Fridays’ Press Review

An Afghan commando keeps watch outside the Justice Ministry building which was attacked by several armed militants in Kabul on February 11, 2009 (AFP Photo / Shah Marai)
This Friday, Russian newspapers describe the positive trends in Russia-U.S. relations, interview a leading EU official and look into the ongoing allied efforts in Afghanistan.

NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA writes that, unlike in previous power transition periods in the U.S., this time the first meeting between the new U.S. president and the President of Russia is scheduled for a much earlier date. The paper says the meeting is to take place on April 2 during the G20 summit in London, and that the preparatory work for it is already underway in Moscow and Washington.

The newspaper says this is an unusual situation because in previous decades the two sides normally took a break, several months long, before scheduling the meetings of the presidents. This time, says the paper, the break was eliminated, most probably because there are urgent issues to discuss and problems that need solutions.

The paper names areas of possible cooperation between the two nations as nuclear disarmament and arms control, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the fight against terrorism and a series of concrete and urgent aspects of cooperation in Afghanistan.

It also sites missile defense, Iran, Russian domestic politics, Ukraine, Georgia and the eastward expansion of NATO as problems in bilateral relations on which, it seems, a compromise may be necessary to clear the way for cooperation.

KOMMERSANT continues with this topic, reporting that highly placed officials in the Russian Foreign Ministry, the U.S. State Department and the U.S. National Security Council discussed, in meetings in Moscow during the past few days, how to intensify practical bilateral cooperation and Russia – U.S. interaction on important international issues.

The paper quotes Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov regarding those meetings and adds that the two sides are, at the moment, busy setting up political dialogues between the Russian leadership and the new U.S. administration. The paper says a meeting between Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled for March, weeks before the presidential meeting.

The same newspaper has an interview with the EU High representative for foreign policy, Xavier Solana, who took part in negotiations at the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow. Solana says that EU relations with Russia have been normalized and that the aftermath of the war in the Caucasus has been overcome. He also says, concerning the New Years ‘gas war’ between Russia and Ukraine, that he hopes the promise given by Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko would hold and another gas stoppage won’t hit Europe next winter.

Of the EU efforts towards Russian – Georgian reconciliation, Solana says that a positive result is very possible but the process of normalization will not take days or months, but years. Regarding President Dmitry Medvedev’s initiative on the new security architecture for Europe, the EU high official said that in his opinion the security reform should not follow the path of destroying the old structure to build a new one from scratch, but new elements should be added to the old structure, adjusting it to the new realities.

In the same issue of the newspaper there are two articles on the war in Afghanistan. In the first, the paper describes the results of negotiations conducted recently in Moscow between Russia and the U.S. at which the two sides agreed to open a corridor through Russia for the transit of non-military supplies to be delivered by the American side to the U.S. and NATO military contingents in Afghanistan. The paper quotes Russian experts saying that such an agreement actually means the creation of a Russian-American logistics network, which is a real breakthrough in bilateral relations.

However, the same experts say that the U.S. only has two to three months to prepare a massive attack on the Taliban that the U.S. military is planning. Further, the Afghan presidential election is scheduled for August and if the allied military doesn’t completely defeat the Taliban before that, they will have to leave Afghanistan altogether because, as every other foreign force before them, they will not be able to hold the entire country indefinitely without sustaining heavy losses.

The second article describes the visit to Pakistan by U.S. Special representative Richard Holbrooke. The paper says Holbrooke was trying to prompt the Pakistani authorities to intensify their efforts against the Taliban in their territory and provide tight security for the U.S. logistics chain in Pakistan’s provinces bordering Afghanistan where Taliban fighters and bandits routinely attack American supply routes.

The newspaper says that the Pakistani leadership, apart from promising their best effort, was trying to persuade Holbrooke that beside military solutions there may be other ways to solve the problems in Afghanistan, and expressed their concern about the recent increase in U.S. air raids on Pakistani territory which are aimed at terrorists but often hit civilian targets.

VREMYA NOVOSTEI writes on the same topic: while Afghanistan celebrates the 20th anniversary of the withdrawal of Soviet troops, the attitude of the Afghan people to events of the past are enmeshed with the current reality of the presence in Afghanistan of U.S. and NATO soldiers. The paper’s correspondent reports from Kabul that local media call their own country ‘a cemetery of empires,’ hinting at the falling of the British Empire after three wars in Afghanistan and the collapse of the Soviet Union after only one lengthy war.

The article suggests that currently discussed ideas for a peaceful solution for Afghanistan may bring results if the right model is found for the acceptance of some Taliban leaders into a coalition government, and they agree to that, but not at the price of the current government being dissolved and a new universal reconciliation effort being launched. The paper says such efforts were already launched several times in the past and it always ended in an escalation of the civil war.

The paper also rejects the idea of breaking Afghanistan into several ethnic states because border disputes between them will very soon lead to the same result: another escalation of a conflict that will not be different from the old civil war in anything but the name. Most experts, local as well as foreign, continues the paper, agree that only urgent and fast economic development can solve the problems of Afghanistan and wonders if the world powers are ready to invest huge amounts in the Afghan economy during the global crisis.

The newspaper says many in Kabul are looking forward to learning what steps Barack Obama is going to take to ‘bring Afghanistan into the XXI Century.’ Speaking of the American effort, the paper quotes an ordinary Afghan man who told its correspondent: ‘We will understand what the Americans achieved and what they failed to achieve in Afghanistan only when we will be celebrating another anniversary – that of the withdrawal of the American troops.’

Evgeny Belenkiy, RT.