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Thursday, 28 February, 2002, 11:38 GMT
Russian papers bemoan US-Georgia deal
Russian newspapers
The official Russian Government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta describes the prevailing mood of the general public in the Georgian capital Tbilisi as that of "a mixture of apprehension and hope".

"We can say with almost 100% confidence today that the Georgian leadership has chosen its official ally to carry out a special operation in the Pankisi gorge. The preference was given to the USA," writes the daily.

Its survey of the views of leading Russian politicians and other public figures shows their unanimously negative opinion.

'American intrusion'

The leading daily Izvestiya compares these plans with the opening of a second Chechen front.

The paper challenges the official US version that the aim of the deployment is to train the Georgian army to fight against international terrorism.

"In reality, everything is just the other way round."

However, the paper says that, "judging by the first reaction of the Russian leadership, Moscow was not entirely unaware - there have been preliminary consultations".

At the same time the paper notes that "these consultations may have taken place on a very high level, whereas many people in the Russian political elite, including top officials in the power-wielding structures, were not ready for this turn of events".

This is why these officials have interpreted the US moves as "intrusion into the sphere of Russia's strategic interests", the paper writes, adding that "this will trigger off more criticism of President Putin's foreign policy".

'Russian defeat'

The mass-circulation Komsomolskaya Pravda believes that "there have been no preliminary consultations with Moscow".

The paper argues that "all these events that took place in the North Caucasus in the past few years are episodes in a giant battle for controlling the major deposits of Caspian oil and gas, primarily, for routes to transport the Caspian oil".

The paper sees Georgia's choice of the US as "a serious Russian defeat in this battle".

At the same time it analyses another version of interpreting all these events.

"The deployment of the US troops in the region is the result of a deal between the USA and Russia. Allegedly, the Americans have offered Russia to divide the spheres of influence in Georgia by splitting the country into several administrative parts.

"As a result of the deal, Russia will gain control over Abkhazia and South Ossetia as well as Ajaria and Dzhavakhetia," the paper predicts.

'Odd one out'

The popular tabloid Moskovskiy Komsomolets believes that reports about the American deployment plans are "just a canard to check the Kremlin's reaction".

However, the paper predicts that if these plans are given a go-ahead, "Russia will be the odd one out. Strategically, the situation will change, and not to Russia's advantage".

"Moscow's influence will be further weakened in Georgia, Azerbaijan and even Armenia, the Chechen conflict will become an international one, and in a couple of years Moscow and Washington will start competing for the influence over the leadership of all other North Caucasus republics which currently are constituent parts of the Russian Federation."

'Western influence growing'

The upmarket broadsheet Nezavisimaya Gazeta remarks that "the ring of Western influence is getting tighter and tighter - Central Asia was followed by Moldova and Georgia. Russia is continuing to lose its positions in the post-Soviet countries".

The business newspaper Vedomosti takes a fatalistic view on the events - "the anti-terrorist operation in Georgia is inevitable".

The paper argues that "Iraq is being traded off for Chechnya, and Georgia will be a go-between in this deal".

The paper notes rather sarcastically that "Russia is unable to expand its military presence in Georgia anyway, and, as her experience with Central Asia shows, she will get used to the US presence very quickly.

"Russia is given a chance to pretend that all is well even when everything is going wrong."

The Russian press review is compiled by BBC Monitoring from internet editions of the main European newspapers and some early printed editions.

See also:

28 Feb 02 | Europe
US defends Georgia military plans
27 Feb 02 | Europe
US role in Georgia alarms Russia
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