Moscow Cools On Neighbors

Moscow is to stop giving economic perks to its ex-Soviet neighbors, a Kremlin source was quoted as saying on Tuesday, in a message to Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova they may have to pay for their new pro-Western stance.

Moscow has traditionally given preferential economic treatment to its former satellite states but that has not stopped pro-Western leaders coming to power in revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia, and Moldova turning its back on Russia.

"Russia is not happy with the situation when in fact it subsidizes the economies of certain countries by supplying them with energy resources at discount prices while their people remain impoverished," the Kremlin source said.

"Such situations create grounds for "Orange Revolutions" which change little in people's lives but bring to power rulers, some of whom are ... in the pay of the United States," the source was quoted as saying by Russia's RIA news agency.

The source did not name any countries, but it was clear he was talking about Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. Street protests in Ukraine last year -- known as the "Orange Revolution -- ousted that country's ruling elite.

The source said Moscow wanted to establish "rules."

But the new policy is not designed "to restore Russia's influence allegedly lost after 'Orange Revolutions,"' the Kremlin source said. "There has been no influence, just wasted money," RIA quoted the source as saying.

"Our aim is to make Moscow's relations with Washington and European structures on the territory of the former Soviet Union civilized," the source added.

"There is, in effect, a free-for-all going on in the post-Soviet space. Russia wants to establish some rules, and they should be civilized rules," said the source.

Many ex-Soviet states import Russian oil and gas supplies at below world prices and their products also have privileged access to Russia's domestic market.

Scrapping this preferred status could have dire consequences for the economies of Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova. They have only tiny energy supplies of their own and Russia remains for them a major export market.

Russia has complained that Western countries fomented revolution in ex-Soviet states in order to grab influence in a region Moscow has for years seen as its backyard and commonly describes as "the near abroad."


Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also hinted at a new approach to ex-Soviet republics, loosely grouped within the 12-member Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

"All CIS states ... believe that it is time to start basing our relations within the CIS on the basis of international norms and law," he said on Tuesday after a meeting of the group's foreign ministers. "We will be moving in that direction."

Some Russian officials fear Uzbekistan and Belarus -- ex-Soviet republics loyal to Moscow but with authoritarian leaderships -- could become the next victims of Western-sponsored popular revolutions.

But Moscow has said its new policy will not seek to freeze the West out of the former Soviet Union altogether.

"We do not believe at all that other international players could not have their specific interests in CIS states," Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said in an interview to Rossiiskaya Gazeta daily last week. "It is normal."

Signaling the role the Kremlin envisages for Western countries, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he wants the G8 group of industrialized nations, that Russia will chair next year, to focus on jointly helping ex-Soviet states.

"Western states are now (helping CIS states) on their own trying to establish themselves in the post-Soviet zone," RIA quoted Andrei Kokoshin, head of the international affairs committee in the lower house of parliament as saying.

"I hope they can act as well in an international format," Kokoshin said.


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