Prague, 20 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - Today's Western press comments on efforts to ease Russia's opposition to the expansion of NATO and the continuing crisis in Albania.
LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: Russian objections are aimed at securing sweeteners
"Senior Western diplomats remain convinced that Russian objections, loud though they often are, are mainly aimed at securing the best possible package of sweeteners from NATO," writes Christopher Lockwood in an analysis. "The package has been under negotiation for many months, and much of it has already been agreed in principle. Central to the deal is a proposed NATO-Russia Charter which establishes a blueprint for European security in the next century, and gives Russia a voice, though not a veto, at the heart of NATO deliberations."
LONDON INDEPENDENT: Russian future security challenges are from Islamic neighbors and China
Ahead of today's start of the Clinton-Yeltsin summit in Helsinki, Tony Barber says in an analysis: "For some months, Mr. Yeltsin has recognized the inevitability of NATO expansion and has concentrated on securing guarantees that the process will not endanger or isolate Russia." But, says Barber, any eventual Russia-NATO pact "may not be enough to banish the Russian suspicion that NATO is taking advantage of Russia's temporary weakness to absorb a part of Europe from which Russia has been invaded many times in the past." Barber says that in Helsinki, "Mr. Clinton is likely to stress that NATO sees Russia as a long-term partner and that, in any case, Russia's main security challenges in the coming century will not come from the West but from its southern Islamic neighbors and China."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Negotiation has changed the framework of the Russia-NATO dispute
Andrew Pierre argues in a commentary that the "Heated debate over (NATO) enlargement has obscured the reality that an intensive, multilayered process of negotiation has change the framework of the Russian-NATO dispute." Pierre, a professor of European studies at Johns Hopkins University in the U.S., notes that Moscow's talks with NATO have gone beyond expansion of the military alliance to include discussions on arms reduction and deeper Russian participation in Western economic institutions. Pierre concludes: "Progress at Helsinki along these lines would underline the intent to build a cooperative NATO-Russian relationship." He says this relationship could be "greatly reinforced through economic measures such as support for making Russia a full member of the Group of Seven at the group's Denver meeting in June, and by Russia's early admission into the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development)."
NEW YORK TIMES: The future stability of Europe depends on stability in Russia
The paper says in an editorial today that the debate over an enlarged NATO is distracting attention from the "vital matters" of reducing the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals and entrenching democracy in Russia. Says the Times: "At a time when American and Russian officials should be talking about ways to consolidate democracy and free markets in Russia, they have been arguing over the number of tanks that can be stationed in Poland." Comparing this topic to the old debates of the Cold War, the Times says: "The rush to enlarge NATO is not justified by any Russian military threat. Russian conventional forces are weak, and even a government with imperial ambitions would require years of draining expense before it could threaten Europe again." The newspaper adds: "The future stability of Europe depends more than anything on stability in Russia. Rather than taking actions that may isolate Russia and encourage a resurgence of Russian nationalism, the United States ought to concentrate on trying to help Russia rebuild its faltering economy, establish a fair and effective tax system and make democracy irreversible."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Albania could pollute the rest of Europe
"The European Union has been just as irresolute toward the Albanian crisis as it was when the Bosnian tragedy started five years ago," writes Tom Gallagher. "Once again, the Balkans cruelly expose the inability of the Union to coordinate foreign policy in an emergency," says Gallagher, a professor of peace studies at Bradford University in England.
"If unrest continues, power is likely to gravitate to militias that will fight with rivals over territory, control of fuel and the right to tax," says Gallagher. "The entire Albanian political class is discredited, and criminal elements are poised to fill the void. Unless they are checked, there will be no compunction about delivering weapons next door in Kosovo, where a revolt is already brewing against Serbian rule."
Gallagher says Albania "could soon become a bleeding ulcer exporting crime and misery" across Europe. "Albania is not Bosnia. It is not riven by ethnic disputes," Gallagher concludes. "But it could become an anarchic Medellin (Colombia) or Palermo (Italy), polluting the rest of Europe, if powerful neighbors do not intervene to restore order and help the ill-used and largely blameless majority of Albanians to reconstruct their country."
WASHINGTON POST: The West propped up a weak democracy
In an analysis, Christine Spolar writes that the anarchy now engulfing Albania has "exposed the failings of what passed for democracy" in the country, and the "shortsighted Western efforts" that propped it up. "Albania, the poorest country in Europe and one of the last to throw off Communism, has struggled through five years of democratic rule with few institutions intact or untouched by scandal," she writes. "But until the collapse of pyramid-style investment funds sparked a popular uprising in the past month, there was little substantive rebuke from the United States or Europe."
Spolar says that the West was "eager to find a Balkan leader it could trust," and embraced charismatic President Sali Berisha as its best hope. "Albania was singled out as a possible bastion of stability in the unstable, ethnically divided Balkans," she says. "The United States offered military training and assistance, as well as development aid, and European nations also developed close ties."
But, Spolar says, the "West did little in response" to Berisha's consolidation of government power under his Democratic Party; last May's fraudulent elections; or Berisha's failure to heed warnings from international financial institutions about the get-rich-quick investment schemes that robbed many Albanians of their life's savings.
NEW YORK TIMES: Albania reveals the weaknesses of U.S. policy
In an analysis, Steven Lee Myers says the U.S. is now seeking to distance itself from Berisha. Myers writes: "The evolution of the American relationship with Berisha -- from early embrace to disillusion -- underscores Washington's eagerness to nurture democrats in formerly Communist nations. But it has also shown the limitations of the policy."