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Western Press Review: Putin, Rogue States, And The Pope

By Dora Slaba and Susan Caskie

Prague, 25 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- German press commentators look at Russian policies past and present. A U.S. commentator rethinks U.S. policy toward Iran, Cuba and North Korea. And several newspapers see the pope's visit to Egypt as a unique mission.

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Russians' misty goals have merely been hidden recently behind clearer words

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung in an editorial today responds to a Western perception that Russia's acting President Vladimir Putin articulates himself clearly. The editorial says: "It would be a misunderstanding to conclude that Russian policy has become clearer and more unequivocal. Russians' misty goals have merely been hidden recently behind clearer words."

The commentary cites Putin's recent comment that he would be willing to discuss autonomy for Chechnya. "That sounds good," the editorial says, "as if Moscow is pursuing a plan in the Caucasus, developing a concept for the postwar era. Yet nothing of the sort applies. The only Russian program for Chechnya can be seen in the utterly destroyed capital city of Grozny." It asks: "With whom will Putin negotiate? Probably with the Moscow-appointed [Chechen] representatives."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Putin is searching for a political solution

In contrast, an unsigned commentary in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung argues that Putin is searching for a political solution. The German paper says: "There are forces in Chechnya with whom it is possible to negotiate, without naming anyone. Russia made a big mistake in the past years to leave Chechnya to its fate. ... The Chechens have been turned into [what Putin calls] 'hostages of bandits and terrorists.'"

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Russia is returning to its initial starting point

In an analysis in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Sonja Margolina presents a detailed analysis of developments in Russia in the past ten years, arguing that reform has failed and the same old nomenklatura is back in control. In her words: "Following a staging of a democratic transformation, Russia is returning to its initial starting point where it all began. For the contours of a 'command administration' system for whose reinstatement Putin, together with the new nomenclature is striving, are becoming ever clearer."

The commentary continues: "Hopes for a democratic transformation in Russia following the miraculous dissolution of the Soviet Union were widespread. In fact the chances of the product emerging from the decline of the Soviet system resulting in a leap from socialism into the realms of freedom were far too slender. Almost everything is missing, from the historically developed institutions of private ownership and rule of law to a modern bureaucracy and the political will of the ruling class. Against this the 'old burdens' of a totalitarian state tower high into the sky."

She cites a former CIA expert on organized crime, Richard Palmer, who describes the wholesale plundering of the Russian economy by the once and future nomenklatura. Now that the state has been privatized, Margolina writes, the fruits of that privatization must be codified in law. To fill that need, the strong figure of Putin has appeared on the political stage.

But in Margolina's words, "a stronger role for the state would mean nothing but growth in corruption and despotism." She concludes that this growth will, in her words, "sharpen the destructive tendencies of post-socialist development and thereby lead to further economic and moral destruction."

NEW YORK TIMES: U.S. assistance to rogue states amounts to assisted suicide

Turning to U.S. policy toward what political analysts call "rogue states," commentator Thomas Friedman writes in the New York Times in support of U.S. engagement. In his words: "In a world defined by the economic, cultural and military centrality of the United States, even ostensible rogue states -- such as Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Syria -- are now, for reasons of self-preservation, groping for ties to the Great Satan. This," Friedman says, "is going to become a central U.S. foreign-policy issue."

He writes: "U.S. policy needs to focus on how to bring these countries down from the rogue tree into a U.S.-dominated international system, without their falling -- splat -- on the ground. Because Cuba and North Korea threaten us most today by their weakness -- by the fact that Cuba could collapse and spew out refugees all over South Florida, and North Korea could collapse and spew out missiles on the Korean Peninsula, where 37,000 U.S. troops are based."

U.S. policy toward both North Korea and Cuba should be what he calls "conditional engagement," offering increased investment. While some may call such a policy appeasement, Friedman writes, "I call it assisted suicide."

He calls Iran's parliamentary elections "a political earthquake -- rich with lessons and opportunities." When Iran's reformers say they need a gesture, like loosening U.S. economic sanctions, to give them political cover for detente with the United States, Friedman responds: "I say give it to them, while holding the ban on sales of any military technology. We're the superpower. We can afford to be forthcoming."

Friedman sums up: "We (the U.S.) must take advantage of this, because nothing would change the geopolitics of the Mideast more than sustained moderation of Iran's external behavior."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The conflicting parties do not understand Wojtyla's mystical symbolism

Christiane Kohl, writing in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, describes Pope John Paul the second's journey to the Middle East as a lonely pilgrimage. There is no particular political necessity for this trip, she writes, only the pope's personal wish to travel to the source of Christianity in this year of the second millennium. After Egypt, he will visit the Jordan River, then Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Jerusalem. The trip is, in Kohl's words, "a kind of papal pioneer expedition to the cradle of Christianity and the region that gave rise to the Jewish and Muslim religious communities -- it leads through a religious minefield."

She concludes: "It is not easy for the Pope: however much he wished in this Holy Year to make a peace gesture between Muslims, Jews and Christians -- this will not come to pass. For the conflicting parties do not understand Wojtyla's mystical symbolism. He is a lonely pilgrim."