Wednesday’s Press Review

A girl skates on the ice of a frozen lake near Manas airport (AFP Photo / Vyacheslav Oseledko)
Russian newspapers analyze the new positive trend in Russia’s relations with the West, comment on the issue of the Manas air force base and turn to a French academic for an assessment of Russia’s role in Europe.

ROSSIYSKAYA GAZETA publishes an opinion article by Sergey Karaganov, the Dean of the World Economy and Politics department at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. The academic says that the confrontational trend existing in Russia’s relations with the West (meaning the U.S. and Western Europe), which had all the makings of a long-term tendency, is weakening under the influence of the global economic crisis.

The author writes that relations with the West are going to improve, at least for the duration of the crisis, as everyone understands now that no nation can weather it alone. Karaganov writes that the confrontation was based on the disillusionment with the results of the Cold war and distrust of Russia by the West, and Russia’s flexing its muscles restored due to sheer luck (high oil prices) and will (the restoration of the Russian state and statehood).

The confrontation may return after the crisis, says the academic, but so far the U.S., assuming, with full consent of Europe, the role of the representative of the West in dealing with Russia, is suggesting negotiations on nuclear armaments reduction. Russia wants the same, he says, with the term of previous agreements expiring in December this year.

New talks on nuclear disarmament will definitely be instrumental in achieving closer positions on many other issues, but they will also bring back the viewing of each other through the ‘forest of missiles’ which may cause another re-occurrence of Cold war mentality and bring the ‘old hands’ of disarmament back to the negotiation table, together with their pre-Perestroyka mindsets.

The sense of balance would be needed, says Karaganov, when walking the path of disarmament together with our Western partners, as well as the sense of humor – enough of it to realize that disarmament, as offered to us by our partners, is a dangerous game which cannot be played with excessive seriousness.

The academic continues: we should remember that ‘massive and thorough nuclear disarmament is totally unacceptable. The very fact of the nukes’ existence is the only guarantee for the world that it wouldn’t slip-slide into serial conflicts or even a new world war. Without the nuclear weapons we could have rightfully pronounced the current international situation a pre-war situation.’

IZVESTIA writes that despite the Kremlin’s positive reaction to the new American initiative in nuclear disarmament, Russian experts doubt that mutual understanding will come easily for the negotiators on the two sides. One of the experts is quoted as saying: first of all, the U.S. has a national missile defense program on a global scale, while Russia doesn’t, which means that the American one thousand warheads can all reach their destinations in Russia when no one knows how many Russian missiles will never make it out of their silos.

Secondly, says the expert, the Americans tend to ‘forget’ about their air and sea-based weapons when they talk arms reductions. And thirdly, they now have a concept of a massive non-nuclear strike, so they are going to disarm some of their nukes anyway, to say nothing of the fact that they do not destroy their nuclear weapons but store them. However, says the same expert, ‘the driving force of Anglo-Saxon mentality is material or symbolic gain, so if we have serious enough arguments, they may go for a compromise.’

KOMMERSANT describes the events around the air force base Manas, rented by the U.S. from the government of Kyrgyzstan. The paper says the Kyrgyz parliament is taking its time with the issue, hinting at the probable reason for the delay: some MPs may be waiting for the Russian 2 Billion U.S. dollar loan to assume the material form, some think that the longer the delay, the longer Kyrgyzstan will be receiving American money for the base, and there is even a possibility that the U.S. may be ready to bargain over it.

A comment by the former Deputy Foreign minister of the Soviet Union Andrey Fedorov says that while Kyrgyzstan is now in the best position to bargain with the U.S., Russia has made a binding promise to Kyrgyzstan and has to deliver, no matter how much Russia likes Kyrgyzstan’s bargaining with America. The author says that he has been noticing lately how often Russia finds itself fighting at two fronts simultaneously, mostly when relations with a fellow post-Soviet state acquire an ‘American’ angle. He says, at the end it is not clear, ‘if we need that base ourselves or we just want to step on the American boot as heavily as possible?’

NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA publishes an article by Tomas Gomart, the Head of the Russia/CIS program at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI). The French academic writes that the global economic crisis has changed the power balance in many spheres of life, including economic relations between Russia and Europe. During the conflict in Georgia and the ‘gas war’ with Ukraine, writes the author, Russia’s power potential was shown in full.

However, he says, the crisis affected the Russian economy at such a scale that some European governments, as well as multinational private enterprises, chose to return to viewing Russia only as an extremely volatile but potentially lucrative market, and writing it off as a powerful state. The author warns against such views, because Russia still has a significant capability of financial maneuver and also has recent crisis-management experience, which the European nations lack.

He adds that it is in the interest of Europe to maintain constant cooperation with Russia, notwithstanding any temporary difficulties, while closely monitoring Russia’s potential.

Evgeny Belenkiy, RT.