Friday’s press review

Friday’s newspapers analyse the new trends emerging in Russia-U.S. relations and predict some important future moves by the Barack Obama administration.

ROSSIYSKAYA GAZETA writes that Washington has again hinted at the discontinuation of the U.S. missile defense program involving Eastern European countries.

The paper says that a Washington-based think-tank, the Center for American Progress, has issued a 70-page report on the development of the armed forces in the 21st Century, focused on ‘new realities and new priorities.’

The report recommends that Barack Obama abandons deploying elements of the missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

The paper writes that the document is unlikely to be dismissed because the Center for American Progress is headed by John Podesta, the current chief of staff of Barack Obama’s transitional administration.

The paper says the report makes it clear that the missile defense system has a long way to go before it’s fully developed. It says that until today it had been impossible to say whether it would work the way it was intended.

The paper also notes that the detailed description of the system included in the report reveals quite clearly that the system is meant against Russia not Iran or any other nation: it is all about stopping missiles during the phase of acceleration, and no missile flying from Iran or Korea would be accelerating over Poland or the Czech Republic. At that point it would be in the ballistic phase of its flight. However, a missile launched in Russia would definitely accelerate over Eastern Europe.

The paper writes that it may be significant that president-elect Barack Obama announced his intention to engage Russia in a constructive dialogue just a few days before the report was published.

Rossiyskaya Gazeta says it may well be a signal of the new U.S. administration’s readiness to trade the missile defense program for Russia’s support in Afghanistan and the cancellation of the plan to deploy Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad.

NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA supports this notion with an editorial titled ‘Getting closer through Afghanistan: Moscow and Washington should strengthen their cooperation in the dangerous region.’ The article says that while the resumed activity of the Russia-NATO council is good news after a confrontation lasting several months, there is at least one sphere in which cooperation never stopped: the allied operation in Afghanistan.

The paper says Russia never went back on its promise to provide a transport corridor for the international forces, and recently that corridor was ‘widened’ by adding another airfield in Kazakhstan.

The paper says the expected policy shift which makes Afghanistan the main U.S. priority in the next few years implies such a swelling of U.S. military presence that by the spring of 2009 the number of U.S. troops in the country will be equal to the numbers of Soviet troops in the worst years of the Soviet ‘Internationalist Operation.’

To achieve that, the editorial says, the U.S. has no option but to develop the ‘northern route’, bypassing Pakistan, which means that even if there were a path around Russia as well (it is being developed right now through Georgia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan), it would not be enough to ship all the troops and equipment, and the Russian corridor would acquire utmost importance.

The shift from Iraq to Afghanistan, continues the paper, will restore for the U.S. the value of Russia’s expertise in Afghan affairs: Russian intelligence, Russian veterans and Russian maps, records and archives will all be in demand again.

Apart from all that, says the paper, Russia is much better situated and prepared for yet another necessary task: the building and training of the Afghan army. The Soviet Union did it once, and quite successfully.

The article concludes that in Afghanistan, American and Russian interests coincide (if there has to be a war that close to Russia’s borders, Russia needs to ensure that its interests are protected. Russia doesn’t need a troublemaking neighbour ruled by the Taliban). That, says the paper, is a sufficient basis for attempting to build a closer relationship between the two nations.

KOMMERSANT disagrees: outlining the possible new supply routes to Afghanistan, the paper argues that the ‘Russian corridor’ is the least attractive option for the U.S. The paper quotes an expert who says that the U.S. is unlikely to use the Russian corridor more than it does now: ‘the U.S. administration knows that they would have to pay for that corridor with the Eastern European elements of their missile defense system, and that’s unacceptable.’

The paper continues to say that the main emphasis will be put on the route through Georgia (the Poti port), Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

The paper says this route is logical. However it can only work with the consent of all four nations.

Azerbaijan will demand a solution to the Nagorny Karabakh problem as its condition for participation, which in turn is a very sensitive issue for another country on the route – Armenia. To say nothing of the fact that Russia may become concerned about the U.S. building up alliances and negotiating regional problems right on its borders.

The same paper writes that apart from Afghanistan, the Obama administration is harbouring plans to ‘interfere everywhere in the world where there’s genocide.’ The paper says the goal of such rhetoric is clear: to justify a military attack on Sudan.

The paper says certain groups in the U.S., mainly Democrat-sponsored, are trying to prove several cases of genocide committed by the current government of Sudan.

The casualty figures for that war, says the paper, differ dramatically depending on their provider. The Sudanese government counts 10,000 dead. The U.N. quotes a figure of 300.000 dead. The U.S. Congress has been calling the goings on in Sudan ‘genocide’ since 2003, continues the paper, but no other nation or international organisation including the UN at the moment qualifies the Sudanese civil war as genocide.

The paper suggests that the U.S. may be clandestinely supporting the rebels of South Sudan against the Sudanese government and that the shipment of tanks captured by the pirates of Somalia on the Ukrainian freighter ‘Faina’ may have been paid for by the U.S. and meant for the Sudanese rebels.

The paper says the rebels may soon find themselves playing the role of Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance in the toppling of the government of that country with American support.

Evgeny Belenkiy, RT