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Western Press Review: Chechnya Writhes Into World Spotlight -- Again

  • Don Hill



Prague, 22 August 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary increasingly turns its attention to a mounting crisis in Chechnya and a bewildering Chechnya-fueled crisis in Moscow.

LONDON TIMES: Chechens may accept independence in all but name

Today's edition says in an editorial: "The accusation by (Lebed) that unnamed Kremlin officials forged President Yeltsin's signature on the military decree threatening Grozny with all-out attack has brought Russian politics to a new crisis. . . . The immediate crisis is the renewed fighting in Chechnya. . . . Russia's army has learnt nothing from history, and little even from the past two years of conflict. The Chechens cannot be subdued by mass bombing. . . . The Chechens may be willing to accept independence in all but name, and should be encouraged to accept an accommodation similar to that Moscow has reached with Tatarstan, another Muslim enclave."

POLITIKEN: If Yeltsin can't fulfill his duties, the prime minister must take over

Managing Editor Toeger Seidenfanden commented in the Danish newspaper yesterday: "Presidential security adviser (Aleksandr) Lebed broke one of the Kremlin's last taboos (Tuesday) when he publicly questioned whether (Russian President Boris) Yeltsin actually knows which orders are issued in his name. . . . A threat of an all-out assault on Grozny is turning into a humanitarian and political catastrophe. . . . The order for the campaign demonstrates Russia's total powerlessness in the breakaway republic. . . . At the core of the crisis is Russia's president's health condition. . . . If Yeltsin can't fulfill his duties, his prime minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, must take over. But this will spawn new uncertainties . . . . Russia is still in a post-revolutionary state."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: U.S. reaction to the threat of an offensive was extremely restrained

The paper says today in an editorial signed by Josef Joffe: "The Russians are preparing a full-scale attack, a final victory, as it were, on Grozny, and no one in the corridors of power sees fit to raise his voice in protest. The U.S. reaction to General Konstantin Pulikovsky's threat of a large-scale offensive was extremely restrained. . . . It is true that Germany and the entire West do not want to cause their friend Boris Yeltsin further difficulties. But friendship, especially with a country one would like to see in the ranks of the community of responsible nations, includes saying the right word at the right time. . . . Those who do not immediately yell Stop! at the top of their voices will be accomplices to an act of state terrorism, as the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten rightly notes. It would be in Russia's best interest to heed this warning."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: No one is quite sure who is running Russia

Vanora Bennet writes today in a news analysis: "Lebed. . . flew to the breakaway region of Chechnya (yesterday) to try to avert the slaughter of tens of thousands of civilians trapped in the Chechen capital, Grozny. . . . The latest Chechen crisis also has disclosed a paralyzed, leaderless Russia, with the ailing. . . Yeltsin absent from duty, political leaders -- apart from Lebed -- apparently unable or unwilling to stop the army bosses and no one quite sure who is running this vast nuclear superpower. But it remained unclear whose orders the 40,000 Russian Defense and Interior Ministry troops based in Chechnya would obey today, those of Lebed or of their own generals. Confusion reigned in Grozny, where terrified, elderly refugees stumbled out of their cellars and ruined homes on foot through an afternoon of Russian shelling and airstrikes."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Where is the energetic intervention of the West?

The paper says today in an editorial: "In the Caucasus everything is prepared for the next European tragedy. Sometime afterwards, the tragedy will be mourned and deplored at commemorations, memorials and cemeteries and people will pray that something like that won't ever happen again. But right at the moment? When maybe there still is something possible other than alarmed faces and feeble appeals to the war parties? Where is the notably energetic intervention of the West with our friends in Moscow? The friends to whom one gives money and good words in order that they become democrats?"

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: The price of peace in Chechnya may be independence

Today's paper editorializes: "This newspaper has been sympathetic to the Russians' aim in Chechnya -- to meet an illegal and violent challenge to their authority. . . . Yet Moscow has been so incompetent in the execution of its Chechen policy that the original goal now looks unattainable. . . . The price of peace in the Caucasus may be Chechen independence. It will at least entail the granting of a large measure of autonomy. If that is unpalatable to Moscow, (the Kremlin) has only itself to blame. Rarely has a challenge to central authority been so mishandled."

WASHINGTON POST: Lebed promised Chechen leaders he would stop Russian commanders

Lee Hockstader and David Hoffman write in a commentary in today's paper: "As Russian forces intensified bombing and shelling of Grozny. . . , Lebed promised Chechen leaders (last) night that he would stop Russian military commanders who have threatened an all-out assault on the Chechen capital and the separatist guerrillas who control it. . . . In a bizarre twist to the byzantine power struggle that has raged in the Kremlin for nearly a week, Lebed named Minister of Internal Affairs Anatoly Kulikov, a general, as head of what he called his operational headquarters."

LE FIGARO: Moscow chooses excessive war instead of negotiated peace

Isabelle Lasserre comments today in the French newspaper: "The ultimatum that Moscow gave to the rebels expires this morning. The desperate cry of the democrats, from the human rights militant Serguei Kovaliev, who exhorts the leaders to stop this madness, to the widow of Andrei Sakharov, Elena Bonner -- who declares a crime against humanity -- haven't disturbed the Kremlin. . . . The troops didn't even wait yesterday for. . . Lebed to arrive in Chechnya, before starting intense artillery fire and air bombardments of Grozny. . . . Moscow seems again to have chosen excessive war and aggressiveness instead of a negotiated peace, which it considers a disgrace."

LONDON GUARDIAN: Local Russian commanders are not under the political control of Moscow

In a news analysis in today's edition, James Meek writes from Moscow: "Russia's self-styled peacemaker, Aleksandr Lebed, said last night he would not allow a fresh bloodbath in the Chechen capital, Grozny, as evidence grew that local Russian commanders have been no more under the political control of Moscow than the Chechen rebels. On the fifth anniversary of his victory over the putschists which brought about the collapse of the U.S.S.R.. . . , Yeltsin was nowhere to be seen. . . . In one startling illustration of the chaos, General Lebed and the defense minister, General Igor Rodionov, disowned a 48-hour ultimatum to civilians to leave Grozny, given by the army's man on the spot, General Konstantin Pulikovsky."

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