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Western Press Review: Crisis In Kosovo; Demonstrations In Russia

  • Don Hill

Prague, 8 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary generally reflects uncertainty over what to do about violence in Serbia's Kosovo province. There also is substantial commentary today on the tameness of yesterday's nationwide demonstrations in Russia.

NEW YORK TIMES: The complexities of the Kosovo issue may produce paralysis

On Kosovo, The New York Times says in an editorial that confusion about the proper action to take in Kosovo may prevent NATO from striking Serbia. The newspaper says: "The political complexities of Kosovo and divisions in NATO about the use of force may produce paralysis just when action is needed..." The Times continues: "Kosovo cannot be set right before winter comes, but thousands of refugees can be saved. When that work is done, the United States and its European allies can help Kosovo's ethnic Albanians regain the autonomy they should have."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Bombing is likely to help Milosevic

But Jonathan Clarke, a former British diplomat now with the Cato Institute in Washington, says history argues against precipitate action. The Los Angeles Times carried Clarke's commentary earlier this week. He wrote: "In July 1913, the chancellor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire received a written warning from his foreign minister not to try to solve the Serbian question by 'force of arms.' He ignored the advice. A year later, Austria declared war against Serbia. Four years after that, its empire went out of business." Clarke then says: "Today, NATO, another multiethnic, multilanguage organization with an identity crisis, is riding a wave of popular revulsion over new atrocities toward military intervention in Kosovo."

Clarke said calls for air strikes against Serbia stem from "willful ignorance of local conditions" combined with unrealistic belief in the effectiveness of military might. He said that bombing is likely to help Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic by weakening his foes and rallying Serbs behind him.

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Western politicians lack a coherent plan

The Western goal in Kosovo should be independence, not an empty show of force, the Daily Telegraph says today in an editorial. The newspaper says: "The punishment promised by (U.S. President) Bill Clinton and (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair is typical of Western politicians who lack a coherent plan but want to be seen to be doing something." The editorial says: "Our leaders, having failed to act earlier in the year, should not now fool us that by punishing Serbs with air strikes they are solving the problem."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Milosevic conducts politics of destruction

The Financial Times, London, carries a commentary by Guy Dinmore, who says Serbs fear instability more than bombs. Dinmore writes: "The sense of impending chaos is a consequence of what analysts in Belgrade call the politics of destruction of Slobodan Milosevic, the Yugoslav president whose manipulation of one crisis after another keeps his restive nation in check."

WASHINGTON POST: The right political course is to prepare negotiations

"Countries prepared to live by the law cannot let (Milosevic) get away with (his) deceptive, destabilizing scheme," says The Washington Post in an editorial published also by The International Herald Tribune. It says: "The right political course is to prepare a negotiation that in time will let democratic Kosovars participate in shaping their own destiny."

THE INDEPENDENT: NATO action would almost certainly end Moscow's uneasy cooperation with the alliance

The Independent, London, and a columnist for Germany's Die Welt, worry over Russia's position on action in Kosovo and its likely response to NATO air attacks. The Independent says that military action by NATO "would risk the biggest crisis so far between post-Soviet Russia and the West." It says: "The NATO attacks would almost certainly end Moscow's uneasy cooperation with the alliance. A country already disillusioned with capitalism would be tempted to re-erect old barriers against the West."

DIE WELT: Russia tries to defy the United States on the world stage

Jens Hartmann writes in Die Welt: "Russia clearly is using the conflict in Kosovo to burnish its world-power image and simultaneously strengthen its position in southeast Europe in relation to that of NATO." The commentator says: "The Kosovo crisis is regarded (by Russian leaders) as a test of whether Russia, in political turmoil at home, can defy the United States on the world stage."

But, he writes: "While the Russian political elite have found a new sphere of activity in Kosovo, the Balkan crisis holds little interest for the bulk of the Russian people...The top issue for most of them was the day of pan-Russian action on Wednesday, when hundreds of thousands stopped work and took to the streets to protest their economic plight."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Primakov has been granted a period of grace

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung's Miriam Neubert analyzes why yesterday's protests in Russia were so muted. She writes: "Given the desperate situation in the country, up to 40 million people had been expected to participate in lightning strikes, mass rallies and protests. This storm of protest did not materialize." She says: "The new government, which has not even properly got down to work yet, has apparently succeeded in taking some of the heat out of the October protest. Surveys have found that Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov makes a favorable impression on around 70 per cent of the Russian population." Neubert says: "As yet, it seems, he is being granted a period of grace."

NEW YORK TIMES: Many Russians have become deeply cynical about politics

A New York Times analysis by Michael Gordon in Moscow says: "The marches drew only a small fraction of the 10 million demonstrators the Communists had expected. And while thousands of factories and companies conducted short, symbolic work stoppages, life basically went on as usual." Gordon says: "(Yesterday's) tepid protests were in stark contrast to the anxiety early this week."

He writes that one reason the protests "were only a pale reflection of what had been advertised" is that "many Russians have become deeply cynical about politics and no longer have any expectation that the government will help them."

GUARDIAN: The center of gravity has shifted from the Kremlin to parliament

Despite the demonstrations' mildness, The (London) Guardian's Moscow correspondent, Tom Whitehouse, sees them as one more marker along the exit road for (Russian President) Boris Yeltsin. Whitehouse writes in an analysis: "In the past five years, Yeltsin has deflected popular anger skillfully, blaming a succession of ministers for mountain wage arrears and poverty." The writer says: "Although Mr. Yeltsin still exercises huge powers on paper, the center of gravity in Russian politics has shifted from the Kremlin to parliament and the White House, the government headquarters."