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Western Press Review: Yeltsin's Troika, Health And Politicking

By Joel Blocker/Esther Pan/Alexandre d'Aragon

Prague, 27 March 1998 (RFE/RL) - Much Western press commentary and analysis is still concerned with the enigma of Russian President Boris Yeltsin. In Western Europe, commentators focus on yesterday's meeting outside Moscow of what has been dubbed "Yeltsin's Troika" --himself, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and French President Jacques Chirac. And U.S. as well as West European newspapers continue to discuss Yeltsin's health and his dismissal earlier this week of the entire Russian Government.

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Germany is now a central power

Several German newspapers comment today on Yeltsin's meeting with Kohl and Chirac. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes in an editorial: "Kohl has not only preserved and deepened his personal friendship with Yeltsin...but through his common stand with Chirac, he has nipped in the bud rumors about a disreputable German-Russian special relationship. Germany is now a central power in the best sense of the word. It is neither positioning itself against the global leading power of the United States, as Yeltsin would like, nor is it placed in the shade by any other European state."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Yeltsin wants to forge 'axis'

In the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Josef Joffe is more skeptical of the meeting's results and Yeltsin's motives. He writes: "Yeltsin wants to forge an 'axis' among Moscow, Bonn and Paris. Even if the Russian President doesn't always know what he's saying, behind this idea was a hint of anachronism from (other eras)....'Axis' makes one think of the 'Stahlpakt' (literally, Steel Pact) between Hitler and Mussolini, of the diplomatic games of the 19th century, of cabinet politics and secret agreements. Yeltsin, whose idea it was, would like such a 'troika' to meet regularly --just as Bismarck wanted to move his 'pawns' on the chessboard of Europe, which was controlled at the time by five great powers." Joffe goes on to ask: "Or is the anachronism also the future --the past as a model for the 21st century in which, after the fall of the great ideologies and blocs, the game is played again with changing combinations ruling the world? The correct answer is no. No wonder that Kohl absolutely refuses to accept this game, that he (attended the troika meeting) only as a photo opportunity for his eternal loser friend Boris, which costs nothing and accomplishes nothing."

STUTTGARTER ZEITUNG: Yeltsin has been hit hard with good health

In its editorial, the Stuttgarter Zeitung observes ironically that "Boris Yeltsin has obviously been hit hard with good health." The paper writes that Yeltsin could not have asked for more from the summit: "His European friends Helmut Kohl and Jacques Chirac personally assured him that he is the lord of events in Russia, that he directs all the power in the country and that his personal decisions are well planned and thought out, and not the results of Kremlin court intrigues."

DERNIERES NOUVELLES D'ALSACE: Summit produces no concrete results

A French daily, Les dernieres Nouvelles d'Alsace, is also a bit ironic in using what it calls the "Russian terminology (for the meeting): 'the Great European Troika." In a signed editorial, Jean-Claude Kiefer recalls that yesterday's tripartite get-together was "agreed on during last October's summit of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg." He observes that the meeting produced "no real concrete results (and) Chirac and Kohl were much less enthusiastic about it than Yeltsin." Even so, Kiefer argues, the brief encounter well served Moscow's purposes. He writes: "For some years, Russian diplomacy has been aimed at two specific goals: First, to re-create a 'multipolar world,' to counter-balance the only remaining super-power, the United States. Second, to integrate Russia into a 'Greater Europe' stretching from Iceland to Siberia that would include political cooperation between the European Union and the Russian Federation. All this with, as a pivot, the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), which will take care of security maters, thereby excluding a NATO dominated by the Americans."

LE MONDE: What place will the troika have in Europe?

The day before another French newspaper, Le Monde, wrote in an editorial: "Since 1997, Kohl and Chirac have each been talking separately to Yeltsin in an effort to induce him to accept NATO's (coming) expansion to the East by signing an agreement between Russia and NATO....Now they are traveling together and have shut the door on memories of competition --and even rivalry-- between both countries and Russia. Even if it lacks substance, this is symbolic and noteworthy progress. The question remains, what place will (the troika) have in Europe's future organization? With (these three) European powers claiming to understand one another, thoughts of a directorate cannot be far off."

CORRIERE DELLA SERA: Yeltsin puts forward multipolar world doctrine

Italy's daily Corriere della Sera also sees NATO's shadow at the Yeltsin-Kohl-Chirac meeting. In an editorial, the paper writes today: "The coming enlargement of NATO (to three Central European states) and the desire of other countries to join the Alliance have Russia worried. That's why Yeltsin is trying to put forward his idea of a multi-polar world, opposed to a planet dominated by only one super-power, following the break-up of the Soviet Union. To support this doctrine, Russia is working on many fronts. It is looking for closer ties with Europe and with the most important countries in Europe. Is the troika enlargeable? Certainly, responded the three leaders. And it would probably please the Russians most if other European nations are included. Such as Italy, with which an agreement was signed to establish special ties."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Yeltsin challenges American dominance

In an analysis in the British Daily Telegraph, Alan Philips explores some of the same themes. He says that "President Yeltsin claimed to have challenged American dominance of the post-Cold War world yesterday with the formation of a Paris-Bonn-Moscow axis." He writes: "The so-called troika summit led Mr. Yeltsin into some flights of geopolitical fancy. The combination of Western Europe and Russia, he said, would create a new world....The three-way meeting was part of a Russian attempt to create a 'multi-polar world'- Kremlin-speak for challenging American dominance in international affairs."

NEW YORK TIMES: Yeltsin plays dice with his piece of the universe

A news analysis by the New York Times' Michael Specter today says that "nothing gives Boris Yeltsin more pleasure than playing dice with his little piece of the universe." Writing from Moscow, Specter also says: "(Yeltsin's) speech is still slow after much illness, and his movements stiff and labored. But since Monday, when he dismissed Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin after five years of unfailing loyalty, Yeltsin has had a mischievous gleam in his eye. That's because he is back where he needs to be: on the center of every stage. Yeltsin entertained two world leaders in Moscow on Thursday --Jacques Chirac of France and Helmut Kohl of Germany-- but he still took time from his busy schedule to toy with the man he has temporarily dropped into Chernomyrdin's shoes...Sergei Kiriyenko, the relatively unknown reform politician (named today) as the permanent prime minister...." Specter quotes Andrei Piontkowsky, director of Moscow's Center for Strategic Studies, as saying: "Sometimes you forget that Boris Yeltsin is not a child, but the leader of an enormous nation with a large nuclear arsenal....He is making the Russian government up as he goes along. Even he has no idea how it will turn out."

In a commentary yesterday, New York Times columnist William Safire asked: "Bored? Depressed? Stumbling and coughing a lot? Fearful your public is tiring of you, but unwilling to gamble on vigorous reforms?" For those with these symptoms, Safire advised: "Take the Yeltsin Cure: Grab world headlines by firing your whole Cabinet, and then hire most of them back." More seriously, he wrote: "Yeltsin is splashing around a lot, but when it comes to building a free economy he's treading water. His only policy consistency is wrong-headed, coming from Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, Saddam Hussein's loyal KGB friend, whose short-sighted nationalism discourages investment from abroad. Yeltsin will serve until he drops because he needs to stay in office to stay alive. But to struggle out of its swamp, Russia needs the daring Yeltsin of a decade ago."