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Western Press Review: Spotlight Shines On Russia's Chubais And Primakov

  • Don Hill

Prague, 20 November 1997 (RFE/RL) -- "Anatoly Chubais is both the agent and enemy of Russian reform," The New York Times said in an editorial yesterday.

There is substantial commentary in the Western press on Chubais' ethics problems and his demise as Russian finance minister. The press continues to comment also on the Iraq crisis and Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov's diplomacy.

NEW YORK TIMES: Yeltsin should discharge Chubais before the cause of reform is further tarnished

In yesterday's editorial, The New York Times said: "Without Chubais' wily advice and determination to shed communist economics, (Russian President) Boris Yeltsin might not have brought Russia so far along the road to democracy and free markets. But Chubais, Yeltsin's top economic and political adviser, has also condoned unseemly dealings between the Kremlin and Russian businessmen. Even by the raw standards of Russian politics, he has now disgraced himself and ought to vacate his post as first deputy prime minister."

The newspaper concluded: "Russian politics is not for the faint-hearted, and Chubais often has served a larger interest with his manipulations. But reform has progressed far enough in Russia that it need not be advanced at every turn by unethical deals. As difficult as it may be for Yeltsin to part company with such a valued aide, he should discharge Chubais before the cause of reform is further tarnished."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: In Russia, business is closely linked to political power

Writing in the Suddeutsche Zeitung yesterday, Miriam Neubert also praised Chubais' contributions and condemned his manipulations. She wrote: "When government officials in charge of privatization in Russia write a book on the subject and are paid a $90,000 retainer, that is bound to raise an issue or two, especially if the money is paid by a company controlled by the bank which made the running and was awarded the privatization contract. It looks very much like a bribe, and Anatoly Chubais, Russia's first deputy premier and one of the book's authors, has come under heavy pressure as a consequence. But the case is less one of ethics than of power."

She wrote: "In Russia, business is closely linked to political power, or proximity to it. That is why competition is often tantamount to a power struggle. These clashes between oligarchical groups have nothing to do with the best interests of the general public, let alone with the introduction of law and order."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Like Dr. Frankenstein, Chubais is being mauled by his own monster

In today's edition of the British newspaper Financial Times, Christia Freeland writes that Yeltsin is performing a political execution on Chubais by a painful and gradual salami-slicing process. She writes in a news analysis: "Over the past five days, (Chubais) has been reduced from being one of the nation's most powerful men to what one Russian observer called a political corpse. He was further weakened yesterday when (Yeltsin) backed a proposal to deprive him of his post as finance minister. The ministry is Mr. Chubais' last source of real political power."

She says: "Mr. Chubais may have sown the seeds of his own downfall. Determined to privatize at any cost, he created the ruthless tycoons who now have nearly ended his political career. Like Dr. Frankenstein, he is being mauled by his own monster."

WASHINGTON POST: The setbacks for Chubais come at a time when the reform agenda seems to be stalled once again

In a news analysis in today's Washington Post, David Hoffman writes that Chubais' reform program already was stalling. The writer says: "Chubais and (his ally, Energy Minister Boris) Nemtsov had taken the finance and energy portfolios because in the past these ministries often had become beholden to outside interests. Since Russia is collecting only about 60 percent of budgeted revenues, the Finance Ministry must dole out what money there is, frequently under enormous pressure from special interests. Likewise, the Energy Ministry was known as the purview of natural gas giant Gazprom; one of its executives previously had been the minister. Nemtsov used the post to push for reforms and more aggressive oversight of the state's 40 percent share in Russia's biggest company."

Hoffman says: "The setbacks for Chubais come at a time when the reform agenda seems to be stalled once again. The International Monetary Fund has withheld a $700 million installment of a loan to Russia because of poor tax collection, and a new tax code ran into fresh hurdles today in parliament."

WASHINGTON POST: The United Nations and the United States no longer can afford to look away from the evidence the regime itself collects

Commentator Jim Hoagland writes today, also in The Washington Post, that, in Iraq, the regime of Saddam Hussein has archived such evidence of biological warfare experiments that the world can't afford to treat diplomatically with the threat he represents. Hoagland says: "Nearly 18 months ago, U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq discovered videotapes showing stomach-turning scenes of the testing of biological weapons on donkeys, sheep and dogs at the Hakam laboratory in Baghdad. The tapes showing the animals dying in agony are so gruesome that they were not released publicly or disseminated widely within the United Nations itself."

The commentator continues: "What kind of regime videotapes such horror and then places it in archives? The kind that ordered the massacre of innocent Kurdish civilians and filmed that killing on a massive scale in 1987. The kind that has systematically taped the show trials and grisly executions of those who have fallen afoul of Saddam Hussein since he and his murderous colleagues came to power in 1968."

Hoagland concludes: "(U.S. President Bill Clinton) sensibly has kept his diplomatic and military options open to this point. But he cannot go very long having it both ways, publicly suggesting that he suddenly sees the gruesome and dangerous nature of the Iraqi threat while he keeps the door open for a disguised diplomatic deal that will grant Saddam Hussein new legitimacy. Saddam Hussein does not shrink from looking into the face of the horror he has created. The United Nations and the United States no longer can afford the luxury of looking away from the evidence the regime itself collects."

NEW YORK TIMES: If Iraq backs down without warfare, the price, now and for the future, is unclear

Reports that the Russian foreign minister, Primakov, had persuaded Saddam to back away from his confrontation with the United States have met with skepticism -- and expressions of hope -- from U.S. officials, The New York Times' Steven Erlanger writes today in a news analysis. He says U.S. leaders retain old-scar suspicions of Primakov.

Erlanger writes: "If Iraq's president, Saddam Hussein does back down without warfare, it will represent an important victory for American and Russian diplomacy. But the price, now and for the future, is unclear. Primakov held out to Saddam the hope of speedier work by the inspectors, to give Iraq a sense that inspections will not go on forever. Iraq also wants a change in the composition of the team, and a end of all the sanctions imposed in 1991 after the Persian Gulf war. (U.S. Secretary of State) Albright made it clear that the United States had not agreed to changes in inspections or sanctions."

The New York Times reporter says: "There is also some lingering American mistrust of Primakov, an expert on Arab affairs and former Russian intelligence chief who, as a Soviet diplomat, tried to head off military action against Iraq after it invaded Kuwait in 1990. The White House has been sensitive about appearing to engage in any negotiation with Saddam or offer any inducements to him, no matter how small or obvious, to persuade him to back down."