Thursday's Press Review

This Thursday, Russian newspapers predict a more active style for Russia’s foreign policy, explore the positive signals recently exchanged by Washington and Moscow, and assess the situation in Afghanistan.

ROSSIYSKAYA GAZETA publishes an article by Konstantin Kosachev, the chairman of the State Duma’s international affairs commission. He writes that the time has come for Russia to develop a more activist foreign policy to forward and promote its own initiatives in many spheres of international relations.

Kosachev said Russia needs to avoid mistakes similar to those made by the West in the 1990s when the U.S., as well as Western Europe, was trying to build relations with a new Russia, based upon their own perception of how the Cold war ended. He says they considered Russia to be a defeated adversary rather than a new partner and thought it natural for Russia in its diminished state to act in the way they expected it to act. The lack of understanding of the fact that Russia is a nation that doesn’t accept defeat caused a lot of difficulties in our relations with the West and continues causing more.

That was the reason behind the continuous ignoring of Russia’s national interests that revealed itself in such issues as the eastward expansion of NATO and other actions. Now, with our restored strength and readiness to respond positively to new American initiatives hinting at the improvement of Russia – West relations, says the author, we need to avoid the same mistake: we should not ignore, in our self-assurance, what is offered to us and we should not wait for elaborations on the new initiatives delivered to us so far only as a plan.

We need, says Kosachev, to launch our own initiatives based in a sense on the signals of plans we now receive from Washington, but thoroughly calculated and thought through, with every detail clear and serving our interest. In that case, says the author, our interest will be indeed taken into consideration by our partners and will definitely make it into the planned new bilateral and multilateral agreements.

VREMYA NOVOSTEI echoes the conclusion by Kosachev and presents an example to demonstrate the need for a more active style in Russia’s foreign policy: it describes how, during the recent Munich Conference, there were two major disappointments- the lower than expected level of representation from the United States and the lack of elaboration on Russia’s initiative on the new architecture of European and world security.

KOMMERSANT writes that in the Russian Foreign Ministry and the U.S. State Department experts are already busy preparing and setting up the first meeting of the Russian and American presidents that may take place in April at the summit of the G20 or even earlier. The paper says that nuclear disarmament is definitely going to dominate in bilateral relations in the next few years but it is not possible to prepare such a document as a treaty on the reduction of strategic assault weapons within three months. Therefore, says the paper, the two Presidents may have to sign a less significant document at their first meeting, perhaps an agreement on countering corruption.

The same paper publishes a comment by political scientist Boris Makarenko. The academic writes that ‘pushing the reset button’ in Russia-U.S. relations is only the beginning of a lengthy process of normalization of relations between the two countries, strongly affected by the counterproductive foreign policy of the previous U.S. administration.

He adds that the U.S. is probably going to pursue a milder policy in many bilateral issues, such as in their actions in the post-Soviet regions, but it doesn’t mean that Washington is ready to depart the region altogether or step back too far in other spheres of bilateral interactions.

NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA writes that Washington and Moscow are exchanging positive signals about their cooperation on the issue of Afghanistan. The paper says, with non-military supply transit routs settled, the two sides are discussing the transit of armaments for the U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan through Russia and with Russia’s consent – through several Central Asian countries.

The newspaper also says recent consultations conducted between Deputy Foreign Minister Alexey Borodavkin and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Patrick Moon touched on other matters as well, including domestic economic and political development in Afghanistan, counter-terrorism and the fight against trafficking in illicit drugs, various aid programs and the normalization of the situation in Afghanistan.

The paper hints at a possibility that one more issue was discussed during the consultations, but hasn’t made it into the media: the fate of the Manas air force base in Kyrgyzstan. At the moment, says the paper, the Manas problem is becoming an obstacle – or an opportunity in the process of the emerging improvement in Russia – U.S. relations.

The same paper reports from Kabul that the arrival of Richard Holbrooke, the special envoy of President Obama in Afghanistan and Pakistan, was preceded by a series of Taliban-organized explosions and armed attacks on government facilities in the Afghan capital. The paper says that the public sentiment in the country has changed in the past seven years and that today the majority of Afghan citizens want U.S. and NATO troops out of Afghanistan.

The newspaper continues: opinion surveys show that over 60% of people living in Kabul and around have lost faith in the allied efforts against the Taliban and do not believe that the war will eventually end. In the areas where the fighting is most intensive, says the article, only one out of five people speaks well of allied soldiers. The foreign soldiers, continues the article, are now seen by locals as one of the reasons for their suffering, rather than as an allied force in their war.

Evgeny Belenkiy, RT.