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Western Press Review: Comments Consider The Effects Of The Russian Crisis

  • Jolyon Naegele

Prague, 28 August 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's financial crisis and its worldwide ripple effect are the key topic of editorials on both sides of the Atlantic today.

NEW YORK TIMES: The important question is what will happen to the world's economies

The New York Times says in an editorial: "Panics are never pretty, and the one now going on in financial markets around the world is no exception. In virtually every stock market, prices fell sharply Thursday.... While the immediate cause of the panic is the default and financial chaos in Russia, it also comes at a time of growing economic weakness around the world. Recessions in Asia appear to be getting worse, and while the U.S. economy has continued to grow, the government reported Thursday that after-tax corporate profits were down in the second quarter from the same period a year ago. That is the first such decline since 1989, just before the country's last recession...."

The editorial concludes: "Whatever investors do in coming days, the important question is what will happen to the world's economies. Preventing a worldwide downturn will require a revitalized International Monetary Fund, and may require the Federal Reserve to reduce short-term interest rates in this country, despite its worries about inflation."

LIBERATION: The Russian system had to collapse to persuaded healthy reason to prevail

In France the liberal/left Parisian daily liberation comments: "it was first necessary for the Russian system to collapse under the weight of its contradictions to bring the worldwide economic order tottering until finally, a bit late, it persuaded healthy reason to prevail in the western capitals: Bonn and Paris will send Viktor Chernomyrdin a letter to make it clear to him that in future he can only count on help from outside if he takes hold of the reforms that they proposed in vain during his five years in office."

LE FIGARO: Why not an elected autocrat?

The conservative Parisian daily Le Figaro comments: "Mikhail Gorbachev disappeared because he had fulfilled his historic mission. The Soviet empire collapsed through him. Yeltsin has stepped into the background because he too has fulfilled his role: He gave Communism the coupe de grace by going against the putschists in August 1991 and beating the Communist Party in the 1996 elections. If Lebed wins the presidency he will be able to conclude the revolution unleashed by his predecessors, in which he creates his own political system suited to Russia. This immense country that belongs to Europe and to Asia does not want to fall back into Asiatic tyranny. But western democracy is also not quite the ticket. So why not an elected autocrat?"

LES DERNIERES NOUVELLES D'ALSACE: Every change involving Russia is sensitive

In Strasbourg, Les Dernieres Nouvelles d'Alsace says that it would be logical for Yeltsin to resign: "since the autocratic Russian system requires a strong president and Yeltsin has lost all lingering credit. General Lebed and Prime Minister Chernomyrdin are already congratulating each other for their 'similarity of views as if they were about to declare an alliance between a national-Bonapartist and an apparatchik of the old school who has converted to being a defender of monopolies! That really does disturb the West. Every change involving Russia is sensitive. It will have an incalculable effect on the countries that broke with the USSR."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: There is nothing much worse than a loss of trust

Helmut Maler-Mannhart, commenting in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung writes: "A crisis can not get any more dramatic: in front of the bank teller's windows in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia are lines of people waiting to withdraw their money because they are worried that the credit institutions will become insolvent. There is nothing much worse than a loss of trust by the citizenry in their country's monetary system."

KOELNISCHE RUNDSCHAU: Russia is falling back to the end of the USSR

The Cologne daily Koelnische Rundschau notes: "the West's worst fears are being surpassed with the unity of the two houses of parliament and the rump government. Russia is not falling back to Viktor Chernomyrdin's first term but rather to the end of the USSR."

STUTTGARTER NACHRICHTEN: It clear that the economic experiment in Russia has foundered

The Stuttgarter Nachrichten comments: "the developments of the past few days makes it clear that the economic experiment in Russia has foundered for now. The call for nationalizing the big enterprises and turning the banknote printing presses show that a turnaround has already been prepared. The West must bend its head in bitter recognition that all talk of appeasement bore no fruit and that thousands of millions vanished into thin air. Basically the West can only hope that the damages caused by Russia's collapse will stay within certain limits."

BASLER ZEITUNG: Chernomyrdin is left with two equally unpleasant possibilities

In Switzerland, the Basler Zeitung in an editorial says: "the oligarchs are pressing Chernomyrdin to save their empires and help their banks with big loans from the state treasury to get out of the tight fix. But since the treasury is empty, Chernomyrdin is left with two equally unpleasant possibilities: He can deny credits to the oligarchs who just helped put him in power a and let plenty of banks go under... Or he can turn on the printing presses and have more money printed. Western banks and governments should have made it clear to Chernomyrdin that Russia will not get a penny more in help as long as he places the interests of the oligarchs ahead of those of the 147 million Russians. Next week, US President Bill Clinton can be the first to take Chernomyrdin to task. But the European governments should also take advantage of the situation to insist on fundamental reforms -- with or without Boris Yeltsin."

CORRIERE DELLA SERA: Yeltsin does not appear to be in a position to stand up to the wave of criticism

The conservative Milanese daily Corriere della Sera notes: "Yeltsin is silent. He seems to have vanished from the picture. This time it is not a health problem, at least not one of his 'colds' that end up with open heart surgery. The problem is political. Yeltsin does not appear to be in a position to stand up to the wave of criticism that this time is more convinced than ever before in wanting to force him to give up the rudder."

LA REPUBBLICA: Yeltsin is nothing more than a lame duck president

The left/liberal Roman daily la Repubblica comments in an editorial entitled "Like in a Banana Republic": "Boris Yeltsin is nothing more than a lame duck president, short of breath, whose hours are numbered. A head of state, who has banished himself to the countryside while the economy collapses and the stock exchanges go crazy and no one is available to rule the country."

POLITIKEN: The decision to name Chernomyrdin prime minister was the worst possible choice

In Denmark, the liberal Copenhagen daily Politiken comments today: "The situation in Russia will probably get worse than it already is. In reality, it is hard to see how a change for the better can be brought about. The decision to name Viktor Chernomyrdin prime minister was the worst possible choice by the severely weakened President Boris Yeltsin, who is clearly on his way out. Regardless of the fact that he was a loyal government chief who was not much interested in reforms, Chernomyrdin was the embodiment of state-protected soviet capitalism, that is still so pathetically holding on to power in the new Russia. The outside world is not interested in the collapse that threatens Russia. But it is acting as if only Russians can save Russians..."