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Western Press Review: Eyes On Kosovo, Russia

  • Anthony Georgieff
  • Don Hill

Prague, 17 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Kosovo and Russia, including Dagestan, continue to arouse Western commentary, and commentators also examine topics closer to home.

NEWSWEEK: International officials seem to be maintaining a self-defeating pretense

Commentator David Rieff writes in the current edition of the U.S. news magazine Newsweek (August 23) that in Kosovo "The Law of Revenge Rules." Rieff says that the West can offer money, expertise and long-term peacekeeping troops in Kosovo, and little else. He says, in his terms, "too many international officials" in Kosovo seem to be maintaining a self-defeating pretense that democracy is just around the corner." The writer says that when the unavoidable disillusionment sets in, there will predictably be calls for withdrawal of the peacekeepers. Rieff concludes with this: "That would be a catastrophe for a place that already has experienced too many of them."

AFTENPOSTEN: More likely now is a greater Albania

What Newsweek's commentator calls "a self-defeating pretense," Norway's Aftenposten Norway calls "a political dream." The newspaper says that a peaceful, multi-ethnic Kosovo was the chief reason for NATO's intervention, but that, as the Aftenposten editors put it: "developments of the recent months go in the opposite direction." Now the oppressors are in the words of the editorial, "Albanian bands [that] continue expelling the indigenous Serbs." Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic sought a greater Yugoslavia. NATO sought a pacified Kosovo. More likely now than either, says Aftenposten, is a greater Albania.

SUEDDEUTCHE ZEITUNG: The Russian economy is unlikely to recover until mid-2000

Writing in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, commentator Susanne Landwehr recalls the collapse of the ruble a year ago today. She says that what she calls "the music" currently coming from Moscow sounds like the melodies from Russia of the weeks before the 1998 crisis. The writer asks: "Is Russia today on the brink of an economic crash such as befell it on August 17 last year?" Much evidence points to a yes, Landwehr writes, but she summarizes her conclusion as follows: "The Russian economy is unlikely to recover until after the presidential elections in mid-2000. In the meantime it will stagger from one breathing space to the next until it can really breathe freely again."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Yeltsin strongly disagreed with the premier-designate

In the Frankfurter Rundschau, Karl Grobe comments on the reverse spin Russian President Boris Yeltsin seems to get whenever he throws a political ball these days. Grobe writes these words: "Boris Yeltsin naturally praised his candidate for prime minister yesterday, which did Vladimir Putin no further harm. But the Russian president strongly disagreed with the premier-designate, which did Putin no good." The disagreement Grobe refers to was Yeltsin's contention that Dagestan doesn't constitute a state of emergency.

NEWSWEEK: The last window shows the "Current Prime Minister" just changing to "Putin."

Newsweek magazine publishes a commentary on President Yeltsin and Prime Minister Putin that is even more succinct. A political cartoon in the current edition (August 23) shows a startled street sweeper at the Kremlin looking at a changeable electronic display board with three windows. One window shows the "Current Time", another the "Current Temperature, and the last window shows the "Current Prime Minister" just changing to "Putin."

ATLANTIC MONTHLY: The West should pay close attention now to Russia's wild west" -- the Caucasus

Robert D. Kaplan -- a correspondent for the U.S. magazine Atlantic Monthly -- writes in a commentary in The New York Times that there is nothing new in Russia's battle with Islamic rebels in Dagestan and Chechnya. Kaplan says the Russians merely are renewing, in his words, "their centuries'-old battle with Muslim warriors in the North Caucasus."

But that's not the whole story, he says. It's possible that Russia's real aim is, as Kaplan puts it, "to destabilize Georgia and Azerbaijan, two former Soviet states to the South." Kaplan says the West ignored brewing trouble in the Balkans until too late. The West should pay close attention now, he says, to what the writer calls "Russia's wild west" -- the Caucasus.

TIMES: It may be alarmist to depict Dagestan unrest as a Chechnya-type threat

The Times of London worries in an editorial today that Russia may be exaggerating the Dagestan threat. Rebels want to turn both Dagestan and Chechnya into an Islamic state, The Times says. It adds this: "Anatoly Kvashnin, the general who ran the Chechen war, again confronts insurgents led by Shamil Basayev, his old Chechen opponent. Moscow is inclined to see this as the Chechnya war revisited."

The editorial urges Russia to look twice to be sure it is not overreacting. As The Times' editorial puts it: "It may be alarmist to depict this small-scale unrest as a Chechnya-type threat."

THE GLOBE: America bemoans violence even as it allows free trafficking in weapons

The Boston Globe, among many U.S. newspapers, takes up the issue of mass shootings and the evident U.S. inability so far to mandate meaningful gun controls. The Globe says this: "America is a nation that bemoans violence even as it allows virtually free trafficking in these weapons."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: George Bush Jr. seems like a shoo-in for the nomination as the Republican candidate

It is presidential campaign season in the United States, even though Americans won't cast their votes for President Bill Clinton's successor until November 2000. On the strength of a recent straw poll, Sueddeutsche Zeitung commentator Jeanne Rubner writes from the north-central U.S. state of Iowa that George Bush Jr. -- son of former President George Bush -- seems, in Rubner's words, "like a shoo-in for the nomination as the Republican candidate."

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung's writer says, however, that Bush's center-leaning policies are making his conservative base uncomfortable.