April 27, 2005
RUSSIA: RICE VISIT, PUTIN SPEECH SIGNAL 'DETERIORATING' TIES WITH U.S.
** The U.S. aims to "topple Moscow's strongest ally," Belarus.
** Rice "did not hesitate to criticize" President Putin's "excessive concentration of power."
** Russian media say the positive aspects of Putin's address "by far outweigh" the negative.
** Global dailies find Putin's "nostalgia" for the USSR "downright sinister."
'Geo-strategic catastrophe for Moscow'-- Secretary Rice's "bold remarks" led Euro papers to argue that the U.S. "will concretely support the rebellion" against Belarus President Lukashenko; Italy's left-leaning La Repubblica opined that the U.S. "challenge to Lukashenko took center stage" during Rice's trip. Global dailies concluded that in any dispute over Belarus, Moscow's "chances look pretty bleak" as it "is at a complete loss" to prevent its ongoing "geopolitical capitulation" in former Soviet areas. Russia's official Rossiskaya Gazeta warned there is "no guarantee the expansion of Atlanticism to CIS countries is complete."
A 'cold war frost'-- Non-Russian dailies said Rice's "acerbic" remarks evidenced "growing distrust" in U.S.-Russian ties. Poland's centrist Rzeczpospolita added that Rice's "diplomacy without gloves" showed the U.S. is "seriously concerned" about the Kremlin's "control over Russian politics, media and business." Georgia's centrist Akhali Taoba hailed U.S. efforts to "diminish Russia's influence and keep its political leanings under control." Russian papers, however, stressed "positive trends" in ties, describing Rice as "more tolerant than the U.S. media." Reformist Kommersant opined that "Moscow must be pleased" given Rice's focus on involving Moscow in a "partnership" to "combat international terrorism."
Putin speech 'surpassed all expectations'-- Russian media said even critics "must hail many political conclusions" in Putin's state of the nation speech and noted the "need to implement the basic provisions of the presidential address." Reformist Izvestiya acclaimed Putin's "program of Russian social liberalism," while centrist Nezavisimaya Gazeta lauded his lack of "sensational statements" and "impossible promises." Outside Russia, however, media dubbed Putin's "shining picture" of Russia's future "totally absurd." Britain's left-of-center Independent cautioned that the "world should remain suspicious" of Putin, while Austria's independent Der Standard highlighted the "gap between Putin's words and his actions."
'Yet another step away from democratization'-- Euro editorialists blasted Putin's "disturbing" remark that the USSR's collapse was the century's "greatest geopolitical disaster"; Denmark's center-left Politiken judged it an "attempt to woo" those Russians who long for the Soviet Union's erstwhile "order." Several saw proof of Putin's "ideological outlook": the center-right Irish Independent stated, "at heart Vladimir Putin still hankers for the empire." Financial dailies assailed Putin's "political fickleness" regarding the economy. Germany's Handelsblatt criticized the "deficit of legal certainty" in Russia's markets, while Hungary's Vilaggazdasag concluded that government interests "rather than the market determine decisions."
Prepared by Media Reaction Branch (202) 203-7888, email@example.com
EDITOR: Ben Goldberg
EDITOR'S NOTE: Media Reaction reporting conveys the spectrum of foreign press sentiment. Posts select commentary to provide a representative picture of local editorial opinion. Some commentary is taken directly from the Internet. This report summarizes and interprets foreign editorial opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government. This analysis was based on 54 reports from 19 political entities over 20 - 27 April, 2005. Editorial excerpts are listed from the most recent date.
BRITAIN: "Business And Freedom Go Together"
An editorial in the left-of-center Independent read (4/26): "The world should remain suspicious of Mr. Putin's government. The Russian President may now be saying some of the right things. But serious questions remain about whether he has the political will--or the authority--to deliver the liberalisation that Russia needs."
The left-of-center Guardian asserted (4/26): "Against a background of friction with the US and Europe over Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and Belarus, Mr. Putin may be drawing himself up to his full height before he hosts George Bush and other world leaders on May 9 on the 60th anniversary of the end of the second world war in Europe. For many Russians, that will be yet another ambiguous reminder of how much their world has changed."
"Putin's Promises: But Will His Officials Live Up To His Words?"
The independent Financial Times commented (4/26): "As Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, has stressed, the world will be watching for what tomorrow's sentencing of Mr. Khodorkovsky and one of his business partners, after their trial on charges of fraud and tax evasion, says about the rule of law in Russia. The test will almost certainly be failed, even though Mr. Putin contends this trial is only the equivalent of the Enron trials in the US."
FRANCE: "Rice Dreaming Of A ‘Revolution In Belarus’"
Right-of-center Le Figaro stated (4/22): “No sooner her visit over in Russia, where secretary Rice tried to convince Putin that the U.S. was not trying to ‘weaken Russia,’ the Secretary ‘picked’ on Belarus, saying that ‘the time for change had come'...and that Lukashenko's regime was ‘Europe’s last dictatorship'.... Secretary Rice went even further and met with Belarus opposition members, whose courage she said she admired.... If Belarus were to fall into the ‘orange’ camp, it would be a geo-strategic catastrophe for Moscow, which could trigger an internal Russian upset. President Bush has just signed a ‘law for democracy’ which allows Washington’s financing of NGOs tasked with democratizing Belarus.”
"Structure Of New Independent States Falling Apart"
Laure Mandeville asserted in right-of-center Le Figaro (4/22): “Since the ‘orange revolution’ in Ukraine, a geo-strategic earthquake is shaking the former Soviet Union, reshaping the area to the detriment of Russia’s position. Proof lies in the recent interest for the GUAAM summit.... Behind the summit’s avowed purpose, lies another more discreet project for political and military cooperation. One other topic on the agenda is the desire to turn the region of the Black Sea into ‘a basin for democracy'.... The Americans, as the informal godparents of the organization, are very much present behind the scene.... The chain reaction velvet revolutions in the region work in favor of Washington’s ambitions in Eurasia...even if it would be going too far to say that these countries are only puppets in Washington’s hands.... Meanwhile, faced with this unprecedented geo-strategic rebellion in what Russia considers to be its home ground, Moscow is at a complete loss. The NIS, built on the ruins on the former Soviet Union is,
for all intents and purposes, clinically dead.”
"A Spread Of Revolutions On Russia’s Doorstep"
Thomas de Rochechouart opined in right-of-center France Soir (4/21): “On a visit to Moscow, Condoleezza Rice did not spare Putin, when she said that ‘America was concerned about the Russian press’s lack of independence'.... Although she came officially to ‘re-enforce the strategic partnership with Russia,’ Condoleezza Rice, who is alternatively called the ‘Black Panther’ or the ‘Steel Magnolia,’ has proven once again to what extent relations between the Kremlin and the White House are deteriorating. Moscow is holding Washington responsible for recent ‘democratic revolutions’ at its doorstep...and is afraid that it is the target of a process aiming to topple Putin’s regime and replace it with one that would be more favorable to Washington.... The Russians fear a spread of democracy at home on the heels of revolutions such as the one in Kirghizstan.”
"Washington Watching Over Putin"
Lorraine Millot wrote in left-of-center Liberation (4/21): “Secretary of State Rice did not wear kid gloves when she made acerbic remarks on the state of democracy in Russia. Washington will be watching closely to insure that Putin leaves the Kremlin in 2008, as defined by the Constitution.”
GERMANY: "Futurist Putin"
Matthias Dobrinsky filed the following editorial for center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich (4/26): "Russia must remember its democratic roots, respect human rights, and create an independent judiciary.... It was not an international foreign minister, not a citizens' rights group or an international investment club, which raised these demands, no, it was Russia's President Putin.... He painted a shining picture of Russia's future. But like previous presidential statements on democracy, they have one flaw: they are usually held in the future tense. The Russia of Vladimir Putin embarked upon a path to a democratic rule of law years ago. But the bad thing is that it has hardly made any progress on this path. The Russians are used to this kind of statements from their time as Soviet citizens.... But Putin does not always say this and believes something else. In his speech, he complained about the end of the Soviet Union and said it was a 'geo-political disaster.' At least he means this word by word."
Business-oriented Handelsblatt of Duesseldorf argued (4/26): "Russia has a problem: its president delivers wise addresses, promises legal certainty and democracy, but reality of Russian government actions is turning everything into the crass opposite. That is why many wonder who is really governing in Russia.... It is certainly right to have an elected president in the Kremlin with all his false convictions rather than a junta whose decisions would be unpredictable. But in view of the discrepancy between Putin's words and deeds the difference is getting smaller. His speech on the state of the Russian union documented that Putin's views are partly totally absurd. He really described the fall of the...Soviet Union as the 'greatest geo-political disaster of the century,' and, at the same time, he praised Russia's path to democracy. But even in the sixth year of his presidency, it is totally open where he will lead it to.... This inevitably leads to a deficit of legal certainty, and this, in turn, impedes the investment climate and worry entrepreneurs. The Kremlin leader should make clear where he wants to lead his country. And he should support this move with a clear personnel management, especially by appointing a new prime minister."
Jasper von Altenbockum noted in center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine (4/21): "Ms. Rice arrived with a stick but then presented a carrot. In Paris and Berlin, where respect of Russia is almost greater than the one in the U.S., people will certainly have liked to hear that even the U.S. secretary of state is convinced that Russia should not be 'isolated.' But the United States links this wish to noticeable conditions. A U.S. recognition of the 'Russian path' to a so-called democracy, as President Putin desired after the most recent dressing-down of his autocratic behavior from Washington, will not happen. But the warnings, which Ms. Rice directed to Putin on her flight to Moscow sounded more subdued when she had landed. Washington's interest in the fight against terror and the halt to illegal nuclear trade is too great and would not prompt Washington to give in to insinuations to thwart Russia's wish for a membership in the WTO or an honorary place in the G-8. The profiteers from this carrot also know this."
"Dressing Down Without Risk"
Matthias Dobrinski judged in center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich (4/21): "Only one thing can be said with certainty about the U.S. policy towards Russia: The U.S. pursues a clear dual strategy. During her visit to Moscow, Condoleezza Rice firmly pursued this strategy. Yes, Moscow is a partner in the anti-terror struggle and in arms questions. No, we do not approve President Putin accumulating so much power in his hands with which he also gags the media that are still free. These critical statements did not require too much courage.... Russia cannot and will not create a new ice-age in relations with the U.S. Russia is rather interested in getting a WTO seat and in not losing its G-8 seat. But Putin need not fear the criticism of the U.S. secretary of state. Not only since the Iraq war, the credibility of President Bush and his team in Russia is very low and the Russians think even less of the U.S. government than of their own government. Between St. Petersburg and Vladivostok people are also of the opinion that the colorful revolutions in the former Soviet Union are the result of a U.S. conspiracy. In this situation, it was of little help that Rice promised that democracy would be possible, including in Russia."
ITALY: "Belarus, Clash Between Rice And Kremlin"
Ennio Caretto contended in centrist, top-circulation Corriere della Sera (4/22): “The U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to the Kremlin and Vilnius was supposed to be a part of the march to bring closer together Bush and Putin following the ‘frank,’ or rather tempestuous meeting between the two presidents in Bratislava last February. Instead, it complicated the mini-summit in Moscow on May 9.... The reason: after having wished that Putin will not allow himself to be re-elected a third time and criticizing the backward march of democracy in Russia, Rice yesterday defined Belarus, the Kremlin’s closest ally as 'the last real dictatorship in the heart of Europe,’ stating that ‘the time has come for a renewal'.... The Secretary of State Rice’s statements...provoked a diplomatic incident...which is the effect of Bush’s doctrine to spread freedom and democracy throughout the world.... While the Kremlin felt the Secretary of State’s remarks were an unacceptable interference in quasi-internal matters, for Minsk it was a calculated provocation. Vladimir Konopliov, the President of the Belarusian Parliament responded that ‘America is a dictatorship, and it’s becoming increasingly brutal.’”
"Rice Pampers Putin And Prepares Bush’s Trip"
An editorial in elite, center-left Il Riformista read (4/22): “Condi concentrated on transforming her president’s presence in Red Square on May 9 into a relaxed summit between two heads of state with chilly relations--a summit that will play on the affinities rather than on disagreements. Well informed sources say that this time Bush has seriously invested in Condi and in her knowledge of the Soviet bear, leaving her carte blanche on the Russia issue to see if it possible to overcome the impasse of February’s summit in Bratislava.... Rice wants to involve the Kremlin in a partnership that will at once combat international terrorism and the threat of the proliferation of WMD--an impossible battle without Moscow’s full cooperation.... It’s what they call policy of co-engagement, which Rice has already experimented, without too much success, in Beijing. The real test, however, will come on May 9. That’s when we’ll see if that date is only President Bush’s official stroll for the 60th anniversary of the victory over Nazism. The meeting will be a litmus test to understand where things stand between the two former enemies and then again two countries that view each other with distrust. Condi’s duty at the moment was to shed some light on the fog in Bratislava.”
"Minsk, Russia Against Rice--‘You Are Not Going To Decide Who Governs’"
Giampaolo Visetti remarked in left-leaning, influential La Repubblica (4/22): “In public, Vladimir Putin can pretend he can’t hear. His Foreign Minister Lavrov can protest and say that ‘people will decide who will govern on their own.’ But the revolution in Belarus has now been announced. Condoleezza Rice’s statement against ‘the last dictatorship in the heart of Europe’ is shaking EU chanceries, former Soviet republics and Central Asia. U.S. determination to topple Moscow’s strongest ally in the disrupted post-Soviet space...is sweeping away the Kremlin’s plans for ‘permanent anti-revolutions.’ After the fall of pro-Russian regimes in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, the U.S. challenge to Lukashenko took center stage in the NATO ministerial in Vilnius.... Only a few hours following her first attack, Rice repeated that the U.S. will concretely support the rebellion against Minsk’s authorities. And she fixed a date: the 2006 elections.... The declared ‘steps forward’ in the EU’s and Russia’s agenda, which is in truth divided between the East (plus Great Britain) and the hard core (Germany, France, Spain) pro-Russians, look like a cordial attempt to save appearances. Minsk and Moscow are preparing for a return to the Cold War.”
RUSSIA: "Liberalism With Human Face"
Reformist Izvestiya declared (4/26): "Putin’s address-2005 is a program of Russian social liberalism. It sounds like the rehabilitation of liberalism and contains concrete proposals and ideas. There is no sense in speaking about Vladimir Putin’s ‘political will'--he is not leaving, yet.... But the little liberal things proposed in the address may well become a ‘roadmap’ for the incumbent’s successor.”
"No Impossible Promises"
Centrist Nezavisimaya Gazeta said (4/26): "The president refrained from making sensational statements, issuing specific instructions or offering alluring prospects.... So next year, the nation cannot reproach the head of state for making impossible promises."
Neo-Communist Pravda contended (4/26): "The thrust of the presidential message was simple.... The present Russian state...must precisely meet the requirements of the bourgeois economy. At no level of government or society must anybody forget that capital is the state's driving force."
"Silence On Succession"
Youth-oriented reformist Komsomolskaya Pravda noted (4/26): "Putin was silent on a subject which...was undoubtedly of most interest to everyone gathered in the Kremlin: How power is to be transferred in 2008.... Or are we to take this silence to mean that, in accordance with the main theme of his message, everything will be done democratically and within the law?"
"Address Surpasses Expectations"
Andrey Denisov said in reformist Vremya Novostey (4/26): “Vladimir Putin was expected to confirm his commitment to democracy and liberal values. But his message surpassed all expectations.... He outlined three directions of official policy: the government; two, the law and political system; and three, the individual and civil society. As the speaker explained, the government, law, and political system are subservient to the interests of the individual. He had never been so clear and definite, speaking of such things earlier. Clearly, the ruling elite was taken by surprise, as the President attacked it, slamming the corruption, irresponsibility and incompetence of the bureaucracy.... What the President said about Russia’s political and economic development as a social state with a strong private sector, obviously, coincided with what European democracies went through in the second half of the past century.”
"Putin Vs Kremlin"
Mikhail Rostovskiy commented in youth-oriented Moskovskiy Komsomolets (4/26): “No doubt, there are quite a few novelties in what was proposed by the President. But will they solve the formidable problems facing the nation? The answer is obvious. Some of those ideas won’t work. For instance, you have to be very naïve to believe that the Public Chamber can handle the state-owned television. Some phrases in the address sounded ambiguous.... 'Those who do not observe or enforce human rights cannot demand that others observe them,' said Putin, hinting at the Baltic states and the West. He might say that about Russia, as well. Human rights are not observed in Chechnya and elsewhere. Even so, what is positive in the address by far outweighs what is negative. Based on the address, the government must be aware of the real situation in the country. And that is good enough, given the current political climate.”
Nikolay Vardul and Dmitriy Kamyshev pointed out in business-oriented reformist Kommersant (4/26): "The address sounded almost revolutionary: the President, in effect, joined the opposition, both left and right. While the liberals must be satisfied with the economic segment of the speech, those on the left wing of the political spectrum must hail many political conclusions in it.”
"Screw Tightening Is No Answer"
Business-oriented Vedomosti maintained (4/26): "The promises made can and must be kept. The wave of ‘flower revolutions’ sweeping across CIS countries shows that tightening screws is no help. If we are to stay out of trouble, we need to implement the basic provisions of the presidential address.”
"Words And Deeds"
Nationalist pro-opposition Sovetskaya Rossiya remarked (4/26): "Those familiar with Putin’s addresses know that the finer the words, the worse the deeds.”
Aleksandr Dugin contended in official government-run Rossiyskaya Gazeta (4/25): “The events in Kyrgyzstan show that ‘flower revolutions’ have crossed the psychological barrier of GUUAM member-states, known for their anti-Russian, disintegration trends, to spread to countries gravitating toward Moscow, Eurasia, and integration. In fact, ‘orange revolutions’ are a geopolitical victory for the GUUAM, a triumph of disintegration, and the beginning of the end of the Commonwealth of Independent States. But geopolitics hates vacuum. Atlanticism picks up whatever Eurasianism loses. The GUUAM has become a zone of strategic presence for the U.S. and NATO. The Chisinau summit was designed to outline a new agenda for CIS countries that have embraced the ideas of Atlantcism. Their concern is not so much rapprochement and cooperation as a common stand on Moscow and other Eurasian states. There is no guarantee the expansion of Atlanticism to CIS countries is complete and ‘'orange revolutions’ will not spread to Kazakhstan, Belarus, Tajikistan, Armenia and Russia itself. Let’s not delude ourselves-GUUAM leaders came to Chisinau to conspire against us, prodded by others. ‘Orange revolutions’ are no spontaneous and desolate events resulting in regime change in a few ‘unfortunate states’ on the Commonwealth’s periphery. They are a planned, considered, organized and managed system of actions and measures.”
"The Flower War"
Business-oriented Vedomosti opined (4/25): "In a Russia-West dispute over Belarus’ future, our chances look pretty bleak. As Vilnius offers democracy, the European order, and freedom, Moscow offers ‘the last dictator,’ who has created an atmosphere of fear and terror in the country. The Kremlin is directly responsible to Belarussians for Lukashenko. Russian leaders once helped him avoid impeachment and continue to support him now. The Kremlin does not care how bad he is, as long as he is ‘one of our guys.’ But that is a shortsighted policy. After the regime falls, Belarussians will forever associate their leader with Moscow.”
Yevgeniy Verlin stated in reformist Moskovskiye Novosti (4/22): “What Rice calls ‘strategic partnership’ between Russia and the U.S. has come down to the war on terror, WMD non-proliferation, and the settlement of regional conflicts. Underlying this partnership are not shared values but a fragmentary pattern of coinciding interests.”
"Invitation For Ukraine Is Signal For Other CIS Countries"
Nataliya Gevorkyan commented in business-oriented Kommersant (4/22): “Inviting Ukraine to NATO is like passing the point of no return. Such invitations always end in membership. With much of Europe wanting Ukraine in the EU more than it wants, say, Turkey in it, Ukraine’s fate seems to be decided. Oddly enough, NATO acts like a managing director in what used to be the Soviet Union in Europe. Its military component has long ceased to be dominant. It might just as well be called the OSCE.... NATO does not want Ukraine only because it is so big and populous. Rather than seeing it as a border land, it wants it to be integrated into Europe and go by civilized, predictable rules. Eventually, this is going to benefit both Ukraine and Europe. With NATO taking its first steps in the CIS, the whole thing looks like geopolitics rather than military enlargement and is a clear signal for other CIS countries. Now in that vast civilized European area, there is a little island of totalitarianism called Belarus. Russia or no Russia, Lukashenko is doomed, no matter how often President Putin’s labrador sniffs at the Belarussian President’s shoes in public.... What is wrong with being in NATO, anyway? It may happen that after we stop erecting monuments to Stalin, push down the President’s popularity ratings to reasonable figures, get television back to normal, leave business well alone, and hold fair parliamentary and presidential elections, we may receive an invitation, too. And hell, we’ll refuse it!”
"Positive Trends Continue"
Yevgeniy Shestakov wrote in official government-run Rossiyskaya Gazeta (4/21): “U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said what she said.... Rice clearly formulated Washington’s intentions with regard to the Kremlin and was just as eloquent in remaining silent on questions that marred relations between the two countries.... The talks showed that positive trends in Russia-U.S. relations are still there. This is true of the bilateral ties and dialogue on regional conflicts, the war on international terrorism, WMD proliferation, and stabilization in conflict areas. The Russian side takes credit for the U.S. delegation having acknowledged a need for updating the OSCE mechanisms yesterday. After the West let Russia speak of OSCE reform for years, without paying much attention to the proposal, the United States is the first to have accepted it.”
Aleksey Pushkov stated in literary weekly Literaturnaya Gazeta (4/21): "The Americans need Russia as land, not as a satellite--Russia is no Georgia. But they don’t want such a big country in the center of Europe. By turning Russia into a satellite the U.S. would have it fall apart.... If we let the Americans take control over our nuclear sites...we might just as well sign an act of geopolitical capitulation.”
"Rice More Tolerant Than The U.S. Media"
Andrey Zlobin said in reformist Vremya Novostey (4/21): “While in Moscow, Condoleeza Rice did not get the answer she probably wanted. It is not about freedom and democracy U.S. visitors like to talk about so much. It is about Russia’s military might. Moscow has made it plain that U.S. inspectors will not be allowed at its nuclear sites.... Rice has proved more tolerant than the U.S. media and congressmen. She opposes expelling Russia from the G8 and says there is no need for exporting democracy.”
"An Exercise In Futility"
Sergey Strokan commented in business-oriented Kommersant (4/21): “Strange things happen in this world. Take Iran, for instance. For many years now the U.S. and Europe have vainly been trying to agree on what to do with Iran. As the Europeans insist on a ‘constructive engagement’ with that country, the Americans, infuriated, accuse them of being unprincipled and trying to put the Iran problem on hold. More recently, the West has been confronted with another problem, Russia, with the roles reversed. Both Europe and the U.S. acknowledge the problem, but between them, Europe is more radical, while the Americans have quietly adopted its Iran know-how. The policy of the Bush Administration toward authoritarianism-prone Russia is an exact replica of Europe’s policy toward authoritarian Iran. That seems to be the chief, if unexpected, conclusion you have to make, assessing the results of Condoleezza Rice’s latest visit to Russia. Moscow must be pleased. Vladimir Putin benefits from this situation. Does George Bush? The trouble with the ‘constructive engagement’ is that applying it to Iran for many years has not brought that country any closer to democracy.”
AUSTRIA: "Putin's Democracy"
Ernst Trost wrote in mass-circulation tabloid Neue Kronenzeitung (4/27): "At times, he sounded like one of his Western critics: Vladimir Putin gave a state of the union address in which he voiced strong support for democracy.... However, according to Putin, the strength of Russian democracy depends on its own needs and its pursuing a sovereign way. Which probably means that Russia needs Putin as an all-directions signpost. Fond memories of its past superpower role are also still alive in Russia. The President takes the collapse of the Soviet Union to be the 'greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.' However, there is considerable unrest at the margins of his multiethnic state. The successful gentle revolutions in Georgia and the Ukraine serve as models for Putin's empire as well. After Kyrgyzstan, opposition groups in Russia's southern Urals Republic of Bashkortostan with a population of 4.1 million, are starting to rebel. For weeks they have been protesting against the authoritarian regime of President Rachimov, whom Putin supports. And in the capital Ufa the demonstrations of the rebelling population are escalating."
"Words And Actions"
Josef Kirchengast analyzed in independent Der Standard (4/27): "There are only two possibilities when it comes to interpreting the gap between Putin's words and his actions: Either he does not mean what he says or he cannot prevail over the obstinate forces that control the Russian power apparatus. However, there is one issue over which even his critics won't deny him credibility: When he, as he did Monday, calls the collapse of the Soviet Union 'the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.' This significant wording reflects the whole trauma of a generation that grew up with Soviet ideology and is seemingly incapable of seeing the end of an inhumane system as an opportunity for a new beginning in Russia. In view of this it is all the more remarkable that on the very same day of Putin's speech, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov indicated Russia's readiness to withdraw from the former Soviet republic of Georgia in the near future. If this were really to happen it could mean that Moscow had learned something from the Ukrainian debacle. This would be a cause for rejoicing over the discrepancy in Russia's words and actions. However, it does not change the fact that the signals Moscow has given recently are contradictory."
"Putin: A Democrat?"
Guenter Lehofer wrote in mass-circulation provincial Kleine Zeitung (4/26): "All of a sudden, Vladimir Putin, straightforward advocate of authoritarian democracy, came up with the idea that Russia's most important problem was democratization--an idea that got him laughs from the KGB. It is possible, though, that Putin simply meant the kind of democratization that would enable him to run for President even more often. After all, should he, like his American counterpart George Bush, have to quit after just two terms in office? Shocking idea. Perhaps Putin also meant that even his most stubborn critics should become more reasonable and acknowledge his position as top dog from now on. After all, this is the essence of true Russian democracy: The Kremlin boss is the top guy. Anything else is Westernization that any upright Russian must oppose. Democracy is governance by the people and the Russian people want Putin to reign and Putin, in turn, wants to manage the Russians in such a manner that they will let him go on managing. That is true democratization à la Putin. Even the KGB applauds him. But otherwise there is silence."
BELGIUM: "There Are Still Disagreements With Moscow"
Francoise Delstanche asserted in financial L’Echo (4/23): "The festivities that are being organized in Moscow to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the end of WWII are likely to have a bitter taste for Vladimir Putin. The Russian President has still not gotten over the Georgian and, first and foremost, Ukrainian revolutions.... At the same time, Vladimir Putin can no longer rely on the unconditional benevolence of his Western partners. Of course, the latter are still very cautious when they travel to Moscow and, when necessary, they ‘forget’ to address sensitive dossiers like Chechnya, as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently demonstrated in Moscow. But her tone was tougher, and Rice did not hesitate to criticize the concentration of power in Putin’s hands and to suggest that the Loukos affair was revealing the condition of Russian Justice. Besides, she did not miss the opportunity to call Belarus a dictatorship. Although the domino game that began in the former Soviet Republics gives a geo-strategic advantage to the West, the latter remains aware that it should treat this big oil producer with caution and that it perhaps has no interest in isolating Russia too much. That is why Condoleezza Rice reaffirmed that Russia remains a strategic partner. And last Thursday, NATO signed a military cooperation agreement with Russia, while remaining very cautious on Ukraine’s candidacy.”
DENMARK: "Putin's Nostalgia"
Center-left Politiken editorialized (4/26): "Nostalgia for the days of the Soviet Union characterized Putin's state of the nation speech.... It is perhaps banal to bring up Putin's KGB past, but he lived up to it 100 per cent yesterday with his talk of the high moral standards of the Soviet era.... With these remarks, Putin took yet another step away from democratization process.... This was a Putin on the defensive following low popularity polls and his remarks should be understood as an attempt to woo the part of the population that longs for the order of the Soviet Union. "
GEORGIA: "Bush To Handle [Russian] Base Issue In Moscow"
Ramaz Sakvarelize said in centrist Akhali Taoba (4/22): "This visit has multiple significances for Georgia. In the first place, the president of the greatest country is paying a visit to Georgia and not as a tourist. Political visits usually create political consequences. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit in Moscow is something very important too. It is no simple visit. Dr. Rice is known for her bold statements, this time the nuances of these statements are noteworthy: the U.S. is treating Russia rather strictly. One should expect strictness not only in the areas that Dr. Rice identified, such as media and the status of democracy in Russia but also in other areas. Most probably, Russia’s attitude toward its neighbors will also come up during discussions of the region. The recent trends in the U.S policy to attempt to diminish Russia’s influence and keep its political leanings under control, in addition to President Bush’s visit to Georgia, give us hope that that the U.S. will keep its focus on Georgia. In other words, the U.S. is likely to sort out a lot of outstanding issues that present an insurmountable obstacle for us.... As for the [Russian military] bases [in Georgia]; this issue will probably be resolved in Moscow and not in Tbilisi.”
HUNGARY: "Uncertain Foreign Investors In Russia”
Agnes Gereben pointed out in business-oriented Vilaggazdasag (4/26): “The concept of 'sneaking re-nationalization' emerging in Russia in the past two years seems to be an insurmountable obstacle in the way of the impressive plans [to attract foreign investors].... The Kremlin’s administration wants to use crude oil and gas reserves (as well as the flagships of military industry and of space research) as the tools to retain power after Putin's second presidential term ends in 2008. In addition to legislation, with the sledgehammers of jurisdiction and tax collection.... As things stand now, the Russian economy seems to be moving towards a South American model in which the government’s interests of the day rather than the market determine decisions.... The world would be a safer place if we knew what the Kremlin’s real goal is by keeping foreign capital away and intimidating domestic large entrepreneurs. But the process that started with the Yukos affair has, by now, become self-propelled, and not even the president is able to control it.”
Gyula T. Molnar held in liberal-leaning Magyar Hirlap (4/23): “Seven of the toughest ones.... The question is why, knowing the expected answers, these questions had to be asked at all, and to push bilateral relations almost into cold war frost. First, let’s be idealists. The Americans are truly concerned about human rights and the freedom of the press. About which, for some reason, they were not concerned under Yeltsin, even though there was not much around then. The Americans in general--and the Republicans in particular--could not care less whether there is democracy in Russia. They do not have to live there. Concern about democracy comes parallel with Moscow’s becoming stronger, thereby weakening it. Probably that is the real reason for Rice’s concerns. Washington has come to fear a Russia that has become strong on oil dollars and Putin who is trying to restore the Soviet empire. That is why they have tightened the ring around Moscow, encouraging the orange revolutions. That it coincided with the fall of the corrupt and repulsive Georgian, Ukrainian and Kyrgyz regimes, is a pleasant collateral benefit. It is not possible to make an orange revolution in Russia: there, it would be red. Therefore, America is not interested in Putin’s fall; weakening him is the goal.”
IRELAND: "Strongman Putin Struggling To Impose His Will"
Michael Binyon stated in the center-right populist Irish Independent (4/26): "So now we know. For all his talk about market reform, Russia's place in the world and friendship with George Bush, at heart Vladimir Putin still hankers for the empire into which he was born and for which he spied.... No wonder also that the Russian President lingered on this patriotic theme. It was a sure way to appeal to national sentiment, to connect the Kremlin with the people. It was also the one note of certainty in an otherwise ambiguous address. For Mr Putin...had a difficult message to deliver.... At home, he projected embattled defiance. Things are not going as well as they should. Market reform has stalled. The Yukos affair has shaken foreign investors. Corruption is as entrenched as ever, and the bureaucracy as inefficient and immovable. Chechnya is still taking its daily toll, and military reform has made the Armed Forces neither leaner nor stronger. Mr Putin therefore needed to assert himself.... But his message abroad needed to sound more emollient.... It is in the field of business where these concerns are strongest.... The Russian President has regularly addressed his countrymen on television. What was remarkable was that, despite five years in which he has steadily accumulated power, suppressed dissent and centralised decision-making, it still did not sound like the language of a man confidently in command. There was a note of pleading.... This could signal two important factors at work: first, that the attempt to reform Russia's Byzantine bureaucracy is proving far harder than Mr Putin thought, and therefore he dare not let his popularity slip; and secondly, that he is, perhaps, finding it hard to impose his will upon the factions competing for power--as exemplified by the policy zigzags over Yukos."
"Putin Warns Opponents Against Protests"
Daniel McLaughlin wrote in the center-left Irish Times (4/26): "Russian president Vladimir Putin insisted yesterday that he was committed to fostering democracy in the world's largest country, but warned opponents that he would not tolerate the kind of street protests that have ousted his allies in other ex-Soviet states.... Putin tried to calm Russia's jittery 'oligarchs' and encourage investment by vowing to protect them from corrupt bureaucrats and offering to levy only the standard 13 per cent tax on capital returned to Russia from overseas. He also proposed that prosecutors only investigate dubious privatisations conducted in the last three years. But the former KGB spy balanced attempts to woo critics at home and abroad with a strong caution to any opponents who may consider emulating the Georgians, Ukrainians and Kyrgyz whose huge demonstrations helped topple their autocratic leaders.... The speech was a response to Dr Rice's concerns that he has too much personal power, and her support for Belarus's beleaguered opposition activists at a NATO gathering in Lithuania.... To Mr Putin, her call for regime change in Belarus must have sounded like the first chord of a now familiar and melancholy tune. While concentrating the Kremlin's control over Russian politics, media and business, Mr Putin has endured a humiliating 18 months internationally, watching chunks of what his compatriots call the 'near abroad' slide away towards the West. The kind of street protests that Mr Putin cautioned against yesterday carried pro-western leaders to power in Georgia and Ukraine, and both are intent on guiding their countries out of Russia's grip and into NATO and the EU."
POLAND: "Let Us Donate Freedom"
Wojciech Maziarski commented in centrist weekly Wprost (4/25): “The head of U.S. foreign affairs, Condoleezza Rice, who encouraged the Belarusian opposition in Vilnius last week, is right: this anachronistic dictatorship should be removed as fast as possible--to the good of Belarusians themselves, their neighbors, and the whole of Europe.... Therefore, it was a good thing that the U.S. Senate earmarked five million dollars to help build democracy in Belarus just a day after Condoleezza Rice met with the Belarusian oppositionists.... But why should the Americans be the only ones donating to this cause? It should be our common task. Perhaps it would be a good idea to begin a collection from all over Europe to help the Belarusian opposition.”
"Encouragement To The Belarusians"
Jerzy Haszczynski wrote in centrist Rzeczpospolita (4/23): “Alexander Lukashenko is eager to cooperate with Vladimir Putin even more closely--which he made clear in Moscow yesterday. Undoubtedly, he was upset by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who called for democratic changes in Belarus a day before.... A revolution is possible also in Belarus. Lukashenko wants to prevent it through his cooperation with Putin. But the Russian President cannot guarantee him too much. The West no longer listens with understanding to his views about the former U.S.S.R. Moreover, the leaders of Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, who recently sought support from Putin, are no longer in power. This is a warning to Lukashenko, and encouragement to the Belarusian opposition.”
"Diplomacy Without Gloves"
Jan Skorzynski observed in centrist Rzeczpospolita (4/22): “Secretary Rice clearly drafted the principles of U.S. policy toward Europe’s East. Washington combines its strategic cooperation with Russia on fighting terrorism and non-proliferation of WMD with its expectation that principles of democracy must be respected--both in Minsk and in Moscow. And [it says] it is ready to open the way to the West for the countries which, like Ukraine, will undertake efforts toward political and economical liberalization. It is diplomacy without gloves. Secretary Rice made it clear to President Putin that the U.S. is seriously concerned about restricting freedom of media in Russia and collecting all the power in the hands of the head of state. She did not hesitate to call the Lukashenko regime the last dictatorship in Europe, and call for its change.... Condoleezza Rice and her chief, President Bush, who will visit Georgia and Latvia on his way to Moscow for the May anniversary ceremonies, show how one can speak with Russia.”
SWEDEN: "Putin Appeases Everyone And Nobody"
Conservative Stockholm-based Svenska Dagbladet held (4/26): "In his annual address to the Russian Duma, President Vladimir Putin’s message was that the international criticism against Russia does not bother him. Instead he defiantly said that the disintegration of the Soviet Union was ‘the greatest geopolitical disaster of the century.’ In short, if he had it his way, the Soviet Union still would have existed. Does this mean that Putin really wishes for the revival of the Soviet Union? At any rate it means something. His statement indicates an ideological outlook that sheds the light on the uneasiness about developments that is present in the neighboring states. To the Baltic States Putin’s disaster means independence, market economy, and democracy.... Russia needs someone like Putin, one used to say. But nowadays we know this was wrong. The paths to development have turned into blind alleys.... The Soviet Union primarily was a system to fortify power. This unfortunately also seems to be Putin’s priority.”
Independent, liberal Stockholm-based Dagens Nyheter opined (4/26): "President Vladimir Putin, in his address to the nation, emphasized that Russia’s primary aim is development as ‘a free and democratic’ country.’ This sounds great, but it had sounded even better if he had not at the same time called the collapse of the Soviet Union ‘the greatest geopolitical disaster of the century.’”
TURKEY: "Putin’s Fear"
Erdal Safak wrote in mass-appeal Sabah (4/22): “Secretary Rice made very bold remarks yesterday, saying it is the time for change in Belarus. She went even further by voicing clear support for the opposition against President Lukashchenko. At this point, Putin faces a no-win situation in Minsk, because all of the opposition elements in Belarus are pro-western.... Yet it is not realistic to expect regime change in Belarus anytime soon. It might take a year. As proven by other examples, there are three conditions that need to be met before a revolutionary process in a particular country: an election process, the candidacy of the current ruler or dictator, and his victory with allegations of fraud. Belarus will go through an election next year, and Lukashchenko will be one of the candidates.... There are also other countries in areas formerly under Soviet control that could see a revolutionary process, including Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Armenia. Azerbaijan might be added to this list, as well as the autonomous republic of Baskurdistan. In fact, Baskurdistan seems to be the major headache for Putin at this point. The people have given the current ruler, Rahimov, a May 1 deadline to submit his resignation. Otherwise, a popular uprising is expected, which would be a real nightmare for the Russian leader.”
SAUDI ARABIA: "Dealing With Russia"
The pro-government English-language Arab News maintained (4/26): "Russia's President Vladimir Putin pulled few punches in his state of the nation address.... He said the collapse of the old Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the last century. He strongly defended his political changes which have refocused power in the Kremlin and warned outsiders bluntly that Russia would advance to democracy at its own pace and would take no lessons from abroad. In Washington this may very well be seen as a deliberate snub to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice whose Moscow visit last week emphasized the need for Russia to do more to promote democracy. Putin left few of his listeners in much doubt that Russia was taking no advice from any other country.... One of the more disturbing parts of his speech was his reference to the millions of Russians who found themselves outside the country’s borders when the Soviet Union broke up.... For the independent Ukraine with its new independent-minded government and a large Russian minority, Putin’s comments will not have played well. Indeed for all former Soviet republics with significant ethnic Russian populations, the statement could be taken as downright sinister. Among most ordinary Russians however, their tough-talking, second-term president is just the sort of leader they respond to.... . Putin may not seek a third consecutive term. Nevertheless will his substantial control over Parliament tempt him to seek a constitutional change so that he could run again? The cowed press would be unlikely to rebel.... Putin’s position currently seems unassailable but long-suffering though the Russian people are, he is going to have to deliver on promises to win the Chechen war, look after pensioners, end graft and corruption and encourage economic growth.... Outside interference must be cautious.... There is the danger that a Putin administration besieged by US and European criticism will be tempted to turn insular. This may of course be precisely what Washington wants because it would remove an important counterbalance to U.S. world power."
UAE: "Challenging Task"
The English-langugae expatriate-oriented Gulf Today declared (4/26): "Russian President Vladimir Putin...asserted that Russia's main political task is to develop as a free, democratic country with European ideals. He has stressed that individual freedoms will not be compromised by the state's own strengthening.... Putin's remarks that taxes should not be used to terrorise businesses and his idea of amnesty for capital repatriation are steps in the right direction.... The fact that he is saying these things means he is holding himself up to be tested to good standards. However, he has side-stepped the hot topic of social reform.... Putin's emphasis on boosting investor confidence comes just two days before the verdict in the fraud and tax evasion trial of Yukos oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky.... The relentless prosecution of Khodorkovsky...has scared off investors and triggered a wave of money out of Russia.... Putin has reasons to brood over the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union as 'the biggest geopolitical catastrophe' of the 20th century. He has warned that an 'epidemic of collapse' is today tugging at Russia itself. A wave of political changes in former Soviet states now left Belarus and Armenia as Russia's only European allies. Ukraine and Georgia have installed pro-Western governments.... The Soviet Union is now a thing of the past and the coherence of the Russian Federation today depends not on withdrawing from democracy but on strengthening democratic institutions.... Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice snubbed Putin recently by pointing out that he had accumulated too much power. A number of television companies, radio channels and newspapers have been closed down since Putin took power and other media have been brought under the control of the state or firms in which the state is the main shareholder. The list of tasks is lengthy and Putin has little choice but to face the challenge."
"Rice's Attitude Is Beyond Belief"
The expatriate-oriented English-language Gulf News held (4/22): "A finger-wagging foreigner is not the person best suited to advise others The sheer impertinence of the woman. Not content with dictating to everyone in the Middle East (except Israel, of course), Condoleezza Rice has taken the Administration's idiosyncratic form of diplomacy to pastures new in Eastern Europe. The US Secretary of State beggars belief. First, she ended her visit to Moscow on Wednesday by saying Vladimir Putin had too much personal power, and that she had talked 'pretty pointedly' to him about foreign investors' rights. Whatever one might think of the Russian President, one must pity him for being on the receiving end of a Rice tirade. Then she moved to Belarus yesterday and delivered another sermon on the way of life as it should be American. Of course Russia and Belarus have a way to go on the democratic road. They emerged from the ruins of a highly structured repressive state and the move to an open society cannot and will not be easy. Just about everyone wants a world of happy people, living productive lives in safety and security. As a professional politician, though, Rice should know Otto von Bismarck's aphorism that politics is the art of the possible. Getting from here to there or somewhere vaguely close will be through carefully planned small steps. If she does not know this, it is time she learnt it. Quite clearly, progress must arise from the people themselves. It is they who must determine the best way forward and a finger-wagging foreigner is not the person best suited to advise and assist them. Rice should not take Oscar Wilde literally when he said that democracy is the bludgeoning of the people, by the people, for the people. Rather, she should make time in her busy schedule to consider the American proverb: Diplomacy is the art of letting someone else have your way."
"Rice In Russia"
The expatriate-oriented English-language Khaleej Times declared (4/21): "All those who believe in democracy, transparency and human rights would support Condoleezza Rice’s mission to Moscow. The US secretary of state is right when she says President Putin of Russia has “too much power”. In fact, this unhealthy preoccupation with power is what is at the heart of Russia’s most problems today. This has led to an excessive concentration of power in Putin’s hands at the expense of democracy and accountability in the country. The former KGB operative, since he took over in 2000, has maintained a stranglehold on power. Last year, he further tightened his grip when he scrapped the practice of electing provincial governors. Now governors, who have little authority of their own, are hired and fired by the Kremlin. The media in Putin’s Russia is in chains. As Ms Rice pointed out yesterday, there is no independent media in the country with freedom to report facts as they are without facing consequences. Situation of human rights is equally appalling. Moscow’s persecution of the Chechens has regularly invited strong criticism from human rights agencies. These issues test the US-Russia relations. Washington is right in insisting that the Kremlin address the international community’s concerns about democracy, human rights, and media etc., Unlike his first term, when President Bush claimed to see a soulmate in Putin and ignored Moscow’s highhanded methods, this time around US appears more keen to push Russia on democratic reforms. America’s ties with Russia will be now subject to the Kremlin’s agenda and performance at home."
EAST ASIA AND PACIFIC
CHINA: "Condoleezza Rice’s Visit To Russia Paves Road For Bush"
Yao Yushan commented in official international Global Times (Huanqiu Shibao) (4/22): "Analysts think Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Russia has had little substantive impact; however, its symbolic meaning is worth noting. Russian media indicate that Rice’s visit would lay the groundwork for a future visit by President Bush. Rice had two missions on the trip: First, to make Russian leaders believe that Washington’s support of ‘color revolution’ was done to limit Russia’s influence. Second, Rice used the trip talk about Russian democracy issues. Obviously the second one is more difficult since she has to make great efforts not to embarrass Moscow.”
KAZAKHSTAN: "Journey Of Instability"
Serik Mutashev observed in pro-government, bi-weekly Kontinent (4/20): "The U.S. is increasingly activating its policy in Inner Eurasia--post-Soviet territory. An affirmation of that could be the last visit of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to ‘the arch of instability’--from Iraq to Pakistan, and from Azerbaijan to Kyrgyzstan. The division of labor between the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State is symbolic. If Condoleezza Rice recently visited stable regions, which are significant to the U.S. as strategic partners--Europe and the Asia Pacific region--then Rumsfeld deliberately visited unstable regions, which are also strategically important for the U.S.... The final destination of Rumsfeld’s journey became troublesome in all senses of the word--Kyrgyzstan. Besides the general interests of the U.S. in promoting ‘velvet’ revolutions on post-Soviet territory, the U.S. has more concrete interests in Kyrgyzstan at GANCI Airbase in Manas.... The visits to the vast and diverse region, which American strategists view as a single entity, by such a figure as the Secretary of Defense, could imply only the following: in Washington the region is considered either as a source of instability and military threat, or as critically important to the strategic interests of the U.S.”
CANADA: "Rice Speaks Her Mind"
Serge Truffaut maintained in French-language liberal Le Devoir (4/25): "During her first visit to Eastern Europe as Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice did not mince words. On all issues raised, depending on whom you ask, she used frank or harsh language.... According to her analysis, [Byelorussia], hemmed-in between Poland, Ukraine and mostly Russia, deserves a spot on the list of the 'six outposts of tyranny'.... Strengthened by the changes in government in Georgia and Ukraine, opponents to Lukashenko intend to double their efforts leading up to next year's presidential election. Washington, so to speak, will accompany them in their adventure.... How? By pledging financial support for American NGOs that help, among others, student organizations. We assume that Rice's promise irritated Putin and all the autocrats who call the shots in Russia.... This issue aside, oil was also discussed at length. Echoing the desires of the industry's bigwigs, Rice asked Putin to do more. How? At a time when the price of black gold is reaching new heights, Russia should find a lasting way to increase production. Thus, the world would not be at the mercy of the Persian Gulf. The Secretary of State is also asking the Moscow authorities to end the political fickleness that characterizes their management of the oil question. In short: decide already! It is true that on this issue, Putin blows hot and cold. One day he says yes to foreigner investment in business capital; the next day, his answer is no. It depends on the whims of the oligarchs. Washington and Wall Street would like for Putin to allow Americans to invest in businesses specialized in exploration. At the end of this visit, we wonder if the White House still considers Russia a 'strategic partner'."
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