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Press Review: Disruption In Bosnia, Tactics In Russia

  • Don Hill



Prague, Feb. 21 (RFE/RL) -- Commentators in the Western press seek out signs of hope and find cause for discouragement in Bosnia. In Russia, they examine political portents and take a wait-and-see stance.

"In every war, and every peace, there are moments that capture a larger truth," The New York Times says in an editorial today. The newspaper says: "The 1994 mortar attack that killed 69 people in Sarajevo's open-air market distilled the brutal violence of the Balkan war. Now the rebirth of the same city symbolizes the promise of peace. Threats to peace persist in Bosnia, and will for a long time to come, (but) in Sarajevo itself, after barely two months of imperfect peace, a remarkably resilient people have brought back a semblance of the urbane, cosmopolitan life that long made their city so vibrant.... American diplomacy will need to keep shoring up the commitment of the three Balkan Presidents and their local proxies to the peace agreement. The best testament to the value of (the Dayton peace) agreement was Sarajevo's open-air market on Sunday, packed with shoppers and stalls filled with fresh fruits and vegetables."

A Washington Post editorial carried today in the International Herald Tribune finds less cause for applause. The Post contends: "The American Bosnia negotiator, Richard Holbrooke, attributes the difficulties of enforcing peace to the 'ambiguities' and 'undeniable shortcomings' of the accord signed at Dayton. Hence the convening of a 'Dayton II' meeting over the weekend in Rome.... New patches of promises were put on a range of urgent questions. And what happened the next day? ...On a Bosnian Serb promise to rejoin talks with the NATO-led peacekeeping force, there was defiance. The general who was supposed to lead the way was a no-show.... The first post-Rome test of the Dayton process, involving Bosnian Serb dealings with NATO, was a failure. "

Writing in The London Times today, Stacy Sullivan in Mostar and Michael Binyon in Sarajevo, take aim at another 'failure' -- self-policing in Mostar, 80 km from Sarajevo. They write: "The checkpoints and barricades were supposed to disappear from the bitterly divided streets of Mostar yesterday, but they remained firmly in place after the noon deadline A bolstered Croation police force routinely stopped any cars which tried to cross.... This marked the second breach of the Rome summit agreement in as many days.... Ethnic sensitivies were also in evidence yesterday in Sarajevo, where hundreds of Bosnian Serbs clamored for assistance to leave the (Vagosca) suburbs."

The Suddeutsche Zeitung says today in an editorial signed by Jens Schneider, "The bubble burst less than two days after the Rome summit. Richard Holbrooke extracted some noble promises from Balkan leaders at the crisis summit on Bosnia, but now they appear to be worthless already -- in Mostar as well as in Sarajevo and therefore in the whole of Bosnia. Rarely has a summit communique had a shorter lifespan. It took less than an hour for the borders between the Croatian and Muslim halves of the city of Mostar to be closed again after suspected Croatian snipers fired on a car on the other side.... The extremists among the Serbs and Croats are making no attempt to hide their motives: They want to cement the partition of Bosnia and establish their supremacy in their regions."

Washington Post writer Lee Hockstader says today from Moscow in a news analysis: "German Chancellor Helmut Kohl did his best to help a friend in dire political need (yesterday), showering praise on President Boris Yeltsin as a strong leader for Russia and all but endorsing his candidacy for reelection. Kohl, ending a three-day visit that marked his 14th meeting (in Moscow) with Yeltsin, conferred with none of the leading opposition candidates for the presidency, despite criticism in the German media of his strongly pro-Yeltsin policy. (This) activism.... stands in contrast to the handle-with-care approach adopted by Washington.... Russia fiercely opposes NATO plans to incorporate Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic in the alliance, but the West has said repeatedly that Moscow could have no veto over such membership decisions.... For his part, Kohl has counseled calm in what is, after all, an election year in the United States and Russia. He said the question should be discussed after the elections, in a more-tranquil atmosphere."

The Frankfurter Rundschau provides an example today of German media criticism of Kohl's stance. Feddos Forudastan writes in the newspaper: "One has to hand it to the German chancellor -- friendships are more important to him than anything, more important than political morality, sense and farsightedness.... Helmut Kohl is appearing virtually single-handedly as Boris Yeltsin's election campaigner.... Kohl ignores the fact that Yeltsin has swept away the reformers in his surroundings, that he has resigned himself to the old power apparatus, that he is responsible for the war in the Caucasus..... The fact that up until today Bonn is still concentrating its relations with Russia exclusively on Yeltsin himself may soon prove to be a burdensome inheritance, if the election result is different from what election campaigner Kohl hopes."

The London Times joins the German chorus today with a commentary by Richard Beeston in Moscow. Beeston writes: "Helmut Kohl, the German chancellor, yesterday gave President Yeltsin powerful support for his reelection campaign, urging the West to back its 'reliable partner' in the Kremlin and warning against the dangers of a communist victory.... It is... not clear how much influence, if any, the West has over the unpredictable course of Russian politics.... In Bonn... the endorsement of Mr. Yeltsin was widely condemned in the media.... Bonn's daily General Anzeiger put it... bluntly, accusing Herr Kohl of needlessly antagonizing Russia's opposition leaders, one of whom could be in the Kremlin within six months."

Mark Galeotti is a lecturer in international history at the United Kingdom's Keele University. He warns in a comentary today in The Wall Street Journal Europe: "Talk of a democratic new Russia already seems a distant memory.... While Boris Yeltsin and the Muscovite political elite appear committed to reaffirmation of strong centralized power, in fact, power has shifted decisively away from Moscow and to a wide array of local and independent actors ranging from regional bosses to organized criminal cartels and business empires.... A maxim for Kremlin watchers in the 1980s was, if in doubt... be pessimistic.... If history can be used as prophecy, then Russia's past would suggest a future of increasingly oppressive and aristocratic rule."
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