January 3, 2007
The media have focused on Russia’s strong reaction to the law on the protection of military burial places, which allows the Estonian authorities to relocate the remains of Soviet soldiers and dismantle monuments installed in their honor, such as the Monument to the Soldier-Liberator (the Bronze Soldier) in downtown Tallinn. The press has responded by writing about the troubles of the Estonian people after the republic’s annexation by the Soviet Union. A number of pieces describe the graves of Estonians who were deported to Siberia and perished there. The press demands that Estonian scientists be given access to the Russian secret service archives in order to find out what happened to thousands of deported Estonians.
“Russia does not believe it is morally responsible for locating and taking care of Estonian graves. Experience testifies to the authorities’ negative attitude to this problem, if not complete refusal to do anything about it. The reason is clear: for Russia Estonia is an unfriendly NATO country harassing Russians. After the failure of the Estonian-Russian border talks, the two sides have shelved a whole package of treaties governing their relations, including an agreement on the mutual care of graves.” (Postimees, January 18).
Criticizing Vladimir Putin’s course, commentators have been urging EU members to interfere in the alignment of the Russian political forces before the presidential elections and to support the opposition.
“The Russian people need the opposition, if only because in this way their state will gain a better government. There are no grounds to be afraid or embarrassed to support Russia’s still weak democratic opposition, part of which had to flee abroad. The Russian authorities should understand that their talk of sovereignty does not suit a world without borders. Civil society stands above national frontiers, and this is a good thing. Despite pessimistic estimates, a window of opportunity is open for Russia. Let’s interfere now!” (Postimees, January 20).
The media have been discussing a draft treaty on the border with Russia. Experts emphasize that by signing the treaty Russia will have to recognize Latvia as the legal successor to the Latvian Republic of the 1920s-1930s.
“Russia should not be able to argue, referring to the border treaty, that Latvia is a new country rather than the successor to the Latvian Republic occupied in 1940, and to demand a revision of the law on citizenship on those grounds…. The Saeima [Latvia’s parliament] will pass a special law to seal Latvia’s legal succession…. This judicial solution is so clever that Russia will have no reason or chance to refuse to sign the border treaty.” (Neatkariga rita avize, January 17).
The media have been paying special attention to Latvia’s possible involvement in the North European Gas Pipeline. Experts believe that the pipeline consortium may be interested in a proposal to build and operate underground gas depots (UGDs) in Dobele.
“The combined potential of the natural UGDs in Latvia amounts to 50 billion cubic meters, and there is no doubt that in perspective Russia may show interest in UGDs with capacities like the one in Dobele.” (Biznes&Baltiya, January 22).
“Latvia hopes to become part of the North European gas transportation network. The Economy Ministry has already attracted EU money to conduct geological, technical and economic studies on building a large UGD near Dobele. We do not yet know what Moscow will say about Latvia’s possible involvement.” (Telegraf, January 22).
The press has been calculating the economic damage inflicted on Latvian canneries by last October’s ban on supplies to Russia. Experts believe that Russia’s blockade has plunged the Latvian fish industry into a profound crisis.
“The sprats war, which went on for several months, has not only been a calamity for our fish industry, but also caused a drop in prices on the markets of other countries. Latvian producers had to sell their sprats at dumping prices to Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and other CIS countries.” (Telegraf, January 17).
The media believe that having surrendered in the fuel war with Russia, the Belarusian president has won a tactical victory.
“From high-sounding rhetoric reminiscent of the threat to ‘whack [terrorists] in the toilet,’ Putin has suddenly switched to the promotion of billion-dollar subsidies to Minsk. This means he has realized that it is dangerous for the Kremlin to cross the line in the fight with Lukashenko, at least for the time being. We should remember this conclusion in assessing the prospects of Lukashenko’s regime and should not forget about Russia’s plans for the future…. [After all,] Lukashenko is hoping to stay in power much longer than Putin.” (Lietuvos rytas, January 22).
The media have described the consequences of Russian support for the Lukashenko regime as disastrous for Belarus.
“Owing to Russia’s political and economic preferences, Belarus has been building a model of Stalinist police socialism with the preservation of industrial giants and economically unjustified profits. There are no conditions for the emergence of a middle class. Belarus has not carried out sweeping market reforms. The flow of foreign capital has been limited by the unfavorable investment climate, one of the worst in the world. As a result, thousands of industrial and other enterprises have sunk into decay. Belarus is beginning to lag behind its neighbors such as Poland and the Baltic countries, which have been buying energy sources at market prices for a long time and successfully developing their economies and industries.” (Forumvilnius.lt, January 23).