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Western Press Review: Russia Stays In Spotlight; Nuclear Test Ban Imperiled

  • Don Hill
  • Katarzyna Wysocka

Prague, 20 August 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentators continue to pluck at Russia's Chechnya tangle. India's reluctance to permit an international nuclear test ban to go forward also attracts comment.

NEW YORK TIMES: The Russian government speaks with many voices on Chechnya

In today's edition, Moscow Bureau Chief Michael Specter continues his comprehensive coverage of the Russia-Chechnya standoff. He writes in a news analysis: "Ever since the war in Chechnya began nearly two years ago, Alexander Lebed always insisted that it would end in disaster for Russia. . . . Eleven days ago, after Chechen rebels humiliated the Russian army by storming into Grozny and seizing the regional capital, Yeltsin signed a decree turning the entire war effort over to his national security adviser, granting him powers few men in a democratic nation ever could have. But the Russian government speaks with many voices on Chechnya these days, and most of them contradict each other. . . . So far, at least, Lebed has been unable to find his magic wand. . . . Lebed says he wants peace. He demands peace. But the war continues, and tonight the Russian forces seemed to be initiating a new offensive in the wasted city."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: The unstable Moscow government cant support a powerful security deputy

The paper speculates today in an editorial on why Boris Yeltsin may be flagging in support of his security chief: "Yeltsin probably has come to understand that the unstable Moscow government can't support a powerful security deputy. The minister of the interior, the minister of the army, and the chiefs of the secret service and police must feel threatened by him. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin doesn't want anybody other than himself standing imposingly ready as Yeltsin's successor. And Yeltsin himself can't care much to have a (younger and healthier) strong man reminding him impatiently every day of the other's biological advantage."

LONDON INDEPENDENT: Ceasefire negotiations in Chechnya were all but dead last night

Phil Reeves writes today from Moscow in a news analysis: "Ceasefire negotiations in Chechnya were all but dead last night after the acting commander of the Russian forces issued an ultimatum telling rebel fighters that he intends to launch a massive onslaught on Grozny after two days, in a bid to flush them out of the city. . . . General (Konstantin) Pulikovsky's ultimatum points to a deepening rift between the hardline generals and other top officials, who are determined to try to crush the separatists, and Aleksandr Lebed, the secretary of the Security Council and presidential envoy in Chechnya."

LONDON GUARDIAN: If Lebed ordered the latest attack in Chechnya, he will lose the rebels trust

Also from Moscow, James Meeks writes in an analysis today: "In Grozny, the ceasefire brought about by President Boris Yeltsin's security chief. . . seemed on the verge of collapse. . . . If it turns out that General Lebed authorized the latest reported attack in Chechnya, he will lose the trust he has built up with senior rebel leaders as a would-be peacemaker."

WASHINGTON POST: The Kremlin finds it hard to accept a humiliating defeat for Russian forces

In the paper today, Lee Hockstader writes in a news analysis on the same topic: "A brittle cease-fire in Chechnya seemed in danger of snapping (yesterday) evening when the Russian commander there said his troops will launch an all-out offensive Thursday morning. . . . The looming prospect of another battle of Grozny suggests that no matter how unpopular the war in Chechnya has become, the Kremlin finds it hard to accept a singularly humiliating defeat for Russian forces at the hands of ragtag rebels who are fighting for independence."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Yeltsin assigned Lebed a herculean task

Dietmar Ostermann comments in today's paper: "Yeltsin has rebuffed. . . Lebed and assigned him a herculean task -- to regain control over the capital Grozny, continue the negotiations with the rebels, and propose a governmental plan for the Chechnya conflict by next Monday. With Lebed's disassembly, prospects for the truce crumble. . . It is his business how he gets the estimated 3,500 rebels, who control wide parts of the city and refuse a withdrawal, out of the city."

NEW YORK TIMES: India might withdraw its threat to prevent the treaty from going to the United Nations

India's role in the difficulties of adopting a worldwide nuclear test ban treaty attracts the papers scrutiny today. The newspaper says in an editorial: "Some hope has emerged in recent days that the impasse blocking completion of a treaty banning all nuclear weapons tests may yet be overcome. India. . . now suggests it might withdraw its threat to prevent the largely completed treaty from being sent to the United Nations next month. In return it asks for some difficult adjustments in treaty language on disarmament and ratification requirements. . . The Clinton administration, which has been the prime sponsor of the treaty, should explore this opening thoroughly, even if that means allowing the drafting process in Geneva to run past this week's nominal deadline."

WASHINGTON POST: Isolate India and keep squeezing it to bring it into camp

On the same topic, paper editorialized yesterday: "The endgame of the nuclear test-ban negotiations caught India in the bind it had tried to avoid ever since its first test in 1974. Should it keep open its option to test anew and build a nuclear arsenal by not signing the long-sought treaty outlawing tests everywhere, including underground? Or should it sign, figuring that its higher interest lies in economic growth unimpeded by a costly nuclear distraction, and in responsible international citizenship? . . .The way to bring India into camp is to isolate it and keep squeezing. It may take some time, but the delay of one country's signature should not be allowed to deprive the signers, who include almost everyone else, from reaping the fruits of international collaboration on a sensitive non-proliferation measure."

NEW YORK TIMES: Indian leaders once led the world in condemning the moral evils of nuclear weapons

John F. Burns wrote Saturday from New Delhi: "For those who remember the days when Indian leaders led the world in condemning the moral evils of nuclear weapons, there was a special irony in the moment (last) week when Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda slammed the door shut on efforts to persuade the New Delhi government to go along with a worldwide ban on nuclear testing. . . . What Indian leaders have not said publicly is that they also see a newer, more pressing reason for India to retain what analysts here call its 'nuclear option,' the rising economic and military power of China, and the growing nuclear forces that go with it. Among diplomats who have negotiated with India on the test ban, and among Indian defense analysts, there is general agreement that it is the specter of China's emergence as the most powerful nation in Asia that is driving India to be the spoiler on a test-ban accord that was, in a sense, an Indian idea in the first place."