Wednesday's press review

This Wednesday Russian newspapers discuss the inauguration of U.S. president Barack Obama.

ROSSIYSKAYA GAZETA publishes an opinion article by Dr. Nikolai Zlobin of the Washington-based World Security Institute. The Russian-American academic writes that in the last weeks of his presidency George W. Bush spoke to the media much more than usual.

The writer thinks that in this way the outgoing president was trying to plant in the nation’s minds the idea that his mistakes, if any, came from his belief in what he was doing, and that he intentionally took unpopular political decisions without regard to how these would effect his ratings, because he saw them as correct and beneficial for the American people. The author says he thinks that Bush sincerely believes that history will evaluate him much better than the public does at the moment.

Meanwhile, says the academic, his current rating is the lowest in history for any president of the United States who left office in the 60 years that passed since opinion polls were introduced. However the examples of Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan show that presidents who leave with a low rating can be re-evaluated as outstanding national leaders decades after they depart from the White House.

In the same few weeks before the inauguration, writes Zlobin, Barack Obama abandoned his criticism of George W. Bush, typical of his electoral campaign rhetoric, and switched to a milder language when he spoke of his predecessor, sometimes even praising his personal qualities as a family man, American patriot, and ‘a man who took the best possible decisions in our troubled times.’ The power transfer from the Bush administration to the administration of Obama became one of the smoothest and most peaceful in history.

Nikolai Zlobin thinks that as Obama became more involved in the affairs of state after the election, he started to understand better the limits and pressures that affect presidential decisions and learned that taking into account those limits and pressures, his predecessor was pursuing a rational political line.

The academic writes that Barack Obama will definitely differ greatly from George W. Bush, and his policies will be very different, with a fresh approach and new ideas rampant in the heads of his team, but that applies only to tactical matters. In the long run, strategic interests of the United States are stable and long-lasting enough to outlast any man’s presidency.

That is why, says the academic, it is naïve to imagine Barack Obama as a cosmopolitan white pigeon of peace: Obama’s policy may be more sophisticated and flexible, but the goals are the same – including the strengthening of the leading role of the U.S. in the international system. Tactically more acute, Obama will defend U.S. national interest in the same straightforward and uncompromising way as George W. Bush, says Zlobin.

IZVESTIA’s veteran foreign correspondent and analyst Malor Sturua writes from Minneapolis: after the inauguration the new U.S. president and his team will have no rest. There’s no need to choose priorities, they have been chosen already for this administration by the course of history: the economic crisis and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Today, writes Sturua, the new president meets his advisors to discuss crisis management, and in the afternoon he talks to his defence and foreign policy team.

Meanwhile, says the writer, the Obama factor has been at work in the outer world for some time already: the Israelis, for instance, decided to wrap up their military operation in the Gaza strip days before the Inauguration.

VREMYA NOVOSTEI writes that the comparison between Barack Obama and Edward Kennedy is commonplace but, in fact, inessential. The paper dismisses JFK as an ‘unsuccessful U.S. president,’ emotionally remembered for the way he died, and attributes much more significance to the fact that Kennedy’s being a Roman Catholic stirred up much more trouble in his time than Obama’s skin colour does today.

The paper says that the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama is a triumph of the civil rights movement and fulfilment of the expectations of Afro-Americans formulated in the famous speech by Martin Luther King, ‘I have a dream.’

NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA hints that the most expensive and beautiful inauguration ceremony in history is the first step of the new administration’s crisis management program aimed at building up consumer confidence and says that in the opinion of many experts, the new president managed to invoke the right public emotions in his speech, without overloading it with slogans and catchphrases.

The paper also says that this inauguration has been celebrated wider than ever because Barack Obama is the first Afro-American to become president, and thus, the living incarnation of the ideals of Abraham Lincoln, John Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

KOMMERSANT publishes an article by Fred Weir, the Moscow bureau chief of the Christian Science Monitor newspaper. He writes that America expects Barack Obama to reform and improve the American political culture, which in turn would have a positive effect on domestic politics and foreign policy and improve the image of the U.S. abroad.

However, writes the Moscow-based American journalist, the core of Obama’s team consists of several veterans of the Clinton era, those who were responsible for the deregulation of the U.S. economy which became the main factor in the making of the current economic crisis. It means that the same people, who in fact launched the crisis by their inadequate policies, will now take on the responsibility of fighting it. Will they succeed? There is a really big question mark on this phrase, writes the author.

He also predicts that Obama’s policies towards Russia are not going to be much different from his predecessor’s: unilateral decisions bypassing UN procedure, further eastward expansion of NATO, attempts to control post-Soviet space, further pressure on Iran.

The author doubts that there can be a Putin-Obama ‘honeymoon’ like the one enjoyed by Clinton and Yeltsin, and then again – during that ‘honeymoon’ Moscow hardly opposed any actions by Washington, even when those actions were against its interests. That is definitely not going to happen now, continues the author.

He also says that in the near future Russia will not be a priority for Obama. But it may become so in case of another crisis, like the one surrounding the war in Georgia last year. And that is already a paradox, says the author: crises playing the role of the engine in Russia – U.S. relations.

However, concludes the author, nothing prevents Obama from creating a specialized panel of experts on Russia, which could succeed, if not in the forming of a new policy, then at least in the lifting of the bilateral relations to a higher level of quality.

KOMSOMOLSKAYA PRAVDA asks what Russia should expect from the new U.S. president and publishes a few short answers from well-known figures:

Senator and Chairman of the Federation Council’s International affairs committee Mikhail Margelov: ‘A hand extended for a handshake. The new president will have to conduct dialogue with Russia, whether he wants it or not.’

Sergey Markov, member of the State Duma and Director of the Institute of Political Studies: ‘Nothing at all. It is not the president but the political elite that forms America’s foreign policy. There is a consensus on Russia among the U.S. elite, so we will have to fight for our right to be independent in the ranks of the great world powers – as usual.’

Alexey Mukhin, Director of the Centre for Political Information: ‘‘Obama’ translates from Arabic as ‘Blessed by God,’ which gives us some hope. But Barack Obama is also a hostage of the heavy inheritance he received from George W. Bush. So I don’t think we should expect anything extremely good in the near future.’

Alexey Leonov, Cosmonaut and Two-time Hero of the Soviet Union: ‘Warming in Russia-U.S. relations. America will continue to pursue its interests, but we will not quarrel or fight wars with each other. That’s for sure.’

Evgeny Belenkiy, RT