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Western Press Review: Russia's Economy And Serbia's Milosevic Face Challenges


By Joel Blocker/Dora Slaba/Esther Pan



Prague, 3 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. press commentators continue to be preoccupied by Russia's financial problems. West European analysts are more concerned with challenges to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's authority in both the Republic of Montenegro and the largely ethnic Albanian province of Kosovo.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Clinton's statement points us toward the real game that is being played here

The International Herald Tribune today carries editorials from the New York Times and the Washington Post assessing the Russian Federation's on-going financial difficulties and Western efforts to help out. Commenting on U.S. President Bill Clinton's recent offer of aid (May 31), the New York Times says that "you know you are on new economic terrain when the White House decides to rush out a pronouncement on Russia...not because of some impending Russian government action but in hopes of influencing financial markets to be more inclined to lend money to the Moscow government." The paper writes further: "Clinton's efforts...were, at least initially, no more successful than previous presidents' efforts to talk up U.S. financial markets in times of crisis. Panicked investors are not inclined to be reassured by vague promises of support..."

The editorial continues: "The most important word in Clinton's statement was 'conditional,' and it points us toward the real game that is being played here. The President is supporting the current international policy of delaying a large bail-out until there is evidence of real reform. In plain language, the United States and the International Monetary Fund want Russia's government to prove that it can collect revenues even before the badly needed reform of the tax code makes its way through the Russian parliament."

WASHINGTON POST: Russia knows that the West considers it too big to fail

In its editorial, the Washington Post also calls Clinton's offer "vague" and says it "did nothing to calm (Russia's) financial crisis." The paper notes that "on Monday (June 1), the Russian stock market lost 10 percent of its value," writing: "The ruble is in danger, and so are President Boris Yeltsin's economic achievements and the future of his pro-reform government." The editorial continues: "The problem is structural. Russia took strong measure to initiate a transition from communism to a free market, but in many instances it has not followed through. Land still is not fully privatized. The tax code has not been updated....The judicial and legal reforms necessary to force (companies that have been privatized in name) to behave like truly private corporations have not been forthcoming." The paper concludes: "The most persuasive argument for additional aid now is that Russia's new prime minister and cabinet, arguably the most pro-reform ever, should be given a chance. (But aid should be) neither open-ended nor unconditional. As long as Russia knows that the West considers it too big to fail, its government will not take the painful steps necessary to succeed."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Russia's economic performance is more in line with regional laggards

Under the headline "Russia Needs to Create Wealth," Alexei Bayer (described as head of a New York business consulting firm) writes in a commentary in today's Wall Street Journal Europe: ? The problem with the Russian economy is that it has not been creating wealth; on the contrary, the industrial system, as it emerged from the early post-Soviet privatization process, has been geared toward subtracting, not adding, value." Bayer's commentary goes on to compare Russia's record with those of the nations of the former Soviet bloc in Central and Eastern Europe. "The experience of Eastern Europe shows that countries that shunned market reforms, such as Romania and Bulgaria, remained stagnant, while those that effected an economic transformation --Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic-- saw a return to growth three or four years from the start of reforms. Russia," Bayer continues, "is an anomaly: It seems to be reforming, while at the same time its economic performance is more in line with regional laggards."

NEWSDAY: The Russian economy is finally showing some life

Writing for the Long Island daily Newsday earlier this week (June 1), U.S. Russian economic specialist Marshall Goldman says that, "despite its weakening currency and a lagging stock market, the Russian economy is finally showing some life and investors should be more supportive than ever of its prospects. Moreover," he says in a commentary, "after six years of incompetent rule by his predecessor, the new Russian Prime Minister, Sergei Kiriyenko, seems willing and able to carry out the economic reforms that should have been adopted much earlier. How ironic it is, therefore, that except for Indonesia's, the Russian stock market has been the world's poorest performer this year."

Goldman asks: "What explains this (Russian) paradox of good economic prospects and a declining market? In part," he answers, "Russia is caught up in the backwash of the Asian financial crisis, which has made investors sensitive to Russia's vulnerability. Moreover, foreign investors continue to find that their stockholder rights are abused....And, as in Asia, many Russian businesses and banks have unhealthy balance sheets. Russia also has allowed itself to become vulnerable to short-term capital shifts....(Partly) because the government has had difficulty collecting taxes, both deficit and debt keeps growing." Goldman adds: " There is concern about whether the government will be able to find enough investors willing to buy additional government securities. To compound the government's difficulties, tax collection has been further impeded by the drop in world oil and other commodity prices."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Yeltsin has always found day-to-day governance more problematic

In the Los Angles Times yesterday, historian Steven Merritt Miner says that "Yeltsin is a man who thrives on crises, yet he always has found day-to-day governance more problematic." Miner goes on: "Now (Yeltsin) faces an economic emergency much like those still sweeping through Asia, toppling governments in their wake. Unfortunately for Yeltsin, the causes of Russia's economic ills run too deep to be solved by the sorts of grand gestures that have served him so well in the past." His commentary also says: "Russia's latest political and economic crisis has been brewing at least since March, when Yeltsin disappeared from public view, suffering from one of his increasingly frequent and obscure medical complaints. His absence triggered another round of speculation about the inevitable succession. The issue is a vital one, since the presidency is the overwhelmingly powerful post in Russia."

Miner continues: "Yeltsin's dramatic governmental reshuffle (a few months ago shows) that he was seeking, by means of the grand gesture, to demonstrate that he is tackling Russia's key problems." But Miner concludes: "It is doubtful that, by means of cabinet reshuffles, Yeltsin can distance himself in the public mind from the corruption and stagnation that have characterized his second term. Nonetheless, if he makes any headway at all in these directions, he will once more have confounded his critics and proved yet again that he is a very impressive political escape artist indeed."

DERNIERS NOUVELLES D'ALSACE: Montenegro now has an unexpected chance

Turning to Milosevic's problems, the French regional newspaper Dernieres nouvelles d'Alsace yesterday assessed Sunday's election in Montenegro which, together with Serbia, is one the two republics making up rump Yugoslavia. In an editorial, the paper wrote: "The Karst mountains (in Montenegro) are carpeted with gorgeous spring flowers. But those who watched what unfolded (Sunday) in Montenegro saw an altogether different symbol of beauty and fragility. It was named hope and symbolized democracy: The pro-Western party of the young President of this partner republic, Milo Djukanovic, won the parliamentary election." The paper said that Djukanovic triumphed "against the puppet (candidate) of his master in Belgrade, Milosevic, and against archaic and hate-filled nationalism, the heir to communism." It concluded: "This Balkan republic now has an unexpected chance to win back its hereditary place in the community of nations."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: The West should recognize the right of the ethnic Albanians

Britain's Daily Telegraph today also says that Milosevic "is now being challenged in the Yugoslav rump...by the Montenegrin leader Milo Djukanovic." But like other West European papers, the Daily Telegraph focuses on what it calls Milosevic's "oppression of the Kosovar Albanians (which, it says,) bears all the hallmarks of traditional Serbian ethnic cleansing." In its editorial, the paper writes: "Milosevic's dream of a Greater Serbia has been shattered, but he has not abandoned the grim methods by which he sought to make it real. Reports from Kosovo of charred houses and fleeing villagers bring to mind the suffering inflicted on Vukovar (in Bosnia at the outset of the war in ex-Yugoslavia) in 1991." The editorial continues: "As well as seeking to contain the conflict (in Kosovo), the West should recognize the right of the ethnic Albanians to self-determination....Given Mr. Milosevic's obduracy on this issue, the West must be ready to toughen sanctions against Belgrade and to intervene militarily in Kosovo to prevent genocide." It concludes: "Milosevic has forfeited any right to be part of the council of nations. His place, rather, is before the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: The United Nations and the Western powers are backing out

In its editorial today, Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung asks whether it is "not too late for a peaceful solution to the conflict in Kosovo?" The paper writes: "Ibrahim Rugova, the...chosen leader of the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, asked (during his recent visit to) Washington for the establishment of an independent state. Other Albanians go still further. (They speak of) plans for creating a 'Greater Albania' that would embrace all the regions inhabited by Albanians stretching from southern Montenegro to western Macedonia." The FAZ goes on: "The less the West assists Kosovo, the more this kind of propaganda finds fertile ground. Rugova and the (Albanian) government in Tirana regard the establishment of an internationally controlled protectorate (in Kosovo) as an important step toward easing tension and resolving the crisis. Yet," the paper concludes, "as in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the United Nations and the Western powers are backing out. In Bosnia, this led to a war of frightful bloodshed. In the end, a mild form of (an international) protectorate had to be instituted to assure the implementation of the Dayton (Bosnian peace) accords."

DIE WELT: The war is already under way

The daily Die Welt has this comment today on the crisis in Kosovo: "Diplomats issue repeated warnings about a Kosovo war. (But in fact) it is already underway. What has so far occurred in Kosovo meets the criteria of a civil war --rebel fighters who control a minimum of land, have a constant supply of arms and are engaged in continual fighting." The paper also says: "Belgrade has been negotiating recently with the leaders of the (Kosovar) Albanians. (But) since these talks began, Serbian security forces have launched an offensive --or, rather, a massacre of civilians. Nobody can say whether this is a tactic or an abuse of the talks to facilitate undisturbed 'ethnic cleansing.' One thing is sure: the UN's recent promise to lift sanctions (against Serbia) was premature."

DERNIERES NOUVELLES D'ALSACE: Montenegro now has an unexpected chance

Turning to Milosevic's problems, the French regional newspaper Dernieres nouvelles d'Alsace yesterday assessed Sunday's election in Montenegro which, together with Serbia, is one the two republics making up rump Yugoslavia. In an editorial, the paper wrote: "The Karst mountains (in Montenegro) are carpeted with gorgeous spring flowers. But those who watched what unfolded (Sunday) in Montenegro saw an altogether different symbol of beauty and fragility. It was named hope and symbolized democracy: The pro-Western party of the young President of this partner republic, Milo Djukanovic, won the parliamentary election." The paper said that Djukanovic triumphed "against the puppet (candidate) of his master in Belgrade, Milosevic, and against archaic and hate-filled nationalism, the heir to communism." It concluded: "This Balkan republic now has an unexpected chance to win back its hereditary place in the community of nations."

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