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Western Press Review: Kosovo, Mideast, Russia

  • Joel Blocker



Prague, 25 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The war in Kosovo continues to attract considerable attention among Western press commentators. But there are also comments today on recent developments in the Middle East and in Russia.

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The Alliance is getting farther and farther away from its own original mission statement

"NATO's Indecisiveness" is the title of Peter Muench's commentary today in Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung. He says that "NATO has responsibilities to meet as well as rights and obligations" and urges the Alliance "to explain what it thinks it's doing" in Kosovo.

Muench recalls that "when it opened its bombing campaign in the Balkans two months ago, NATO told the Serbs and the world that it was fighting the Serbian government, not the Serbian people. [But] now," he adds, "as its bombs systematically demolish Serbia's public-supply systems, knocking out power and turning off the water supply, the Alliance is getting farther and farther away from its own original mission statement. Those strikes are attacks that affect the whole Serbian people, not just precisely aimed hits on the centers of power.

The commentary continues: "Trying to force Serbs to revolt against their government by destroying their supply network is little more than an admission of helplessness on NATO's part ... Beyond that, it underscores NATO's lack of will to fight the war where it needs to be fought -- in Kosovo against Milosevic's troops, special police units and uniformed irregular thugs."

LEIPZIGER VOLKSZEITUNG: NATO should be wary of Milosevics vague promises

Other German newspapers also comment on Kosovo. In an editorial, the Leipziger Volkszeitung worries about ongoing atrocities against Kosovo-Albanians. "Milosevic's real war," it says, "is against the Kosovar Albanian population." That's why, the paper concludes, the "alliance would be well advised to remain wary of his vague promises ... They won't," it concludes, get the "refugees back home or help the alliance out of its dilemma."

STUTTGARTER ZEITUNG: The West has to decide whether this war is being fought correctly

The Stuttgarter Zeitung says flatly that "Yugoslavia is destroyed [even if] Milosevic isn't yet in front of a war crimes judge. The West," the paper adds, "has promised Yugoslavia [the retention of] its territorial integrity. So now." it says, "Milosevic can invite the Kosovo-Albanians back into the province, fully aware that most of them will no longer want to live there. Milosevic," it adds, "can also present himself as the savior of his country and can demand the disarmament of the Albanian underground UCK." It concludes: "At some point, the West has to decide whether this war is being fought correctly, not only if it was justified."

FRAKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Stopping the bombing will prove NATO is not waging war against the Yugoslavian people

The Frankfurter Rundschau recalls that "two years ago Belgrade was the center of democratic protests. Now," it says. "those protests have moved to the Kosovo province and found expression in desertions by some soldiers there." According to the paper's editorial, "that's a sign of a possible democratic future and a glimmer of hope." But it adds: "With each bomb that does not fall and cause so-called collateral damage, there could even be more protests ... Stopping the bombing," the editorial concludes, "will prove convincingly, that NATO is not waging war against the Yugoslavian people."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: The Alliance will have to take some risks

Writing in the Wall Street Journal Europe today, former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski calls U.S. President Bill Clifton's "conduct of the war over Kosovo feckless. His over-eager diplomacy," Brzezinski writes, "has undercut the credibility of his military campaign, while his timid military tactics are depriving his diplomacy of serious clout.'

"No wonder," the commentary continues, "Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic has not yielded. NATO's morally callous failure to take any military risks in order to impede the ethnic cleansing has given Milosevic's thugs a completely free hand to destroy Kosovar society. At the same time," Brzezinski adds, "Russia, which has vociferously denounced NATO's bombing as a barbaric atrocity while maintaining silence about the mass murders and communal deportations in Kosovo, has been courted by Mr. Clinton's State Department to serve as a mediator."

Brzezinski sumps up: "To end the Kosovo campaign in a manner that not only redeems its original purposes but also safeguards the vitality of NATO, the Alliance will have to take some risks. It is necessary to face the fact that at some point Kosovo will have to be entered forcibly ... The only acceptable solution is the imposition of de facto physical control of Kosovo by NATO forces, accompanied by the de facto disappearance of Serb armed personnel."

LE MONDE: War against Serbia is an attack against West European civilization

In an outspokenly anti-NATO commentary today in the French daily Le Monde , former Soviet dissident Alexander Zinoviev -- now a philosophy professor at Munich University-- calls the Alliance's air strikes against Yugoslavia "a war against Europe." He writes: "What the leaders of the Western world are now doing in Yugoslavia (especially in Serbia), with the aid of powerful military means from the U.S. and NATO, is moving toward bellicose totalitarianism ..." He goes so far as to say that this "new totalitarianism is more terrible and dangerous than its Hitlerian or Stalinist predecessors."

Zinoviev adds: "The 'war against Serbia' is, strictly speaking, not a war. It's rather a police operation aimed at chastising a people that has dared to show resistance to the projects of the global government [led by the U.S.], [and dared] to oppose Westernization and globalization."

He concludes: "The global government, whose military arm is the U.S., wants to preserve the unity of the Western world, but at the price of the submission of Western Europe to its own interests. Thus, the 'war against Serbia' really constitutes an attack against West European civilization. It's a war against Europe."

NEW YORK TIMES: Barak sensibly seeks support from moderate religious and conservative groups as well

Turning to the Middle East, the New York Times says in an editorial that last week's "election of Ehud Barak as Israel's next prime minister has created an encouraging new atmosphere for peace talks with the Palestinians and Syria." The paper goes on: "Though Barak's negotiating positions are not that different from [outgoing premier] Benjamin Netanyahu's, the new leader's more positive attitude has drawn favorable notices in much of the Arab world."

"Netanyahu," the NYT continues, "saw the [1994] Oslo peace agreement as an obligation to be carried out as grudgingly as possible. Barak views carefully negotiated treaties as ways to make Israel safer and stronger. The Clinton administration, whose relations with Netanyahu were always tense, now has a willing partner in efforts to complete the peace."

The editorial continues: "Because any new peace agreements will require a broad consensus, Barak sensibly seeks support from moderate religious and conservative groups as well. But he has wisely decided first to set firm policy guidelines on peace terms and relations between religious and secular Israelis. Only parties accepting these guidelines will be invited into the coalition." And it concludes: "Though peace was not the main campaign issue, polls consistently show that most Israelis favor agreements based on trading land for security. Barak's government will be measured by the progress it achieves toward this vital goal."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Barak's political choices will be a significant indicator of Israel's future society

Los Angeles Times Syndicate columnist William Pfaff believes "the main foreign relations challenge facing the new Israeli government will be settlement with Syria." He writes further that "Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak recognizes this. He has said that real security for Israel has to come through agreements with its neighbors."

According to Pfaff, "a Syrian agreement will influence the Palestinian situation. Israel and the Palestinians," he goes on, "need to turn a new page, which means a final accord that will not be challenged by Islamic [fundamentalists] or by a younger generation of Palestinian nationalists alienated by the corruption and compromises of Yasser Arafat's Palestinian authority."

In Israel, Pfaff continues, Barak's "election dealt a stinging blow to the colonists' lobby which, under Netanyahu's febrile coalition of nationalists and religious parties, possessed inordinate power ... The newly elected prime minister," Pfaff says, "is also a nationalist, too, but he owes the colonists nothing ... His political choices will be a significant indicator of what this divided [Israeli] society may become in the next few years."

WASHINGTON POST: Stepashin will operate under constraints so severe that his own convictions are almost irrelevant

The Washington Post's editorial is entitled "Yeltsin Rebounds Again". The paper writes: "Once again Russian President Boris Yeltsin has confounded the experts, not to mention this editorial page. Two weeks ago he was widely reported to be in mortal political danger, on the verge of impeachment, outmaneuvered by his cagey and popular prime minister. Now that prime minister, Yevgeny Primakov, is out on the street, yesterday's man."

The paper goes on: "Mr. Yeltsin, or the savvy political operatives who maneuver in his name, has beaten back impeachment. And his new prime minister, Sergei Stepashin, distinguished by his long-standing loyalty to Mr. Yeltsin, has been confirmed by a suddenly acquiescent parliament and thereby transformed into a contender in next year's presidential election."

The editorial adds: "There's good news and bad in this drama. Russia's young political institutions once again have shown their resilience. A political crisis has been managed within constitutional rules. The country remains on track toward parliamentary elections later this year and a first-ever orderly transition of executive authority next summer."

But, it adds, "it would seem unreasonable to hope that this latest change of government will produce much improvement in Russia's dire circumstances. Mr. Stepashin, who has spent most of his career in the national police ministry, may be marginally more pro-reform than his predecessor, he is certainly of a younger generation than Mr. Primakov. But he will operate under constraints so severe that his own convictions are almost irrelevant."

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