Prague, March 22 (NCA) -- Two issues, this week's scheduled visit of Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov to Washington, and NATO-Yugoslav war clouds over the Serbian province of Kosovo -- command much Western press commentary.
Primakov has dual missions in Washington, one to wrest more financial backing for Russia from the United States and international financial institutions, the other to convene the U.S.-Russian Cooperation Commission, which he co-chairs with U.S. Vice President Al Gore.
NEW YORK TIMES: Foreign policy may provide an opportunity for Al Gore
The New York Times both today and yesterday dissects the two cooperation commission principals. In an editorial yesterday, The NYT said that Gore must hunger for some foreign-policy wins to bring life to his faltering presidential drive. The Times wrote: "Al Gore has been one of the most active vice presidents in U.S. history, a central player in an administration that continues to get high approval ratings. Yet those same polls show that the public is ambivalent about a Gore presidency."
The editorial also said: "Polls also indicate that voters do not regard Gore as a strong leader. Somewhat surprisingly, foreign policy may provide an opportunity for him to sketch a distinctive vision during the campaign."
The newspaper concluded: "As luck would have it, Gore finds himself in a position to punch up the lagging Administration effort to cut the number of Russian and U.S. nuclear weapons left over from the era of mutually assured destruction. It is a subject Gore knows well, since as vice president he chairs twice-a-year meetings with the Russian prime minister. One of those meetings is scheduled to take place this week. If Gore can get the drive toward nuclear weapons reduction back on track, it might do a lot to impress the American people with his leadership skills."
NEW YORK TIMES: Yevgeny Primakov has restored a measure of stability
Of Primakov, the NYT editorializes today that Primakov is a mixed old- and new-Russian from whom the U.S. can expect little. The newspaper says: "In the seven months that he has been Russian prime minister, Yevgeny Primakov has restored a measure of stability to his shaken nation." It goes on; "In foreign affairs, his area of expertise, Primakov has pressed traditional Russian security interests in Europe, Asia and the Middle East more vigorously than Yeltsin's previous prime ministers, but has not so far fulfilled fears in Washington that he would oppose the United States at every turn."
The editorial goes on to say: "Primakov's economic program borrows heavily from failed Soviet formulas without entirely giving up on the market forces that have developed in Russia in recent years. This is hardly surprising, since the price for his confirmation by Parliament was that he place economic policy primarily in the hands of Yuri Maslyukov, a Communist retread." The paper adds: "In negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, and in discussions about how Russia will treat the creditors who made the mistake of lending to it last year, Primakov's government has taken a surprisingly haughty attitude."
The editorial also notes: "Primakov, like his predecessors, can never be sure whether Yeltsin suddenly will fire him." And concludes: "In such conditions, Primakov and his countrymen will be fortunate to get to the next presidential election without another change of cast in the Kremlin. Given the dangers of political instability in a nation with thousands of nuclear weapons, that may be the most Washington can hope for as well."
FINANCIAL TIMES: The IMF should refuse Russia any more credit
The Financial Times, in London, weighs in editorially today with the view that the IMF should refuse Russia any more credit. Granting more would be, the newspaper says, throwing good money after bad. The editorial says: "At the heart of Russia's economic crisis is a state which is ineffective and dishonest." It adds: "If the U.S. wants to give money for political reasons, it should do so. But the IMF should not."
Turning to Kosovo, commentator Guy Dinmore, writing in The Financial Times, and an editorial in Sunday's Washington Post, cite historical and domestic roots for the hardening of public opinion and positions in both the U.S. and Yugoslavia.
FINANCIAL TIMES: Kosovo again is being depicted as Serbia's last stand
The Financial Times' Dinmore writes: "Legend has it that on the eve of the fateful 1389 battle for Kosovo against Ottoman invaders, Serbia's Prince Lazar made a last rallying cry before charging to his death and defeat -- 'It is better to die in battle than to live in shame. In the end we seek to accept the martyr's struggle and to live forever in heaven.' Six centuries later, Slobodan Milosevic, then a communist apparatchik, adopted Kosovo as his cause and was swept to power on a wave of Serbian nationalism. Ten years on, the Yugoslavia he vowed to protect has shattered into five countries and, with NATO air strikes threatening, Kosovo again is being depicted as Serbia's last stand."
WASHINGTON POST: The fight between democracy and totalitarianism is never static
The Washington Post said Sunday: "Some opponents of U.S. involvement in the Balkans argue that Bosnia and now Kosovo could prove to be quagmires for U.S. troops. [But] the U.S. has been fighting for democracy in Europe for more than a half-century. The battle is nearly won. This would be a foolish time to give up."
It said: "Clinton on Friday cited all these reasons for possible U.S. intervention: the risk of more massacres, the danger of war spreading, the challenge to NATO credibility. They are all valid. But subsuming them all is the U.S. interest in completing the mission of supporting democracy throughout the European continent." The Post concluded: "The fight between democracy and totalitarianism, as we should have learned by now, is never static; if we are not helping one side, we are by inaction strengthening the other. The United States should indeed have an exit strategy for its deployments: It should bring the troops home once democracy is secure."
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Serb actions lead to but a single conclusion
Commentator Peter Muench writes today in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that Milosevic has left NATO no room for choice, that the alliance must take a stand in the name of humanity. He writes: "Serbian actions lead to but a single conclusion: Slobodan Milosevic wants to provoke NATO into an attack. While peace negotiations were still going on in Paris, Belgrade was preparing for the latest offensive."
Muench contends: "The lesson to be learned can only be this: Whoever submits to Milosevic's calculations makes him stronger than he is. Whoever lets himself be paralyzed shares the guilt for the deaths of thousands. Who, if not NATO, has the means to stop the Serbian forces? If [NATO] decides not to act, then the fate of the people in Poduyevo, Prekaz [and] Srbica is sealed for ever."