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Western Press Review: Serbian Unrest Continues, NATO Presses East

  • Don Hill

Prague, 17 December 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press, generally skeptical in recent weeks about eastward expansion of NATO over intransigent Russian objections, seems to be showing a shift toward a more favorable view of NATO growth.


NEW YORK TIMES: Isolationists worry about humiliating Russia.

William Safire, a conservative columnist and a former White House councilor in the administration of U.S. President Richard Nixon, writes that isolationists in the United States are finding anti-expansion allies among foreign relations specialists who worry about, in Safire's words, "unduly humiliating Russia" and re-freezing the Cold War.

Safire says the naysayers will raise the question, "How is America's security enhanced by extending NATO protection to ex-captive nations?"

He goes on: "My answer: NATO is a military alliance born to defend the West from Russia. So far so good. In coming decades, Russia -- with its literate population and rich resources unencumbered by communism -- will rise again. Its leaders will want to pay a visit to the irredentist under the guise of protecting their 'near abroad.' The only way to deter future aggression without war is by collective defense. And only in the next few years, with Russia weak, do we have the chance to 'lock in' the vulnerables."

In answer to the question, "Does Russia have a right to feel threatened by moving the no-invasion line eastward?" Safire responds: "Nonsense. Russia remains a nuclear power; Hungary, loser of its last seven wars, is not about to attack. As our military alliance expands, the European Union will feel pressure to bring in members, reducing the threat of a dominant Germany. Russia's main strategic worries lie south to Islam and east to China, not west to Europe."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Russia got too much, too soon.

Writing in yesterday's Wall Street Journal Europe, international affairs columnist George Melloan says that NATO foreign ministers gave Russia too much too soon at their meeting in Brussels last week. He says that the main mission of Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov "was to tell the 16 NATO ministers how violently Russians will object to the granting of NATO membership to the likes of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, three former Soviet vassal states."

Melloan writes: "This is mostly malarkey. My Russian sources tell me that the average Russian doesn't give a kopek about what NATO does or does not do. He is simply interested in getting a higher living standard and protecting himself from assorted thieves including Anatoly Chubais's new Cheka, a tax collection agency modeled after the gun-toting 1920's Bolshevik group of the same name a forerunner of the KGB." Melloan adds: "But Mr. Primakov's ploy nonetheless persuaded the NATO ministers to negotiations. Now, we will see what rights and privileges Russia is to be granted."

Melloan says: "Many Russians in high places are in a state of denial about the collapse of their empire at the beginning of this decade." And he writes: "Aside from its arrogance, this attitude carries grave dangers for both Russia and its neighbors. The former Soviet republics, with the possible exception of Belarus, are no more inclined to accept Russian hegemony now than when they declared independence five years ago."

In another commentary in The Wall Street Journal Europe, staff writer Steve Liesman takes a view contrary to Melloan's. Liesman contends that the NATO ministers actually won concessions from the Russians last week and a softening of the Russian stance. He says there's a new pragmatism. Liesman argues: "Indeed the Russians appear to have ceded the first round and are playing for the second. They have begun negotiating on the terms of the expansion and are attempting to forestall a second round that would include the more strategically important countries like (those in) the Baltics, or Ukraine."

He writes: "Although Russia insists the dramatic changes of the past five years have made NATO expansion unnecessary, it also knows that the breakup of the Soviet Union has left it with few friends and few options, least of all military ones, to respond to NATO's Eastward growth."

POLITIKEN: The new NATO is more than just a military alliance.

Danish Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen also came to the defense of NATO expansion in a commentary published yesterday in the Danish daily newspaper. Starting January 1, Petersen will take over as chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He said: "The new NATO is more than just a military alliance. In the future, NATO will serve as an emergency brigade in cases of crises in or around Europe. For the East European countries that aspire to NATO membership, the organization will be an effective instrument to further democracy, the respect of human rights, civilian control over the military, and the peaceful solution of conflicts."

Serbian Unrest

GUARDAIN: Changes in the nature of the demonstrations

Western writers following the events of the last month in Serbia are claiming cautiously to discern changes in the nature of the demonstrations there and in the responses of the regime of President Slobodan Milosevic. In today's London Guardian, Julian Borger comments: "On the Belgrade streets, where a samizdat press circulates, there already are signs of change." He cites a minute of silence observed by the generally nationalistic demonstrators for an ethnic Albanian teacher killed by the police in Kosovo. "Such a gesture," Borger writes, "would have been unthinkable before the protests began."

But, the Observer commentator writes: "A defensive sense of national identity remains, a belief that the world is united against the Serbs."

WASHINTON POST: Milosevic may be seeking a compromise

John Pomfret, in Belgrade, reports today that Milosevic appears to be moving farther toward seeking compromise with opposition demands. Pomfret writes: "Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic granted his political opponents another possible victory (yesterday) when a court controlled by Milosevic ordered officials in a central Serbian town to re-count votes cast in a local election held last month. The court decision in Smederovska Palanka, a town 30 miles southeast of Belgrade, was another attempt by Milosevic to defuse four weeks of street protests that mark the most serious and sustained challenge to his nine-year rule of Yugoslavia's dominant republic."

In Pomfret's view, "The ruling appears to be another sign that Milosevic, who has been shaken by the protests, has decided to compromise with a coalition of five opposition political parties, called Together (Zajedno)."

FINANCIAL TIMES: How times have changed in Serbia

Laura Silber writes today in the British newspaper: "It all looks so very different from the Serbia of the past five years, dominated by Mr. Milosevic and an obedient Serbian populations ready to go to war and suffer sanctions at his command."