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International Press Review: Chechnya--Hot Again or Never Really Cooled?

  • Don Hill



Prague, August 7 (RFE/RL) -- The cynicism that from the outset accompanied Russian President Boris Yeltsin's campaign trail rapprochement with rebels in the breakaway province of Chechnya bloomed yesterday like daffodils in the spring. After a series of attacks by Russian forces on Chechen villages notwithstanding ceasefire pledges, Chechen rebels exploded what they called retaliatory counterattacks. The attacks kindled anew Western press interest in the embattled Caucusus region.

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: The true aim of the attack may be to sabotage the peace process

In today's edition, James P. Gallagher writes from Moscow: "After weeks of brutal Russian rocket attacks against Chechen villages, rebel fighters struck back (yesterday) with deadly lightning raids on Grozny and two smaller towns in the breakaway Muslim enclave, killing or wounding dozens of Russian soldiers in fierce fighting that raged all day. The biggest rebel military action since March threatened to cast a pall over Friday's inauguration of Boris Yeltsin for a second term as Russian president. . . . A top rebel leader insisted that the raids were staged to persuade the Kremlin to honor a cease-fire agreement nailed down earlier this summer. . . . The timing of the offensive suggested that the true aim was much murkier -- in fact, to sabotage any hopes of getting the peace process back on track. The raids occurred while high-ranking Russian officials were in Grozny trying to revive peace talks."

THE WASHINGTON POST: Independence remains the principal rebel demand

James Rupert writes from Moscow today: "The assault came as Russian President Boris Yeltsin returned to his Kremlin office from weeks of convalescence near Moscow. It underscored that, as Yeltsin is to begin his second term in office on Friday, he faces a costly civil war which could require massive concessions to settle. . . . The assault indicated that there is no serious prospect for peace talks, as had been foreseen in May and June by truce accords signed between Yeltsin's government and the Chechen rebel leadership. The principal rebel demand remains independence. . . . Yeltsin discussed the day's fighting with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and national security chief Alexander Lebed in his first working day in the Kremlin following a long convalescence for what aides said was exhaustion after the presidential election campaign. Other signs had suggested he might be seriously ill, as he was during two bouts of heart trouble last year."

NEWSDAY: The war tops the list of issues troubling Russians

In today's isue of the U.S. newspaper, Sophia Kishkovsky writes: "Polls here show that the war tops the list of issues troubling Russians. Yeltsin overcame the blame for the Chechnya war during his presidential campaign by promising he would work for political and economic stability. But a renewal of the war will likely cause political problems for the president, whose health has been an ongoing issue. As Yeltsin prepared for his inauguration Friday, the other major political problem is a strike by thousands of miners in the Russian Far East. The miners are demanding months of unpaid salary from the government. Yeltsin won unexpectedly in the presidential vote in the region, but support has quickly turned to anger and charges of betrayal and broken promises."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Yeltsin hasn't kept his most important election promise

The paper says today in an editorial: "Moscow has blocked (political solutions) more and more by permanently dissociating itself from its peace promises. This is mainly Yeltsin's fault. Just re-elected, he allowed his corps of generals to ignore the truce, which was negotiated in Moscow and which they honored only with violence. Moscow continues to count on the quarrel between the Chechen leaders, but it has to learn that this brings no political or military advantage. A few days before his second inauguration, Yelsin stands as a president who hasn't kept his most important election promise -- to end the war in the Caucasus."

LIBERATION: The Kremlin has let the generals have their heads

Didier Fancois writes today in the French newspaper: "Moscow has become a master of doubletalk concerning the Chechen crisis. In fact, since the re-election of Boris Yeltsin July 3, the Kremlin has let the generals have their heads, in disregard of the guarantees given to the rebels in negotiations the day before the election. . . . In the official wooden language this escalation is presented discreetly as a 'special operation to neutralize the illegal terrorist groups' in order to strengthen the process of negotiation. . . . Just when Moscow started to shout victory, the resistance set out to prove that the military pressure hasn't destroyed its capacity to react, and that it would be illusory to expect to solve the crisis with arms."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Russian forces have violated the truce by bombing towns

In today's paper, Vanora Bennett in Moscow writes: "The Chechen war began in December 1994, when Russian troops attacked Grozny hoping to destroy a three-year-old separatist regime there. Grozny fell two months later but the combat has raged on. Separatists fight on from the hills; they briefly re-took Grozny in an attack four months ago. Muslim Chechens remain defiant of the Russians who have ruled them, mostly by force, for two centuries. Moscow's suspicions of what it views as a criminally minded ethnic minority are undimmed. . . .

"(Yesterday's) concerted attack marked the final collapse of a cease-fire negotiated by Yeltsin's government before last month's presidential election, when Kremlin officials worried that the unpopular war would damage their leader's re-election chances. But Russian forces have violated the truce by bombing Chechen towns ever since Yeltsin's victory was announced in early July. (Yesterday's) onslaught was the Chechens' retaliation, separatist spokesman Movladi Udugov said."

NEW YORK TIMES: Plenty of contradictions in Russian Communist Party

Moscow Bureau Chief Michael Specter attended a Communist Party conference near Moscow yesterday. He writes in the newspaper today: "Wasn't it supposed to be capitalism that died of internal contradictions? (Yesterday), in Moscow, there were plenty of contradictions on display, not to mention animosities, rivalries, anxieties and denial. But not among capitalists. This show, on the outskirts of Moscow, was the first meeting of the Russian Communist Party held since Boris Yeltsin defeated the Communist leader, Gennady Zyuganov, for the presidency. . . . For his part, the leader of the opposition pointed out. . . that the ailing Yeltsin hadn't done a conspicuous lick of work since he was re-elected a month ago, that the war in Chechnya grew worse each day, and that the Russian economy looked like it would fall apart in one good wind."
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