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Western Press Review: Getting Out Of Chechnya As Difficult As Going In

  • Don Hill
  • Katarzyna Wysocka



Prague, 27 August 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Work to stabilize an uncertain ceasefire in Chechnya continues today. Russian and rebel commanders are meeting. Terms are being polished. Western press commentary examines the outlook for Chechnya and the likely effect on Russia of its army's withdrawal.

LONDON GUARDIAN: The Chechen war brings the return of the art of Kremlinology

Jonathan Eyal wrote yesterday in an analysis: "It is obvious that a fundamental psychological threshold has been crossed. Russia has admitted, at least tacitly, that the war cannot be won. Yet, regardless of the ultimate outcome, the Chechen disaster will haunt Moscow for many years. . . . One of the results of the Chechen war is the return of the art of Kremlinology, of guessing trends according to who is assumed to be closer to the president's ear, rather than who exercises formal constitutional power. . . . The battle. . . is no longer about Chechnya. . . The shenanigans in the Kremlin are guaranteed to continue for quite some time."

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: Separatists would be offered autonomy for five years

In a news analysis in yesterday's edition, Nanette Van der Laan and Robert Fox wrote: "The possible peace deal (comprises such terms as) the separatists would be offered some measure of autonomy for five years, although well short of full independence. (Then) a referendum would be held on whether Chechnya could become a sovereign state. This would have huge implications for the Russian federation and, more immediately, is bound to affect the battle of ambitions and wills in the Kremlin."

LONDON INDEPENDENT: Moscow regards complete Chechen autonomy as impossible

Phil Reeves, writing from Moscow, also analyzes the deal. He says: "Although details are unknown, both sides appear to favor elections in Chechnya and a referendum. . . . Moscow still regards complete autonomy as impossible. . . . One sticking point is the Chechens' desire for their own army. Russia. . . wants their military to come under the umbrella of the federation."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Lebed's search for peace brings him popularity in Chechnya and Russia

Today's paper says in an editorial: "Yeltsin has not surrendered the authority to his Caucasus commissioner (Aleksandr) Lebed that would enable Lebed to bring the Russian military to its senses. . . . Yeltsin will have the last word. But he demonstrates so far little understanding of the Chechens. It doesn't help Lebed much in these circumstances that his search for peace seems to be convincing, at least for the time being, and that it has brought him a measure of popularity in Chechnya as well as in Russia."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Lebed faces stiff resistance in Moscow and runs the risk of being blocked

Miriam Neubert comments today: "For the cease-fire in Chechnya to be holding for the most part is more than was to have been expected. The road to military disengagement is stony. . . . For many in Russia, setting up joint commands and swiftly withdrawing Russian troops are tantamount to legalizing the 'illegal bandit formations,' as the freedom fighters have so far been called. For nationalist and military circles in Moscow, this military aspect of the talks is intolerable, just as is the idea of the economic consequences of Grozny, an oil pipeline hub, no longer coming under Russian sovereignty. Lebed is keenly aware that he faces stiff resistance in Moscow and runs a constant risk of being blocked."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Lebed is about to achieve a Chechen Dayton

In today's edition, Dietmar Ostermann comments: "Yeltsin is coming under increasing pressure. One pressure point is that Lebed ignored his instructions and is just about to achieve a Chechen Dayton. . . . While Yeltsin still was criticizing (Lebed's initiative) for lack of results, (Prime Minister Viktor) Chernomyrdin was congratulating Lebed for the truce. . . . Now it is said that Yeltsin wants to speak to Lebed (today). The political correspondent of the newspaper Kommersant observed that 'this meeting has great significance not only for Chechnya, but also for Russia -- and for Lebed.' "

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Will the rebels make concessions?

In a commentary in today's edition, Tomas Avenarius asks: "After two years of war, is there real hope for Chechnya now?" His answer: "If Moscow agrees to a negotiated peace with Chechnya, it will do so on the foundation of a severe defeat, which can't be palliated. . . , even in an atmosphere of peace: After all the senseless destruction and Russian atrocities towards civilians, one can hardly imagine that peace really is at hand. . . . One questions whether, in view of the strong Chechen position, the irreconcilables among the rebels will make concessions at all."

NEWSWEEK: The man who seemed in charge wasn't the president

The U.S. newsmagazine says in its current edition (week ending September 2): "All things considered, it was better news than Boris Yeltsin had had in a while. There was only one problem. The man who seemed to be in charge -- who negotiated with the Chechens and ordered the military to stand down -- wasn't the president. It was his security council chief. . . , Aleksandr Lebed, the ambitious former general whom Yeltsin enlisted earlier this summer to help defeat the communists in Russia's July election."

LONDON INDEPENDENT: Russians left Grozny in a sorry convoy

Carlotta Gall reported yesterday, under the headline, "Defeated Russians Crawl Out of Grozny," the following description: "A Russian jeep flying a white flag led a sorry convoy out of the center of Grozny at noon (Sunday). Four military trucks followed, each towing a broken down Russian armored personnel carrier, bumping along on flat tires. Chechen fighters, armed with Kalashnikov (automatic rifles), lines of grenades strapped to their chests, sat in the cabs alongside the Russian soldiers who were driving. . . . A Russian officer, finishing a conversation with his Chechen counterpart, said simply, 'They want to come in, and we want to go.' "

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: The ceasefire agreed upon last week is the third of the war

Alan Philps wrote from Grozny yesterday: "The ceasefire agreed upon last week by General Lebed, President Yeltsin's security strongman, is the third of the war. This one is different because the Russians have suffered a colossal defeat in Grozny for the first time. They still have dozens of checkpoints and command posts, but these are stranded islands in a rebel sea."

POLITIKEN: The West has contributed to prolonging the war and undermining civil and human rights

In Copenhagen, the Danish newspaper said Sunday in an editorial: "The West shares the responsibility for the war in Chechnya. With its passivity, it has contributed to prolonging the war and undermining respect for civil and human rights in the breakaway republic. The two key words characterizing the West's attitude are ignorance -- about what's really going on in Russia and Chechnya; and cynicism -- evidenced by giving priority to overriding political interests at the expense of human rights."

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