation with the West for fear that it may threaten the economic interests of the Russian "nobility." "Russia is still hoping to prevent American missile-defense elements from being deployed on the territory of its closest Western neighbors... The closer the elections, the tougher Russia's attitude to its neighbors... However, the Cold War is hardly a possibility in a situation where the Russian elite keep handsome savings in foreign banks and many of its representatives live off the fat of the land... also in London." (Gazeta 24, November 23).
The media believe that Moscow is deliberately putting off the final decision on gas prices for Ukraine - it is waiting for the parliamentary coalition to be formed. At the same time, the Kremlin is planning to use the gas card to adjust the political alignment in the neighboring country. "Russians... are easy to understand - they want to know who and when will become Ukrainian Prime Minister and, correspondingly, the head of Mintopenergo (Ministry of Fuel and Energy) and Naftogaz of Ukraine (national gas company)." Obviously, they do not see much sense in signing contracts with officials who may soon be ousted from the scene." (Zerkalo Nedeli, November 24).
Experts welcome the resumption of Moldovan wine supplies to the Russian market. They note a substantial improvement in Moscow-Chisinau relations in the last few months. "Moldovan wine makers are going to restore about 30% of the former wine and spirits exports to Russia." (Novosti-Moldova News Agency, November 23). "Russia has no complaints about Moldovan produce and all barriers on the way to the Russian market have been removed... In the near future, trade relations between Moldova and Russia will receive a new impetus... In 2007, bilateral trade has gone up 40% as compared with the past year." (Moldova Azi, November 23).
The media are convinced that the government was too rough in scattering sanctioned opposition rallies in Moscow and St. Petersburg and arresting the Other Russia leader Garry Kasparov, and has thus given the opposition an opportunity to score points in the election. "For the first time in recent history, the government has put opposition leaders behind bars. The opposition could not have even dreamt of such an impressive PR move. Owing to this act of protest, the Union of Right Forces will attract a substantial part of hesitant liberal voters." (Aiastani Anrapetutun, November 27).
Analysts are emphasizing that Russia should be very cautious in its Caucasus policy in order not to lose its monopoly on the transportation of hydrocarbons to Europe. "For the time being, Armenia's pro-Russian position is the main obstacle to the Greater Caucasus project. But work with Armenia is already underway, and Washington hopes to remove all obstacles in the near future. Once this is done, [the United States] will have a carte blanche for building its military infrastructure in the South Caucasus, as well as for the construction and use of transport communications running from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea... Energy supplies to Europe through the Caucasus in circumvention of Russia would eliminate EU dependence on Russian oil and gas." (Armtoday.info, November 24). "Tbilisi played host to the ceremony launching the construction of KATB (Kars-Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi-Baku) railway... Politically, the aim of this project is to oust Russia. When the KATB goes into operation, Moscow will lose its levers of pressure on the South Caucasus. " (Respublika Armenia, November 23).
Analysts believe that the early presidential elections in Georgia are fraught with negative consequences. "The two obvious threats - international isolation and domestic destabilization are equally dangerous for the country... Destabilization... will give Russia new grounds to say that velvet revolutions and any attempt to eliminate Russian influence are doomed to failure because Russia should be the only guarantor of stability in the post-Soviet space. Destabilization and anarchy in Georgia or the slackening of Western support will only aggravate the existing outside threats. Thus, Russia will be more likely to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia after a potential decision on Kosovo's sovereignty." (Georgia-Online, November 27).
The media have focused on the issue of Kosovo's independence. Experts believe that Russia stands to gain from the province's independence because it may be qualified as a precedent and used in the foreign policy game. "Russia is more interested in the international recognition of Kosovo's independence than ever before. This is only natural. The Kremlin is acknowledging its military-political defeat in the Balkans. As it leaves the scene, Russia wants to get as many benefits from the situation as it can. In this context, it is interested in playing a geopolitical game around Kosovo's independence... Russia is mobilizing all of its overt and covert foreign policy resources to ensure the international interpretation of Kosovo's independence as a political and legal precedent. This precedent will be used for international legitimization of the regimes in Karabakh, Abkhazia and so on." (Zerkalo, November 27).
In expert opinion, Moscow's bellicose rhetoric cannot conceal Russia's bleak prospects for the future - Russia's influence on global politics is diminishing and the process of disintegration is taking place on its domestic scene. "All processes which are now taking place in Russia are leading to its total collapse. It would be good if this disintegration passes peacefully and results in the emergence of a new state. For the time being, Russians do not have a state of their own - Russia is an empire... There will probably be several states, but the process of Russia's disintegration as an empire is already underway. This process is irreversible - no empire has ever been revived." (Day.Az, November 21).
Experts predict that the agreement between Russian gas monopoly Gazprom and the Italian ENI to build the South Stream-2 pipeline will compel Kazakhstan to change its attitude to the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline. "How does this affect Kazakhstan's interests?... First, it is necessary to determine how the giant new project (its price tag is $5 billion for ENI alone) will influence the development of the Kashagan deposit. Its operator is the same Italian concern... Will ENI have enough resources to fulfill its commitments both to the Russian partners and the Kazakh government?... Second, Kazakhstan should make a final choice between the hypothetical project of a gas pipeline via the Caspian Sea, South Caucasus and Turkey and the Russian-Italian project, which is already getting under way." (Gazeta.kz, November 26).
The media are skeptical about long-term prospects for Russia's government program on assistance to resettling compatriots. Journalists believe that red tape and blind observance of the "letter of the law" is not the best impetus for Russian-speakers from CIS countries. "It is becoming obvious that something is wrong with the Russian government's system of resettling its citizens from abroad. Potential back-settlers are simply not rushing to their historic homeland! Whether they are delayed by the need to collect a host of papers in the framework of the program announced by the Russian President, or starting to feel the real taste of the resettlement carrot, but this is a fact...despite the government's prediction of a massive return of compatriots this autumn." (Fergana.Ru, November 23).
Analysts from non-governmental publications are critical of the recent meeting in Moscow between the General Prosecutors of Turkmenistan and Russia - Yury Chaika and Muhammetguly Ogshukov. They believe that the Russian security-related bodies are taking part in the harassment of Turkmen political emigres. "Ogshukov said... Russia is ready to step up its anti-terrorist effort. In other words, Turkmenistan has received assurances from Moscow that from now on illegal Turkmen refugees who are not loyal to official Ashgabat will be arrested and extradited to Turkmenistan without delay." (Gundogar, November 26).
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