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Politicians, academics warn of rising Russian menace

Feb 08, 2006
Staff and wire reports

VILNIUS - Two Lithuanian members of the European Parliament and a renowned scholar have spoken out about the threat posed by a re-emerging Russia bent on regional expansion and the suppression of democracy at home and in neighboring countries. Danute Budreikaite warned a plenary session of the European Parliament this week to look out for the Kremlin's intent to suppress democracy and raise its propaganda influence. Budreikaite, a member of the group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, said the so-called spy scandal in Moscow has shown the Kremlin's underlying intent to restrain civil society organizations in Russia and former Soviet bloc countries.

She said the color revolutions that have deposed regimes loyal to Russia spurred Moscow to act. Furthermore, she added, there was a chance that several more pro-Russian governments may be replaced in the near future.

So, in the MEP's words, using the favorable situation on the global energy market after gas and oil prices have increased considerably, Russia may allocate more money for propaganda campaigns.

Most recently, Moscow launched a 24-hour English-language cable news program that will not shy away from propagating the Kremlin's line on international and domestic affairs.

Meanwhile, political scientist Raimundas Lopata said the state Vladimir Putin was creating would unavoidably resort to expansion and an imperial foreign policy, while civil society would become only a signboard in a "strong-state" project.

Lopata, director of Vilnius University's International Relations and Political Science Institute, was speaking at an international discussion "Process and Experience of Democratic Reforms in the Context of European Neighborhood Policy and Trans-Atlantic Relations" in Parliament on Feb. 3.

In his words, meetings between Putin and foreign leaders give off the impression that close friends are talking. But when analyzing the development of international relations over the last 15 years, as far as values are concerned, the distance between the Western world and Russia is not decreasing, but consistently increasing, Lopata said.

Countries and territories in between Russia and the West face the biggest problems, he added. "Unfortunately, it is not always for these countries to compensate this tension by looking for support in the West that often demonstrates a warm, light, ostensibly unproblematic flirt with Moscow," said Lopata.

In his opinion, this may be due to insufficient coordination of joint action between the West and in-between territories. The lack of coordination will allow the development of imperial ambitions to prevail in Russia.

"It is a paradox, but in order to solve these tasks, yet another circumstance will have the major influence. Namely, how we, or the West, will be successful in talking among ourselves. In other words, will we manage to find an adequate institutional form in order to adopt mutual strategic decisions?" asked Lopata.

The political scientist hinted that the West needed to act sooner rather than later.

"Even if we agree with the statement that the internal political set-up of Russia is its own business, can the international community overlook the Kremlin's efforts to revive the former empire? If this process gains momentum, the consequences will be felt not only by the already mentioned in-between states, but most probably by those states whose leaders now are flirting with Moscow so nicely," he said.

Budreikaite said the EU and the U.S.A., promoting democratic processes in the post-Soviet space, currently risked losing their initiative in the information war, and possibly failed to see serious resons for resisting it, as some European countries were directly dependent on Russia's energy system.

She called on EU leadership to actively promote democratic processes in the post-Soviet territory and to express its opinion on Russia's anti-Western propaganda, as well as to tackle the issue of energy dependence on Russia.

Meanwhile, MEP Vytautas Landsbergis, a perennial critic of Russian policies, told the round-table discussion in Parliament last week that hopes for the isolated region of Kaliningrad would best be realized through a change of status.

"If somebody in the Kremlin has illusions that reforms can be carried out through some economy, I think that reforms or changes for the good can be made there (in the Kaliningrad region) only through status," he said.

"No matter how unwilling the Kremlin may be to admit this, the reality is that the region is not totally Russia itself, it is special. Maybe our task would be to help Russia understand that this is a special piece of Europe, not an absolutely normal Russia like some Tambov or Saratov," Landsbergis said.

The Kaliningrad exclave, which had been part of East Prussia and belonged to Germany, was handed over to the Soviet Union at the Potsdam Conference after World War II.

In the MEP's words, the problem of the region as Russia's military bridgehead should be raised in Europe as well. "Quite often we hear that the bridgehead has been reduced there, and then suddenly we hear that there are hundreds of good quality and fully operative Russian tanks. We don't really like missiles with nuclear warheads as well, and nobody demands that Russia explain whom Russia wants to attack from that bridgehead," Landsbergis said
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