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Western Press Review: Russia's Security Crisis, East Timor's Future

  • Joel Blocker



Prague, 14 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Two major subjects continue to preoccupy Western press commentators today. The first is the growing security crisis in Russia, underlined by yesterday's bombing of a Moscow apartment building that killed over 100 people. The second is the future of East Timor now that Indonesia has apparently agreed to the stationing of an international peace force in the territory.

SUEDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: A state of emergency could count for a great deal in the battle against Yeltsin's political opponents

"Terror at Any Time and Any Place" is the title of Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung's editorial on the Moscow bombing. The paper writes: [Muscovites'] sense of helplessness is compounded by the anonymity of the perpetrators. The Chechen rebel leader Basayev denies any involvement in the attack. [But] it is difficult to say whether this is true, [although it is true] terrorists often acknowledge their gruesome deeds. The only thing the Russians know for sure," says the SZ, "is what President [Boris] Yeltsin himself said yesterday: Russia has declared war on terrorism."

The editorial goes on: "The Russian Federation is not the first country that has had to come to terms with this kind of enemy. But terrorism in Russia," it adds, "can do more harm than in the U.S. or Britain. That's not so much because Russia's security organs are quite disorganized -- cities with millions of inhabitants are also difficult to protect elsewhere. It's much more because the Russian political system today is so unstable."

The editorial concludes: "The dead of Moscow and Dagestan [site of an earlier bombing] could serve as an argument for imposing a national state of emergency. That would be of little avail to Yeltsin in his battle against terrorism, but in the battle against his political opponents it could count for a great deal."

FINANCIAL TIMES: There is no shortage of political cabals in Moscow

Several analysts seek to assess the possible motives for yesterday's Moscow bombing and an earlier one in the capital last week, as well as their actual and potential effects on Russian society. Writing from Moscow in the Financial Times, John Thornhill says that "nothing prepared [Russians, who are accustomed to violence] for the bomb blasts that destroyed two apartment blocks in Moscow....killing at least 140 people."

Thornhill goes on to say that, in his speech to the Russian people yesterday, "Mr. Yeltsin was unable -- or unwilling -- to answer the critical question: who is planting the bombs?" The analyst adds: "Security officials suspect the acts are linked to conflict in the republic of Dagestan in the northern Caucasus....The Russian government believes extremist Muslim groups from outside Russia are supporting [incursions of well-armed Islamic militants, who aim to declare] an Islamic republic in the region."

He also says: "Amid all the outrage and confusion, one thing is already clear: there is no shortage of political cabals in Moscow willing to exploit the current instability, even if they had no hand in the bombings....[And] what is [also] unquestionable...is that Russia faces an extraordinarily tense time in the dying days of this millennium".

INDEPENDENT: Suspicion is falling on Chechen extremists

Another Moscow-based British analyst, Amella Gentleman in the Independent, writes that "suspicion [for the bombings is falling] on Chechen extremists as the perpetrators of a well-funded terrorist campaign...."

The analysis goes on: "Kremlin officials have speculated that the [alleged] financier Osama bin Laden may be helping to fund the rebels' military campaign in Dagestan....The links between the bombings and Islamic militants in Chechnya will be bad news for the large numbers of Chechens, Georgians and other Caucasian people living in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, who are already routine discriminated against by the authorities and the ethnic Russian populations."

LIBERATION: Russia is on the edge of a precipice

French analyst Veronique Soule writing from Moscow for the daily Liberation, says: "As crucial [parliamentary and presidential] elections approach, Russia is on the edge of a precipice. In the Caucasus, Dagestan threatens to fall into a full-scale war. And in Moscow, a wave of terrorist incidents have relaunched fears of the imposition of a state of emergency that would impose a fatal blow on the electoral process and [Russia's still] chaotic democratization."

Soule says there is a theory current in Moscow that links the bombings to what she calls "the somber intrigues of Russian political life and the relentless struggles for power...In this Machavellian hypothesis, those who ordered the bombings should be searched for in Russia itself....As always in Russia," she concludes, "everything happens as if everyone was looking to profit from the situation, even if it leads to disaster."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Investors fear fresh political convulsions

In the Wall Street Journal Europe, Jeanne Whalen assesses the financial impact of the security crisis. She writes from Moscow: "The latest blast rocked Russian markets as investors feared fresh political convulsions. Russia's main [stock] share index, the Russian Trading System fell 6.5 percent, while traders said a spurt of dollar-buying forced Russia's central bank to intervene to support the ruble..."

The analyst quotes a strategist with Russian bank Troika Dialog (James Fenker), who said: "Politics is Number One [with investors]. You have oil companies that are more profitable than they have ever been....but then the clouds form over these bombings and the potential of state emergency appears."

Three West European newspapers today explore the implications of Indonesian President's B.J Habibie's announcement two days ago that his country will allow the introduction of an international peacekeeping force in the bloodied territory of East Timor.

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: Indonesia's acceptance of an international peacekeeping force is a breakthrough

The Danish daily Berlingske Tidende writes: "Indonesia's acceptance of an international peacekeeping force...is a breakthrough that will produce positive results in many ways. First and foremost," the paper goes on, "there is now reason to believe that the massacres will stop. Theoretically, the pro-Indonesian militias will be able to continue to conduct their terror campaign. But the regular army, having accepted the installation of UN forces, should --logically, at least-- cooperate with them and stop supporting the militias."

The editorial continues: "The presence of UN forces will also reduce the possibility of a successful military coup in Indonesia, without isolating the country internationally, which would be too high a price to pay for the military. This is yet another argument why the peacekeepers should be sent to Indonesia as soon as possible.

The paper also says: "The [recent] developments in East Timor have turned out to be a victory for internationally accepted standards of behavior. They show that sometimes it is necessary to put pressure even on some of the world's most populous countries to make them understand that they will be unable to conduct their policies on their own."

FINANCIAL TIMES: It is still too early to say whether a UN peacekeeping force into East Timor will really halt the slaughter

Britain's Financial Times is far more cautious about Habibie's new willingness to accept an international force in East Timor. Its editorial says: "It is still too early to say whether the apparent volte-face by the Indonesian government to allow a UN peacekeeping force into East Timor will really halt the slaughter in that territory. On the most optimistic calculations," the paper notes, "it could take up to two weeks to have troops on the ground. That would allow the Indonesian armed militias on the island ample time to prolong their campaign of terror against the majority."

The FT goes on: "It is essential that the UN resist attempts by Indonesia to delay the arrival of neutral troops. Objecting to their composition and leadership is a tactic which suggests that [Indonesia is] cynically playing for time. [Moreover,] the lack of clear leadership in Jakarta, from either military or civilian authorities, makes it doubtful that they can or will deliver on their commitments."

The paper concludes: "The international community may have strong-armed Mr. Habibie to allow peacekeepers into the country. But it cannot expect much [Indonesian] help in supervising the independence process."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: East Timor is far from teaching the world a useful lesson

Finally, the Wall Street Journal Europe's editorial notes that "stumbling blocks to the peacekeepers...appeared almost instantly [after Habibie's announcement]. Yesterday there were reports that the Indonesian military is opposed to the participation of Australian peacekeepers -- a serious glitch because the Australians are the best prepared and most willing to take responsibility for spearheading a peacekeeping effort."

Yet, the WSJ also says, "as depressing as this is to contemplate, the world response to East Timor seems to be the fastest on record....East Timor...got [UN] Secretary-General Kofi Annan's attention in under two weeks. In terms of saving lives, that may be considered a great achievement. [And] the top UN human rights official, Mary Robinson, is already calling for a war crimes tribunal -- another speed record."

The editorial sums up: "What this suggests is that far from teaching the world a useful lesson with regard to future conflicts, after East Timor, we are in for more ad hoc international gestures of concern. It's just possible the suffering in East Timor has peaked. But who knows if the next loss of people to come under their own government's guns will rate more than a few headlines for a few days."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba and Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen both contributed to this report.)

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