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Western Press Review: Still More On Russia And East Timor

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 15 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Once again, Western press commentators are focusing much of their attention on two of the world's most problem-ridden areas: the vast expanse of the Russian Federation, with more 150 million people, and the tiny territory of East Timor, whose population is under one million. Some analysts assess Russia's security and financial problems, while others raise the question of how effective a United Nations peacekeeping force can be in ending the bloodshed and devastation in East Timor.

OSTSEE-ZEITUNG: Terror is ruling Moscow

In Germany, several newspapers comment briefly on the recent murderous bombings in Moscow. The Ostsee-Zeitung, published in Rostock, says that "terror is ruling Moscow after an apartment block was torn apart [by a bomb, killing well over 100 people] for the second time in a four days. The blow to the capital," the paper's editorial continues, "has deeply wounded the Russian soul and caused a widespread feeling of unease in the population."

WESTFAELISCHER ANZEIGER: Police are insufficiently funded

According to the Westfaelischer Anzeiger, "the reason why security precautions have failed to work in Russia is simply a matter of insufficient funding of the police. Badly underpaid police officers are thought to be corrupt and without motivation, not least because of the poor equipment they have."

STUTTGARTER NACHRICHTEN: The President is likely to leave a field of rubble behind him

The Stuttgarter Nachrichten says that "not even Boris Yeltsin could seriously claim that the terrorist debacle caused by the aggravated conflict in the Caucasus will be brought to an end before he retires as President next year." The paper goes on: "The 'tough, swift and decisive action' that Yeltsin promised in his address to the Russian people Monday will do little to hide the fact that the President is likely to leave a field of rubble behind him when he goes."

HEILBRONNER STIMME: The rebels are coming closer to their goal

The Heilbronner Stimme writes that "the Russian people tend to connect the [bombings] to the leaders of the [Islamic] rebels in the Caucasus, who are exploiting the weakness of the post-Soviet empire to their own advantage." The paper says that "another Chechnya [war] is now threatening to erupt in Dagestan. And," it adds, "the rebels are coming closer to their goal, which is to create a fundamentalist Islamic state in a mountainous region where many Russian soldiers -- as far back as 200 years ago -- lost their lives, fighting for the colonialist dreams of the Russian czars."

LE FIGARO: Reckoning within the Russian political world cannot be entirely excluded

The French daily Le Figaro asks of the Moscow bombings in its editorial : "Who is the enemy who is attacking in blind anger and driving people into an almost psychotic fear of new attacks?" The paper writes: "The Moscow government points to the Caucasus, where the Russian army is fighting Muslim rebels. Terrorism has declared war on Russia, Boris Yeltsin said."

But, the editorial goes on, "Shamil Basayev, the head of the rebels in Dagestan, denies this. For him, the bombings are the result of a 'reckoning within the Russian political world.' That," Le Figaro continues, "is a heavily loaded charge. Would the Russian secret service," it asks, "dare to perpetrate such massacres in order to drive a people [ruled by] a faltering government to take up arms? This hypothesis," the paper concludes, "cannot be entirely excluded, considering the prevailing mood of doom in Moscow."

WASHINGTON POST: Russia is weirdly and strangely Russian

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen responds to the question, "Who Lost Russia?" -- often asked in the U.S. capital these days -- by saying simply, "Nobody lost Russia." He explains: "[Russia] is not only precisely where it should be, astride the Eurasian land mass, but more important, it is also a quasi-free society. Yes, it is corrupt, crime-ridden, inefficient and terribly poor, but it is not -- as it was for so long -- a disturber of our sleep."

The commentator says he doesn't "know whether much of Russia's wealth was laundered through the Bank of New York (and other institutions) and sagaciously invested by mobsters in BMW's, knock-out blondes and large houses with multi-car garages. [But] our worst fears about Russia have not come true: It is neither a fascist nor communist power....This is no minor accomplishment," he adds. " Russia...was never a democracy [but] was always governed by an authoritarian system of some kind -- first the monarchy and then communism."

What has been lost. Cohen argues, are "unrealistic expectations" about Russia. The most important one of these was that "Russia, somehow, was going to become a Western power." But, he says, "reality...burst that bubble. Russia is not now and never has been a Western power...It is [just] weirdly and strangely Russian."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The situation does not bode well for UN peacekeepers

Writing from Jakarta only hours before the United Nations Security Council approved a peacekeeping force for East Timor, Sueddeutsche Zeitung correspondent Andreas Baenziger said that there are "hardly any witnesses now left to report the terror" inflicting on the territory's population." He argues: "This does not bode well for the UN peacekeepers. Officially, Indonesia gave assurances it will not set any conditions. But high-ranking politicians in Jakarta threaten that the pro-Indonesian forces will wage war on the UN peacekeepers if they are led by Australia."

The commentary goes on: "These politicians know, of course, that Australia, whose northern coast is just one and a half hours by air from [East Timor's capital,] Dili, is the only power which could act quickly and effectively." It ends: "At UN headquarters in New York they [took] their time. In Jakarta they are resisting. Meanwhile, the people fleeing into the mountains from the pro-Indonesian murderous gangs are starving."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Few people will be left in the territory to save

In the Los Angeles Times, writer Matthew Jardine -- just returned from two months in East Timor -- says that the Indonesian's government's acceptance of a UN force for the territory "is welcome, but it's hardly cause for celebration." He writes: "The situation within the territory remains horrific as Indonesian forces continue their slaughter and destruction. And it could get much worse before effective international assistance is in place. There are credible fears that Indonesia's military will intensify its campaign of terror before UN-mandated force arrives."

Jardine continues: "There is no reason to trust the Indonesian military. On the contrary, there is ample documentation to demonstrate that the military establishment itself, rather than 'rogue elements' within it, is directly responsible for the carnage and destruction that have occurred over the past 10 days. Numerous eyewitnesses have reported that uniformed troops are participating directly in the killings..."

He concludes: "The UN must ensure that all displaced persons are safe from physical attacks and other forms of violence....Unless an effective UN-led force and humanitarian organizations are quickly able to enter East Timor and gain access to refugee concentrations in East Timor and Indonesia, there is a good chance few people will be left in the territory to save."

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