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Press Review: War Crimes In Bosnia; Spies And Politics In Russia

  • Don Hill

Prague, May 9 (RFE/RL) - An unfolding spy saga in Russia, and Russian politics continue to rivet the attention of Western press commentators, especially in Great Britain. Meanwhile, the press also examines the first Bosnia war crimes trial in The Hague.

Ben MacIntyre writes from The Hague in today's London Times: "The (war crimes) trial has become a study in contrasts between the United Nations tribunal's lofty aim to build an international legal code for dealing with war crimes and the base nature of Mr. Tadic's alleged offences, between the high-tech courtroom and the primitive horror of the events being described in it. Mr. Tadic makes an incongruous but oddly inconspicuous figure among the legal and academic experts in court."

The Wall Street Journal Europe says today in an editorial: "The second afternoon of Dusan Tadic's trial began with a history lesson. Dr. James Gow, a historian on the former Yugoslavia, explained to the three judges of the International Criminal Tribunal how intellectuals and leaders in Belgrade grew obsessed by the notion that Serbian sovereignty extended to Serb-populated territories throughout the fast-disintegrating state.... (Currently), Croat and Serb leaders continue to balk at arresting indicted war criminals or allowing investigators access to evidence sites.... Pressure from the U.S. and NATO members on the parties in Bosnia offers the only hope that war criminals will be arrested and evidence for their prosecution presented in court. Otherwise the Yugoslav tribunal will have a hard time proving it can be an instrument for justice and peace."

Earlier this week, the U.S. newspaper Philadelphia Inquirer editorialized: "On the surface, the international Bosnia war crimes tribunal that opened in the Hague this week looks like an exercise in futility. The tribunal, established by the Dayton peace accords, is woefully underfunded and understaffed. The leaders of Croatia and Serbia, who had pledged to cooperate, have done so halfheartedly or not at all.... The first person to be tried, a Bosnian Serb prison guard, is small stuff compared with commanders who organized mass rapes, murders and torture. The most important war criminals remain free and defiant, and cannot be tried in absentia. They include Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic and the top Bosnian Serb military commander, Ratko Mladic, who oversaw the execution of thousands of Muslims at Srebrenica last July."

On politics in Russia, The New York Times says today in an editorial: "When a country that has known centuries of tyranny prepares to elect its leader freely for the first time, there is bound to be some political turbulence. The question in Russia is whether the volatility can be contained. Russia's political leaders have not helped by warning of civil war and other extreme consequences if next month's presidential elections leave the country divided.... Democratic elections... are the anchor of a democratic society, and the judgment of voters must be respected.... What Russia needs is not an escape from elections but a strong public commitment from all candidates to honor the results, to conduct a peaceful transition to a new government or a second Yeltsin administration, and to pursue their interests democratically now and in the future."

In an editorial yesterday, The Washington Post said: "Russian President Boris Yeltsin's promise that elections in his country will take place on schedule was reassuring. But the fact that he had to issue such a statement..., and the language he chose in doing so, showed how shallow democracy's roots remain in Russia....Each time Russia passes another electoral milestone, a return to past ways becomes less likely and more costly for whoever might attempt it. The United States and the Western community... should make absolutely clear that canceling or short-circuiting the June 16 presidential election would be a tragic mistake."

The Chicago Tribune editorialized earlier this week: "A president who, fearing defeat, cancels an election is not a democrat but a despot. Whatever his flaws and failings, Boris Yeltsin would have nothing to gain in history's monograph -- short of being remembered as the first democratic president of Russia to strangle democracy and invite civil unrest -- should he follow the advice of Alexander Korzhakov and deny Russia's voters a choice between reform and a return to communism."

Commentators say they detect the heavy hand of Russian politics in a related news story this week, esposure by Russian security officials of an alleged British Embassy-based spy ring in Moscow. Britain's The Daily Telegraph editorializes today: "The exposure of the alleged British spy ring in Moscow on Monday clearly was dictated by the approach of the Russian presidential elections on June 16, Russian politicians and analysts believe, writes Alan Philps. But there also is a widespread view in Russia, which for decades was paranoid about secrecy, that it iis high time the Kremlin cracked down on foreign spying, said by Russian counter-intelligernce experts to have reached unprecedented levels...."

The newspaper also says: "In a breach of normal practice, the expulsions were announced by the Federal Security Service, the domestic arm of the old KGB, rather than by the Foreign Ministry. This has led some observers to see the hand of Mr. Yeltsin's hawkish security chief, Lieutenant General Alexander Korzhakov, behind the stoking of the spy scandal."

In the London Times today, Richard Beeston in Moscow and diplomatic editor Michael Binyon write: "Russia's phony war over alleged British spying yesterday fizzled out as quickly as it had blown up, after Moscow sought to defuse the three-day espionage row and avoid tit-for-tat expulsions with London."

And in the British newspaper The Independent, Phil Reeves says: "While the scandal may have eased slightly, speculation about what went on behind the scenes has not, and the episode raised questions about the difficult relationship between the security services and the Kremlin. It seems inconceivable that a decision as momentous as expelling nine diplomats, more than a tenth of the British mission in Moscow, would not have the approval of Boris Yeltsin and his inner circle, who may have viewed it as a way to curry favor with the nationalists before next month's presidential elections."

There was a related development this week, reported in Britain's Financial Times today. Russian security officials expelled an Estonian diplomat in retaliation for Estonia's expulsion of a Russian diplomat alleged to have been detected spying.