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Western Press Review: Commentators Denounce Chechen War

  • Don Hill



Prague, 5 November 1999(RFE/RL) -- Commentators in the Western press, most notably in Germany, take aim today at Russia's war against its breakaway province of Chechnya.

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The three Caucasian republics have always felt the hand of Moscow

In the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Wolfgang Koydl writes from Istanbul that the Chechen situation is all too familiar throughout the Caucasus. In his words: "Everything raining down on the Chechens at present -- bombs, missiles, expulsions -- is only too familiar to their neighbors in the southern Caucasus. Since their states became independent in 1991, Georgians, Armenians and Azerbaijanis have seen it all -- war, civil war and coups."

Koydl adds this: "Like the Chechens, the three Caucasian republics have always felt the hand of Moscow. Sometimes it came down as a brutal fist, for example when the Soviet power, staggering towards its end, suppressed nationalist aspirations in Tbilisi and Baku."

Strangely, Koydl writes, the disaster in Chechnya may be having positive effects elsewhere in the Caucasus. In Georgia, he writes, President Eduard Shevardnadze's party has emerged from last weekend's parliamentary elections perhaps feeling strong enough to resolve its dispute with separatist Abkhazia. And in Armenia, before gunmen killed the prime minister and other leaders, there was hope that Armenians and Azerbaijanis would sign an agreement on the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Russian bellicosity and U.S. intervention helped both those peace efforts, the commentator says. He writes this: "The carrot the United States is holding out in return for peace is an Armenian pipeline to link the Caspian oil resources with the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan."

DIE WELT: The Russian generals have also warned the West

Manfred Quiring writes from Moscow in Die Welt that the Kremlin might not be able to withdraw from Chechnya even if it wanted to. Quiring writes this: "[Russian President Boris] Yeltsin sees himself confronted by unrest within the armed forces. The Russian army has warned the politicians against becoming weak-kneed on the Chechen issue. In an unparalleled example of direct talking, the commander of the West Group of the Caucasus Army -- which is fighting in Chechnya -- Major General Vladimir Shamanov, painted the specter of a potential civil war if the army's advance were halted now that it is taking one Chechen town after another."

The Die Welt commentator says the Russian Foreign Ministry fears that many officers might quit if the Kremlin tries to prevent their ultimate victory. Then, he suggests, there might emerge a grave danger to the world. As Quiring puts it: "The Russian generals have also warned the West, which is supposedly seeking to hold Russia in a permanent state of decay. It should not be forgotten that there are nuclear weapons deployed in about 15 of Russia's regions, and the warning is that if Russia were to disintegrate, the world might suddenly see a dozen and a half nuclear-weapons states in an uncontrollable situation."

WASHINGTON POST: Now they are following a Milosevic strategy

In an editorial, the Washington Post also voices suspicion that the Russian military is motivated by revenge. The Post says this: "It seems the Russians not only supported Slobodan Milosevic during his dirty war in Kosovo; they took lessons from him too. Now they are following a Milosevic strategy, destroying the rebellious province of Chechnya in the name of pacifying it. They bomb villages and towns from afar, creating tens of thousands of refugees. Then they open and close borders seemingly at random, so that desperate, displaced people crush each other at crossing choke points. Finally, they deny access to international aid workers, so that refugees who manage to escape to neighboring provinces of Russia face hunger and exposure."

Knowing that Russia's already clouded reputation can only suffer further, what would prompt the Russian government to engage in such behavior? the editorial asks rhetorically.

Here's how the newspaper words its answer: "The Russian military has been looking for revenge ever since [it fumbled the last Chechen war]. Attacks by Chechen guerrillas on villages in neighboring provinces, along with apartment-building bombings that Russian authorities blamed -- without providing evidence -- on Chechen terrorists, gave the military a reason to act."

The Post goes on with this: "But it now seems determined to go far beyond its stated goal of eliminating Chechen terrorists; the entire population seems to be a target."

INDEPENDENT: When Mr. Putin tells the U.S. president to mind his own business his rating merely rises further

The Independent, London, carries a news analysis by Rupert Cornwell, who says he perceives another reason for Russia's behavior. The Chechen war is building a power base for President Yeltsin and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the writer says. As Cornwell explains it: "The one incontrovertible beneficiary of the horrendous war in Chechnya has been the political standing of Putin. His handling of the Chechen war has caught the country's mood, tired of endless international humiliation, exasperated with the patronizing and dismissive West, and yearning for a display of national power."

Cornwell adds this: "And when Mr. Putin politely tells the U.S. president, Bill Clinton, to mind his own business over Chechnya, his rating merely rises further."

LE MONDE: The Russians are practicing on a huge scale what was called state terrorism in Yugoslavia



Under the title "Massacre in Chechnya," the French daily Le Monde says in an editorial that President Boris Yeltsin has now killed in Chechnya more civilians than Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic managed to wipe out in his massacre of Kosovar Albanians. In Le Monde's words: "The Russian head of state is on his way to carrying out in Chechnya an ethnic cleansing operation that goes far beyond Milosevic's achievement in Kosovo."

The newspaper adds this: "The Russians are practicing on a huge scale what was called state terrorism when the same methods were employed by the Serbs in Bosnia or in Kosovo." There is a crucial difference, Le Monde says. In its words: "Russia has received what amounts to a green light from Western nations, which went to war against Serbia."

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Calm transfers of land should be a marker for the 21st century

Amidst the gore in Chechnya and Kosovo, the Christian Science Monitor reports in an editorial that it has found more encouraging examples of military intervention. The editorial says: "In an era when military might is still often used to either split up a country -- NATO in Yugoslavia, for instance -- or force it to stay united -- Russia in Chechnya -- it's worth noting two peaceful but necessary land transfers taking place between sovereign nations. Next month, the United States hands over the Panama Canal to Panama, while Portugal gives back the tiny enclave of Macao to China after more than 400 years of rule."

The newspaper goes on to say this: "Then, of course, this week we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which led to the peaceful reunification of Germany and then, two years later, the independence of many nations as the Soviet Union imploded from a failure of communism. Correcting historic mistakes or living up to treaty obligations was not easy in handovers of Macao and the canal. But careful negotiations paved the way."

The editorial concludes with these words: "That both transfers of land are happening calmly should be a marker for the 21st century that peace can have more victories than war."
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