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Press Review: Christopher Sends Message from Prague to Moscow

  • Don Hill

PRAGUE, March 21 (RFE/RL) - U.S. Secretary of States Warren Christopher began talking to Moscow yesterday while still in the Czech Republic. Press commentary analyzed his words to a foreign ministers' meeting in Prague, and tied them to the presidential elections campaigning in Russia.

In an analysis published today in The New York Times, Steven Erlanger writes: "Secretary of State Warren Christopher warned Russian voters (yesterday) that they face a choice in the June presidential elections between inclusion in the institutions of the West and self-isolation.... "Central Europe's integration will neither determine, nor be determined, by events in Russia," Christopher said. "But we have an equal interest in integrating, not isolating Russia." ...Christopher also praised NATO'S "Partnership for Peace" program. In part, his words were meant to encourage countries of the former Soviet Union, like Ukraine and the Baltic nations, that have embraced the program but are unlikely to be asked to join NATO for many years to come. But they also were meant to reassure the Russians, suggesting that the program is not only a way station to NATO membership but may also be a long-term home for some countries closest to Russia, as well as Russia itself.... A concern of Czechs and other countries' representatives here is that the West might make a deal over their heads."

Martin Walker and David Fairhall comment similarly today in Britain's The Guardian. They write: "NATO enlargement is on track and it will happen, the U.S. secretary of state... declared yesterday, but no decisions will be made until December, after the Russian and U.S. presidential elections.... The Clinton Administration is treading carefully, fearful of the domestic impact of a defeat for Boris Yeltsin in Russia's election in June, and of the unravelling of U.S. diplomacy around the world if Russia changes its broadly cooperative attitude towards the United States.... Despite the strong tone of Mr. Christopher's promise in Prague yesterday, there is no hint of any acceleration in the proces of extending NATO membership in Poland, Hungary or the Czech Republic."

The British Financial Times editorializes today: "Christopher... has made another attempt to square the circle by assuring the ex-communist nations of central Europe that they will in due course join NATO, while promising Russia that it also must have an important place in the European order.... His statement in Prague... will go some way towards assuring the Poles, Czechs and Hungarians that Russia does not, after all, have a veto over their security arrangements. At the same time, the speech will confirm the suspicion among Russians of all ideological complexions that NATO is taking advantage of their country's weakness."

The Financial Times also said: "In... an ideal world, NATO might... be able to tell candidate members that it sees no need to enlarge now, but would do so immediately if a threat were to emerge from any quarter. In practice, however, the Czechs, Poles and Hungarians would be skeptical of such a conditional promise."

In The Washington Post today, Christine Spolar writes from Prague: "Christopher reassured East European nations (yesterday) that 'NATO enlargement is on track and it will happen.' ...Given the fact that Christopher will travel to Moscow (tomorrow) to meet with Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, the speech resonated positively with officials who recently have rebuffed Russian pressure to delay their pursuit of NATO membership.... In recent weeks, Moscow officials have subtly and unsuccessfully tried to caution their neighbors about the demands of NATO membership. Primakov's efforts in the last month -- he met with officials in Poland and Hungary and welcomed Slovak officials to Moscow -- left East European leaders publicly defending their NATO applications and listening for signals from the West about their viability."

"The struggle for the presidency of Russia is shaping up as a straight fight between two widely mistrusted men," James Meek writes today in Britain's The Guardian. Meek says: "A revitalized Boris Yeltsin is making up ground lost to his communist rival, Gennady Zyuganov.... This is an extraordinary political spring for the Russian president after a long, bleak winter.... Mr. Yeltsin remains unpopular, but looks like the only real challenger to the communists."

In a news analysis today in the Los Angeles Times, Norman Kempster says: "Although Christopher added a disclaimer that the United States does not wish to interfere in Russia's election and will 'work with whomever is elected there,' aides made clear that a victory by communist candidate Gennady A. Zyuganov, the current leader in public opinion polls, would be a major setback to Washington-Moscow relations.... Christopher's speech was shaped by a vote last week in the lower house of the Russian parliament to re-establish the Soviet Union, a measure that seems to have little practical effect but apparently had an enormous psychological impact on the United States and on the countries of Europe, especially those that have only recently escaped Moscow's orbit."

The Suddeutsche Zeitung said yesterday in a commentary signed by Josef Riedmiller: "Currently everyone from Yeltsin to the constitutional court to the presidents of the other post-Soviet republics is saying that the Duma's latest resolution is ineffective. And it certainly is in the constitutional sense, but is it so in terms of political reality? ...Zyuganov is calling for a 'voluntary' reconstruction of the Soviet Empire. President Yeltsin has insisted -- even before the vote in the Duma -- that he has already done quite a bit for 'integration.' ...If the issue is making life in the enormous region that was the Soviet Union more bearable and easier with everyone's consent, then nothing can be said against it. But in addition to campaigning, Russia's communists and nationalists are striving to achieve something else, a revision of history.... What is currently happening in Moscow is more than an election campaign maneuver."