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Western Press Review: Russia--Mystery, Enigma, Riddle

  • Don Hill

Prague, 22 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- From political figures to international finance, the space program to the down-to-earth economy, the mysteries of Russia attract Western commentary.

THE ECONOMIST: Russia says no to concessions and adventures

The current issue (November 23) of the British magazine says in a commentary: "The main surprise about Russian foreign policy is that Russia seems at last to be arriving at one. After years in which anything seemed possible, two main principles are beginning to emerge. First, expect no more concessions that further diminish Russia's assets and influence, such as they are. Second, expect Russia to be warier of embarking on fresh adventures.

"For the West, the first of those principles -- 'no concessions' -- is clearly the less attractive. It means Russia will stand by dangerous or dubious friends such as Iraq, Iran and Serbia."

The Economist says: "The second principle Russia seems to have adopted -- 'no adventures' -- is better news for the rest of the world."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Zyuganov tries to steer his coalition into the mainstream

Chrystia Freeland looks at the defeated Communist presidential candidate in a commentary in today's edition of the British newspaper: "Since his defeat at the hands of Mr. Boris Yeltsin in the presidential election last July, Mr. Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist leader, has tried to steer his hardline left-wing coalition towards Russia's political mainstream." But, she says, "Mr. Zyuganov's heart is not quite in it."

Freeland writes: "Mr. Zyuganov's soul appears to thrill to an entirely different song. What he seems to enjoy most is playing the time-honored role of Russian mystic, the prophet whose bone-deep connection with the people allows him to perceive the deepest truths."

Former General Aleksandr Lebed completes today a trip to the United States. Writers for "The New York Times" and "The Philadelphia Inquirer" comment on his tour.

NEW YORK TIMES: Lebed will be Russia's next president

Times columnist A.M. Rosenthal says: "Alexander Lebed is the Russian general who became a politician and has no doubt that he will be Russia's next president. He says 25 years as a paratrooper taught him to talk concretely. In New York this week he used one word to describe Russia's efforts to prevent its nuclear warheads and materials from being stolen for terrorists or by rogue missile crews -- 'unsatisfactory.'

"But when it came to talking about what would then happen, he could not find concrete words in him. Nobody had ever lived in such a world, he said -- horrors unseen, dangers never conceived. When he said this to a few Russian and American journalists at the Regency Hotel, I felt this man who looks like square rock and talks like rolling thunder was even more shaken than we were, because he knows more."

PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: Lebed sounds like a political warrior

Steve Coldstein comments: "The man who would be Russia's next president has begun his campaign -- in the United States. Aleksandr I. Lebed, fired only last month as Russian national security chief, concludes a whirlwind week in America (having) touched every political base from former President George Bush to possible future president Colin Powell, been wined and dined by financiers and diplo-titans such as George Soros and Henry Kissinger and even managing a discreet ex-officio visit to the State Department. Sounding more like a political warrior than a celebrated former general, Lebed said yesterday he came in search of 'democracy straight from the horse's mouth,' having given up on the 'pseudo-democracy' of his own country, which he described, grimly, as 'very tired.'"

NEW YORK TIMES: Russian military is without a photo-reconnaissance satellite

Two commentators scrutinize Russia's role in space. Michael R. Gordon writes in an analysis in today's edition: "In a vivid demonstration of the problems afflicting this country's once-proud space program, Russia has been without photo reconnaissance satellites for nearly two months, according to Russian and Western scientists. It is the first time since the early 1960s that the Russian military has been deprived for more than a brief period of the satellite pictures modern armies deem essential for detecting threats and conducting combat."

Gordon says: "Russia, the United States, and France are the only countries with significant capabilities for photographing the Earth from outer space. China's program for satellite reconnaissance is in its infancy." And, he writes: "Public concern arose here only last week when the newspaper "Izvestia" reported that the Russian military was without a single photo-reconnaissance satellite. The traditionally tight-lipped Russian military has refused to discuss the matter."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The Mars rocket crash is a bitter blow to Russia

John Thornhill comments: "The crash of a Russian rocket in the Pacific Ocean this week, destroying a $300 million research mission to Mars, has come as a bitter blow to the country's space industry. Observers have been quick to pounce on the spectacular failure as yet another example of the collapse of a once-mighty Russian industry. But perhaps the more remarkable story of recent years has been how Russia's space industry has survived at all."

Thornhill writes: "While Monday's crash will do nothing to help the Russian space program's reputation, it is a rare failure for the Proton rocket and for an industry with an unrivaled history of success."

NEW YORK TIMES: Investors are scrambling to profit from the former U.S.S.R.

Other Western commentary considers a Russian venture into capital markets. Jonathan Fuerbringer writes in an analysis in today's edition: "Post-Soviet Russia went to the Eurobond market for the first time (yesterday) to the applause of investors, who snapped up $1 billion in bonds, twice what had been expected. The positive reception was another piece of confirmation of a scramble by investors to profit as the former Soviet Union (sic) moves toward capitalism. The strong reception for the (bonds) comes on the heels of the first listing of a Russian stock, a cellular phone company, on the New York Stock Exchange and the offering of a piece of Gazprom, the huge natural gas company."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Investors' attitude toward Russia has changed

In an analysis today, Stephen Liesman writes: "Behind the strong showing for the Russian Eurobond issue, analysts said, is a fundamental change in the attitude of foreign investors toward this country. While significant economic challenges lay ahead, there is a general agreement among investors for the first time that the government has the ability and the consensus to tackle them."