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Western Press Review: Chechnya, Serbia Still Arouse Commentary

  • Don Hill

Prague, 29 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Chechnya and Serbia remain live issues.

WASHINGTON POST: Russia inflicts a rain of death without meaningful criticism

In the United States, The Washington Post's international affairs columnist Jim Hoagland writes that the suffering in Chechnya is proving a point for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. That point is that national sovereignty and the aging doctrine of noninterference in internal affairs must not be invoked to shelter murders of civilians from international disapproval.

As Hoagland puts it: "It can bring no solace for the people of Grozny as they count their dead from indiscriminate Russian missile and artillery attacks. But their suffering does not go unmeasured. The savage assault on Chechnya brings home the need for a new international consensus UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is trying to forge."

Hoagland continues: "Three times in the past seven months, a national government has gone to war against its own population, etching in blood its sovereign right to kill as many of its own masses as it sees fit. Serbia and Indonesia were halted in their crimes by international outrage and reaction. Kosovo and East Timor were detached from their control and taken over by the United Nations. A doctrine of humanitarian intervention seemed to sink roots. But Chechnya shows that it is still two steps forward and one back: Russia inflicts a rain of death on a defenseless regional capital without important foreign constraint or meaningful criticism."

The difference in determinations by the international community on whether to intervene in two of the three conflicts, the writer says, is evident. Russia is the only one of the three aggressors that possesses nuclear weapons.

BOSTON GLOBE: Russia is committing the mass murder of civilians

The Washington Post headlines Hoagland's column: "Murder in the Name of Sovereignty." That charge echoes in the Boston Globe, in a column by Jeff Jacoby. He writes, "Let's call it by its real name. What Russia is committing in Chechnya is the mass murder of civilians."

Jacoby scorns Russia's claims that it is acting in Chechnya to root out terrorists such as those who bombed a series of apartment buildings in Moscow and other cities. The Chechens have nothing to gain from any such terrorist maneuvers, he says. He complains that, in his words, "Russia's savagery in Chechnya evokes no outrage from the White House or the State Department."

Because of U.S. and U.S.-influenced aid to Russia, the columnist says, U.S. dollars, in his words, "are being used, in part, to blow up children in the streets of Grozny."

Jacoby says that what he calls Russia's "cruel war is but the latest installment in Russia's centuries-old quest to subjugate the proud people of Chechnya."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Moscow's war is a crime

Writing in the Frankfurter Rundschau from Moscow, Florian Hasse says she perceives a connecting link between Chechnya today and Kosovo yesterday. The German Hasse and American Hoagland concur significantly. Hasse writes: "It is now an open subject of debate in Moscow that the appalling series of bomb attacks that have killed 300 people in Russia could have been the work of the Russian secret services. But even if Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev and his allies have these 300 deaths on their conscience, even if they are not paid provocateurs of Moscow but really do want to establish an Islamic state in Chechnya, Moscow's war is a crime."

Frankfurter Rundschau's commentator adds this: "For Moscow, the main issue is not the fight against terrorists. Fundamentally, it is interested in the election campaign and in confirmation that it is still a great power which can enforce its will. The war in Chechnya is also a delayed reaction to the Kosovo war."

GUARDIAN: It is time to stop punishing the Serbian people

On Serbia, the British newspaper The Guardian says in an editorial that the United States and its allies are inadvertently supporting Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic by continuing harsh sanctions against Serbia. As the editorial puts it: "Totalitarians like Mr. Milosevic exploit and thrive on suffering, hardship and pain. Shared prosperity is never their aim, only power and personal gain. A Western-assisted economic recovery would bring genuine political renewal in its wake and, ultimately, deliver Mr. Milosevic to The Hague tribunal. It is time to stop punishing the Serbian people." The editorial's headline reads: "It's Time To Ease Sanctions on Serbia."