Prague, 18 April 1997 (RFE/RL) - Western press commentary today focuses on the de-monopolization of large Russian state companies, as well as the process of NATO enlargement.
WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Gazprom is the toughest of Russia's re-structuring targets
The battle between Russia's powerful state monopolies and First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov is the subject of an editorial in today's edition. The newspaper compares the most powerful of the monopolies, Gazprom, to the Biblical giant Goliath. Nemtsov is cast in the role of David. The newspaper expresses surprize that a "slightly stunned giant" sat down to negotiate with Nemtsov, after he had "raised his slingshot and hurled a few well-placed stones." The newspaper says Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's announcement of an unscheduled vacation may have been "only coincidental" in relation to Gazprom's promise to pay nearly half of its $2.6 billion tax debt by June 10. Chernomyrdin, who formerly ran Gazprom, has been its most powerful champion in government.
The newspaper says the development is a good beginning. It says: "Unlike the Biblical story, the fight against Russia's colossal monopolists is more a frenzied scrum than a single, glorious battle. More complicated still, the goal is not to destroy the opponent, but to introduce competition into a system that still allows the monopolies to victimize their customers." The editorial continues: "Gazprom is by far the toughest of three major restructuring targets. Most analysts agree that the best that can be achieved is a greater measure of management accountability, transparency and more reasonable pricing for consumers. That would be a lot."
The paper concludes: "the fight to introduce market competition into Russia's monopoly sectors... will depend on progress in reaching other reform goals, such as reducing corruption, reforming a punitive tax system and dismantling an incoherent regulatory structure." In the meantime, the paper says, de-monopolization "distinguishes Russia's true market capitalists from those who use their monopoly positions -- a holdover from Soviet days -- to exact profits entirely out of proportion to any value they provide. Of course, it wouldn't hurt for Nemtsov to pray for a few miracles."
FIGARO: 'No one knows what Gazprom is today' says Yeltsin
Writing from Moscow in the French daily, Irina de Chikoff says that what she calls "natural monopolies" like Gazprom have always existed as "states within the state" of Russia. She continues: "But things could very well be about to change. (President) Boris Yeltsin has asked his new government to put some order back into the 'Russian house.' His 'musketeers' -- the two young deputy premiers, Anatoli Chubais, 41, and Boris Nemetsov, 37 -- are hardly likely to delay in waging war against the monopolies that manage and exploit electricity, trains and natural gas. 'No one,' affirms Yeltsin, 'knows what Gazprom is today. We don't intend to take the company apart but, from the financial point of view, it must become open to public scrutiny."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: NATO-Russia negotiations are in the middle of the endgame
A news analysis in today's edition by Alan Cowell says Yeltsin's meeting with Germany's Chancellor Helmut Kohl in Baden-Baden yesterday resulted in the "firmest public commitment to date" by Yeltsin that he would sign an agreement with Western leaders permitting NATO's eastward expansion. Cowell says the pledge alleviates concern that the signing in Paris on May 27 would be delayed because of disputes over military aspects of the agreement. Cowell says the pledge also "seemed designed to increase pressure in negotiations between Moscow and the Western Alliance." Cowell writes: "Both men indicated that a crucial part of the proposed agreement covering military deployments remained to be concluded. Kohl pledged to use his influence with Western leaders to ensure that Russia's concerns were taken into account." Cowell quotes an unnamed, top German official as saying that negotiations are now "in the middle of the endgame." He says a principle sticking point is Russia's objection to NATO building up military infrastructure in Eastern Europe.
WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: The real issue is defining the American role in post-Cold War Europe
Adam Garfinkle, the editor of a conservative U.S. publication called "The National Interest," writes about NATO issues today as a guest columnist. Garfinkle says few Americans seem to be noticing that "the structure of European security, and the U.S.-Russia strategic relationship along with it, is being rapidly overhauled in a series of fast-paced high-level meetings between American, Russian and European officials." Garfinkle says "a grand strategic bargain is forming, involving everything from new conventional and strategic arms-control agreements to an institutionalized Russian role in the G-7, the World Trade Organization and other councils." He says the negotiations will continue on these issues through "a likely full-dress U.S.-Russia summit in late May or early June, and perhaps to and beyond Madrid as well."
Garfinkle says U.S. President Clinton's decision in 1995 to expand NATO was "quick" and "myopic." He charges that the decision "clearly arose not only from new concern about Russia's direction, but also from concern about repairing the damage done by the administration's mistakes" in the former Yugoslavia. "Thus," he writes, "the impetus to enlarge NATO was a reactive maneuver made in isolation from any sense of a U.S. policy toward Europe." Garfinkle concludes that "the real issue is not, and never has been, how large NATO needs to be, but how large and what kind of American role in post-Cold War Europe there needs to be in the context of Europe's own political development."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Russian officials have decided to prepare the public to get used to the idea of NATO expansion
A news analysis by Gerhard Gnauck examines Yeltsin's trip to Baden-Baden and the future after NATO expansion. Gnauck says Yeltsin has had a sleepless night in Baden-Baden this week.
Gnauck writes: "The frequent foreswearing of the friendship and trust between Yeltsin and Chancellor Kohl are not at such risk as today. . . Whether the expansion of NATO was at stake, or the return of wartime art booty, or the relationship to Iran, or the German-Russian economic ties -- there is an impression everywhere that the Russia colossal bear is standing on clay feet and now has its back against the wall. Simultaneously, it lacks strength capable of luring or threatening: he can no longer bare his teeth."
Gnauck says the Baden-Baden meeting marks a turning point in which Russian officials have decided that they must "at last begin to 're-orientate' the Russian public and prepare it to get used to the idea of NATO expansion, instead of hopelessly trying to oppose it to the last breath."
Gnauck concludes that Yeltsin's travels abroad are "of special significance" for Russia. He reminds readers that it was during his first trip to America, in a Texas supermarket, that the Russian President was overcome, in Yeltsin's own words, "for the first time by a sense of deep despair for the fate of the Soviet people."
(Translations from French by Joel Blocker. Translation from German by Dora Slaba.)