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Western Press Review: Russian Crisis Takes Priority

  • Jolyon Naegele



Prague, 1 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's problems again overwhelm all other issues on the editorial pages of European dailies and US papers today.

NEW YORK TIMES: All stand to lose if the current disintegration proceeds

The New York Times in an editorial today entitled, Russia on the Verge, comments: "Boris Yeltsin's hastily arranged deal with the Communists over the weekend was troubling, but Sunday night's sudden collapse of their bargain could prove even worse. Its first negative consequence was Monday's parliamentary rebuff to Yeltsin's nominee for prime minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin. Russia is left without a government at a moment when urgent action is needed to check the country's vertiginous financial free fall. A prolonged vacuum in Moscow could fracture the geographically sprawling Russian Republic."

"Such a troubled country would be an uncertain environment for a politically healthy U.S. leader. President Clinton, in his weakened state, runs the risk of appearing ineffective and surrounded by chaos wherever he turns. Yet, having chosen not to postpone his trip, Clinton will have to address the crisis that will swirl around him in Moscow. He must speak forthrightly to the Russian people and to Russia's riven political leadership...."

The paper continues: "The most urgent task facing the next Russian government is not repaying foreign bankers or politically powerful domestic tycoons. It must regain the confidence of Russia's people, many of whom, including soldiers and nuclear scientists, have not been paid in months. Assuaging their anger will require the cooperation of all three elements battling for power in Russia - Communists, business barons and Western-oriented reformers. All stand to lose if the current disintegration proceeds. They need to coordinate their efforts under the leadership of Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin to pull Russia back from the precipice."

The New York Times concludes: "This is primarily a challenge for Russian politicians. But Clinton, while there, should take every opportunity to encourage the Russian people and tell Russian leaders that they can no longer look to Western bailouts as a way to avoid fundamental economic challenges at home. If Clinton cannot command the respect that once was his, he can at least mix reassurance with necessary candor."

DER STANDARD: Clinton will leave Moscow with the same empty hands with which he arrived

Clinton's visit to Moscow is also the subject of an editorial by Eric Frey in Vienna's Der Standard, entitled "Lewinsky's Shadow over Moscow:" "Even a strong US president under present circumstances could not achieve much in Moscow since Yeltsin is hardly in the position to conclude any agreements with western visitors. Just a few weeks ago, Clinton would have been able to buy Russian readiness to cooperate on Kosovo and Iraq with credits totaling thousands of millions. But since the financial collapse, there is no more money coming from the West and Clinton will leave Moscow with the same empty hands with which he arrived."

The paper continues: "While the Lewinsky affair is not directly responsible, it is a contributing factor that Clinton at present is hardly likely to take any domestic political risk and his policy will be more susceptible than usual to public opinion polls. The danger is precisely in dealing with Russia. Since once the situation stabilizes itself again in Moscow, Washington will be required to resume the financial support for the crisis-shaken superpower.

And Der Standard concludes: "If Russia sinks into chaos, Clinton will have to rethink the entire foundation of his foreign policy. Both scenarios require the strength of conviction and a readiness to take risks. When Mexico was on the verge of collapse in 1994, Clinton organized a package worth thousands of millions and thereby saved the southern neighbor. Similar decisiveness can hardly be expected from a White House in Lewinsky's shadow."

JYLLANDS-POSTEN: The summit in Moscow could be more interesting than had been expected

The right-wing liberal Danish regional daily Jyllands-Posten, based in Aarhus in an editorial today comments: "Clinton's visit to Moscow is going to be a balancing act. The US has no interest in weakening Yeltsin and thereby forcing a development which could change the security situation. The mere thought that Gennady Zyuganov could get any closer to the codes for Russia's nuclear weapons is frightening. On the other hand, Clinton cannot write any blank checks that would merely pump money into the anarchy of the Russian economy. In view of his critical public at home, Clinton is forced to show his political enterprise. This means demonstrating the will to prevent Russia from returning to the Communist yoke. This task requires a thorough statesman. Clinton knows this and thus the summit in Moscow could be more interesting than had been expected."

LE FIGARO: Russians want to find their own way

France's conservative daily Le Figaro comments: "The two presidents appear to be defenseless in the Russian blind alley. Clinton had betted on Russia under Washington's virtual protectorate definitely converting to democracy and market economics. Now, however, the communist majority in the Duma believes it is able to turn things back. On the domestic front, Clinton felt himself to be invincible as long as the Dow Jones index stayed above 9000 points. He set his political survival on prosperity and the ongoing stock market high."

And the paper adds: "As far as Yeltsin is concerned, his position is in checkmate. The deputies have rejected Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and the Kremlin is refusing to reduce the powers of the president which the Duma is demanding as the price for approving Chernomyrdin. The only solace for Clinton and Yeltsin is that the Russians disappointed by their wild capitalism will not turn back to Marxism with Tartar sauce. What they want is to find their own way."

LE MONDE: Might the Germans 'vote for security'

The Parisian daily Le Monde speculates on whether Russia's crisis improves German chancellor Helmut Kohl's reelection chances: "The sharpening of the political crisis in Russia and the collapse of the financial markets has brought foreign policy back onto (Germany's) domestic political stage. The 'fear of the Russians' across the Rhine is deeply rooted in the general consciousness. Might the Germans 'vote for security' and give their 'great European' preference over the social democratic candidate Gerhard Schroeder, who in the public's eyes lacks foreign policy trustworthiness?"

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Russia at the moment is a flickering fly of hope

Similarly, Kurt Kister, commenting in Munich's Sueddeutsche Zeitung writes: "In times of great misery people in deep darkness consider even the light from a lightening bug to be a spark of hope. The men in Kohl's coalition are in distress and so are running around with a net to then present their catch as a source of light. In Bonn the crisis in Russia at the moment is just such a flickering fly of hope." Kister concludes: "The thinking in the Christian Democratic Union but also in the Foreign Minister's FDP goes like this -- these coalition is competent and experienced in international turbulence. If Russia is wobbling threateningly just four weeks before the German elections, then this will lead many undecided voters to realize what this country really has in this chancellor and foreign minister. Moscow's crisis according to some coalition strategists affects the image and thus the chances of the Bonn government getting reelected."

BASLER ZEITUNG: Russia really does not have any time for such games



Switzerland's Basler Zeitung comments today: "First Russia's MPs spend a week negotiating with Boris Yeltsin's candidate Viktor Chernomyrdin about his future government program. Then they let him fall through with a resounding majority. Either they are of the opinion that Chernomyrdin is so incompetent as everyone else has been saying publicly. In that case they should never have started negotiating with him. Or else, more probably, they are really ready to back him. In this case the Communists are drawing out the approval process to win more concessions. Russia really does not have any time for such games. The country is in its most serious situation in years, but its politicians are going on with 'business as usual'."

LA REPUBBLICA: Chernomyrdin's ability to take on both the left and the right failed

The Italian left/liberal daily La Repubblica of Rome comments: "Viktor Chernomyrdin, the rust-free baron of the Nomenklatura, who is capable of weathering every storm and every regime, did not succeed. This time, his ability to take on both the left and the right failed. The Duma ceremoniously let him fall... "

ABC: Three possibilities remain

The conservative Spanish ABC of Madrid comments: "Russia is no longer on the edge of the abyss, rather it has one foot in the air. The country is in the clutches of old Soviet structures; there is plenty of evidence that the country is collapsing. One of them is that not all Duma deputies were present on Monday for such a decisive vote. Of 4590 there were only 396 present and of them 347 voted. The result was devastating. 294 No-votes and only 94 Yes-votes for Chernomyrdin. The power of Yeltsin and the Kremlin in the meantime has become so weak that their future no longer depends on fate as on political destiny. If events do not follow in rapid succession and Russia does not explode right away, three possibilities remain: a broad agreement with all parliamentary forces, a new candidate or dissolution of the Duma and new elections."

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