The Baltic, Belorussian and Ukrainian press on Russia

RIA– Novosti Press
Russian News and Information Service
May 23, 2008


The media are writing that the recent cabinet reshuffle has reduced the role of the “siloviki” and increased the weight of liberal-minded experts. At the same time, the changes are seen as minor. “The gist of the cabinet reshuffle is the transfer of Kremlin officials to the Putin government, and the other way round… A new system of decision-making has emerged… It is not dominated by any side – neither the Kremlin, nor the government controls it… Economists will play a slightly bigger role in the government, because Kudrin has kept his seat, and the economist Shuvalov has become first deputy prime minister alongside former Prime Minister Zubkov – earlier Sechin, who represents the ‘siloviki,’ had been expected to occupy this position… This means that Russia will continue its current economic course.” (Eesti Paevaleht, May 14)

“Almost all the leaders from among the “siloviki” have lost their influence, or been demoted. At the same time, top government officials who are considered rather liberal have… kept their seats or … been appointed to higher positions.” (Eesti Paevaleht, May 17)

Experts believe that the Estonian government’s thoughtless transfer of the Bronze Soldier war memorial has caused another chill in relations with Russia and had a negative impact on the volume of Russian through traffic, which plays a major role in Estonia’s economic prosperity. “Chairman of the Council of the Port of Sillamaa T. Vahi said that a sharp decline in consumption… and the republic’s wrongful conduct towards Russia are impeding the Estonian economy… He added that productive cooperation with Russia is impossible if Estonia keeps permanently insulting… its eastern neighbor.” (, May 15)

“After restoration of Estonia’s independence we had very good relations with Russia. So, what happened? The advent of a bronze night… We have ports with the best possible infrastructure and wonderful professionals who can work in difficult conditions. But we are engaged in hostile rhetoric towards Russia, which only nurtures the Russian radicals.” (Aripaev, May 16)


Most newspapers view Russia as a state with which Latvia is bound to have close ties, primarily in the economy. In the event of confrontation with Russia, the West is seen as an ally but not at all a completely reliable guarantor. “The information and propaganda war between Georgia and Russia has become a difficult issue for European policymakers. Once again, there has emerged a gap between those Europeans who do not want to spoil relations with Moscow, and those who want… quick integration of this Caucasian state with the West. Latvia has found itself in-between these positions. On the one hand, it wants to make cooperation with the EU countries one of its foreign policy priorities, but on the other, it is afraid to take resolute action for fear of displeasing Russia.” (Diena, May 15)

Some publications are advising the authorities to ease policy towards non-Letts in order to improve relations with Russia. “Many [non-Letts] have taken offense with good reason – in the 1990s they supported Latvia’s independence, whereas now they have become non-citizens. The government should take a step forward to non-citizens, and give them the right to take part in municipal elections, which will make them more loyal to Latvia. Latvia should understand that there is no alternative to Russian gas.” (Nedelia, May 14)

Russian-language publications are worried about the sorry plight of WWII veterans. “SS legionnaires receive benefits because they were oppressed by the Soviet government. Former ‘forest brothers’ are also get an allowance on top of their pensions – they are now called guerillas or national resistance fighters. As for [Soviet] war veterans, they have only one status – that of ‘occupiers’, with all the ensuing consequences. They can only hope for support from the Russian Embassy and private individuals (businessmen).” (Vesti-Segodnya, May 14)


The pro-government media are indignant at Moscow for its refusal to comment on the position of Vilnius, which has blocked Russia-EU talks on a new agreement. The opposition media believe that this step will sooner lead to defeat than success. “Officially Moscow does not comment on Lithuania’s strict position on EU-Russia talks. [Russian Ambassador] Boris Tsepov does not even talk about this. ‘If you mean the official opinion, you know it better than me. As for the unofficial view, I’m not going to disclose it to you,’ Tsepov declared… He confirmed that he continues to believe that this country is a community of hell-raisers.” (Lietuvos Zinios, May 15)

“Having banged the door… and blocked EU-Russia talks, Vilnius risked being alone… The press services of the Lithuanian foreign ministry and the president simultaneously produced a sensation – foreign ministers have fully backed Lithuania, and will also support Georgia in the same way… It is not known how well-grounded this rejoicing is, and whether it is just another declaration of ‘complete victory,’ which conceals ‘complete loss.'” (Litovsky Kurier, May 15)

The media are angry at systematic hikes in prices of Russian fuel. Some publications blame the most recent gas price increase on Gazprom’s biased attitude to its Lithuanian partners. “Gas prices have beaten all records this year. Experts believe that this is not a surprise… Gazprom promised European prices for Lithuania three years ago… Now we receive this news with surprise… Regrettably, this is not the final price… Gas prices will grow, both because of global trends and because of Gazprom’s invented price policy, which is hitting us the hardest.” (Veidas, May 16)


Describing possible scenarios for the development of bilateral relations between Russia and Belarus, the opposition media are emphasizing the absence of friendly ties between Dmitry Medvedev and Alexander Lukashenko, and the latter’s interest in weakening Russian government agencies.

“Lukashenko should find a point of contact with Medvedev by all means. He has made several official and unofficial invitations to Russia’s third president to visit Minsk, pronounced meaningful statements, and demonstrated his knowledge of the Kremlin’s inside life, but so far without success… ‘Friendship’ with Russia’s third president is a dream which has been ordered to become truth… Needless to say, Lukashenko is vitally interested in the division of the Russian leadership. The Belarusian president knows how to maneuver between two centers of power, and hopes, not without a reason, that a split in the Russian government will allow him to make up for what he lost last year. At any rate, the question of his fourth presidential term would be agreed upon with Moscow.” (Belorussky Partizan, May 19)

Some publications are ironic about Medvedev, portraying him as a slightly infantile idealist who is divorced from reality. “We are interested in Medvedev not only because … he listens to Deep Purple and is a third-generation intellectual. He admitted on his official site that he reads Chekhov, Bunin, and Dostoyevsky. Until quite recently, he was a teacher at Leningrad State University, but now he is the president. Video clips are made about him, generals salute him… Obviously, the actions of this amazing man… are being prompted by his sophisticated inner world, which does not have room for military drill or KGB bees. Those who would like to understand what motivates his actions should concentrate on Chekhov’s moving characters rather than a conspiracy theory or geopolitics.” (BelGazeta, May 14)


The media are extensively covering the on going diplomatic scandal surrounding statements by Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov about Sevastopol’s inadequate administrative status. Journalists are criticizing the position of the Russian Foreign Ministry and many Russian politicians for supporting the mayor.

“It seems that the mayor of Moscow’s statements on Sevastopol were not accidental. This is confirmed by the opinion expressed by Deputy Speaker of the Duma Lyubov Sliska, of the United Russia party. She said that the question of the status of the peninsula, and in particular, Sevastopol could be raised in relevant international… agencies… Moscow has no legal right to go to court in order to get Sevastopol or the Crimea. It is common knowledge that a signature under an international document overrides any opinions and sentiments… It seems that the Russian Foreign Ministry fails to pass the test for the continuity of foreign policy.” (Den, May 14)

Experts are writing about Russia’s failure to legalize immigrant laborers. “Guest workers in Russia have to go ‘into the shadow.’ Plants and factories … have exhausted their quotas for foreign workers even before the end of the first half-year, but they need manpower. Therefore, immigration will be illegal in the second half of the year… According to the latest information, Ukrainians form the majority of foreign workers in Russia. This is why the hardest hit by the limit on quotas will be our compatriots, who are traveling en masse to the neighboring country in search of jobs… Acknowledging the inadequacy of the established quotas, the heads of the FMS [Federal Migration Service] are making helpless gestures.” (Delo, May 15)