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Western Press Review: Kosovo And NATO, Russia And The War's Conduct

  • Don Hill



Prague, 21 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Once again today the war over Kosovo dominates Western international press opinion and analysis, but the commentary divides into three streams. These are the war's effect upon NATO as an institution, an emerging role for Russia, and the conduct of the war.

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Stakes in Kosovo are enormous

The Wall Street Journal Europe carries today a commentary in the first stream by the chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee of the Czech Republic, Michael Zantovsky. Zantovsky approves the NATO attacks on Kosovo but warns that, one, they are insufficient and, two, NATO must not be permitted to fail. The Czech parliamentarian writes: "The NATO summit in Washington (this weekend) will be a crisis meeting where important and painful decisions should be made."

He writes: "The summiteers in Washington (must be) clear in the knowledge that the stakes in Kosovo are enormous and growing by the day." Zantovsky says: "NATO's intervention was necessary and unavoidable, but bombing alone will not get the Yugoslav troops out of Kosovo, nor will it bring the hundreds of thousands of refugees back to their homes." The Czech commentator contends: "It will require the clear and decisive leadership of the United States, just as it will demand the resources, courage and unity of all NATO members. This is even truer for the three new members. (Unless) Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic prove to be net contributors to security and stability in the region, NATO will lose interest in further enlargement."

Zantovsky concludes: "A sense of frustration and disappointment in Central and Eastern Europe easily could lead to a new hunker-down mentality within NATO (and) such isolationism almost certainly would come back to haunt."

WASHINGTON POST: So far NATO is not winning this war

In an editorial, The Washington Post also calls leadership lacking and stakes mounting. The newspaper warns: "NATO's intervention in Kosovo, though often cited for the precedents it sets, in fact speaks to continuity in the alliance. NATO (as in its early days when it was defying the Soviet blockade of Berlin) is standing up to despotism and reaffirming U.S. interests in promoting stability and democracy in Europe. But there is a crucial difference, too: So far NATO is not winning this war. Despite allied unity, Mr. Milosevic continues to carry out the kind of crimes rarely seen in Europe since Nazi times. The leaders who gather here must summon the will and deploy the means to stop him, or this will be NATO's last birthday as a meaningful alliance."

Three correspondents in Moscow for widely divergent newspapers in the United States discuss in separate news analyses what they see as diminishing truculence and an increasing possibilities for Russia's role in the Kosovo standoff.

PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: Chernomyrdin has become Russia's man of the hour

Dave Montgomery, writing for the U.S. Knight Ridder chain of major newspapers, including The Philadelphia Inquirer, says: "In September, as Russians braced for another harsh winter, Viktor Chernomyrdin appeared headed for a political Siberia after rebellious lawmakers rejected President Boris Yeltsin's efforts to return the former prime minister to his old job. Seven months later, spring is returning, and so is Chernomyrdin. His new role as Yeltsin's special envoy on the Kosovo crisis has made Chernomyrdin Russia's man of the hour as Moscow seeks to regain some of its influence on the world stage by negotiating an end to Europe's worst military crisis since World War Two."

NEW YORK TIMES: Russian officials have toned down the harsh Cold War language

In The New York Times, Celestine Bohlen says: "Four weeks after NATO began bombing Yugoslavia, Russia -- one of the few countries to have lent a sympathetic ear to Belgrade and turned a blind eye to reports of atrocities in Kosovo -- now is eagerly auditioning for the role of mediator. While his Communist-nationalist opposition keeps itself busy with dreams of a Slavic union, President Boris Yeltsin has moved Russian diplomacy onto more pragmatic ground." She writes: "In the last weeks, Russian officials have toned down the harsh Cold War language that characterized their first response to the NATO strikes. But the anti-Western mood in the country is still strong, as Russian politicians and much of the media continue to focus on the damage caused by NATO bombs, treating reports of Serbian-led atrocities in Kosovo with skepticism. (In) a sign of a subtle shift in Russian public opinion, the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Aleksei II, arrived Tuesday in Belgrade with a message in which he for the first time suggested that Russia's Eastern Orthodox brethren in Serbia bear a share of the responsibility for the tragedy that has befallen their country."

BOSTON GLOBE: Suddenly the chill is gone

The Boston Globe publishes the similar conclusions of David Filipov, who writes: "Russia still is angry about NATO's airstrikes against Yugoslavia. But suddenly, the chill is gone -- or at least some of it." Filipov continues: "While continuing to denounce the air strikes, Moscow is no longer underscoring that World War Three is imminent." the analyst says: "Chernomyrdin is believed widely to have gotten the job for domestic reasons. Commentators say President Boris Yeltsin, using one of his favored tactics, was looking to stem the steadily rising influence of Prime Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov by replacing him with Chernomyrdin as Russia's point man on Kosovo. Whatever the motivation, the change has had a pronounced effect. Primakov has made a career of opposing U.S. initiatives as a way to improve Russia's international stature."

In the third stream of commentary, articles in the U.S. Washington Post and the German Die Welt take critical looks at a voice of NATO in Brussels.

DIE WELT: Questions are becoming more probing

Die Welt's Andreas Middel quotes NATO spokesman in Brussels Jamie Shea as saying, "The truth, should not be the first victim of war." Middel then adds, "Sometimes, despite the heavy weight resting on his shoulders, a light smile can sometimes be detected on his lips."

Middel writes: "He portrays NATO from its best side -- as a merciful Samaritan. But predictably, after almost four weeks of war, the questions are becoming more probing and the doubts about the sense of the air strikes greater. The rain of bombs and missiles have been effective, he contends. He then lists the achievements: Slobodan Milosevic's army is being destroyed step by step; Serbia's air-defense system is now virtually non-existent; the Serb units in Kosovo are virtually without support; the murder and expulsion of Kosovo's people will soon find an end. But the pictures which daily flicker over the television tell a different story. The flood of refugees is only increasing and Milosevic remains stubborn."

WASHINGTON POST: It is not too much to ask that the planners do not lie, to themselves and to the public

In a commentary in The Washington Post, National Review editor Michael Kelly forges heavy irony in the fashion of a U.S. satirist of earlier times, Mark Twain. Kelly writes: "Good news at last. In Brussels on Monday, the spokesman for NATO, Jamie P. Shea, announced that Slobodan Milosevic's corps of ethnic cleansers have added 8,000 fresh troops to their number in Kosovo. This would seem, as the New York Times delicately noted, to undercut NATO's assertions that it is choking off the ability of Yugoslavia to re-supply its forces in the field. Oh no, Shea declared, the arrival of half a division of Serb soldiers in Kosovo was a positive development: 'It's a sign of how difficult Belgrade is finding it to bring the area under total control.' "

"Or perhaps," Kelly retorts, "it's a sign that Milosevic is, in fact, Little Bunny Foo-Foo, and that the Good Fairy will any minute now come down and turn him into a goon for scooping up excessive numbers of field mice and bopping them on the head." Kelley writes: "It is too much to ask that the initial plans of any war be met with swift success. But it is not too much to ask that the planners do not lie, to themselves and to the public, about how their plans are faring."

He concludes: "We have started a war to protect a people, and we know that, far from being protected, the people are being slaughtered and driven destitute from their homes to starve in the hills. We know that there is no sign that Serb forces are being hurt enough to force their retreat. But we must stick to the plan. We must fly high in the air, even if this means that we cannot effectively kill Serb troops who are killing ethnic Albanians, and even if this means that we ourselves sometimes kill ethnic Albanians by mistake, as NATO has finally admitted. We must not send in soldiers. Because these things are dangerous. We could get hurt."

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