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Western Press Review: Criticism Of Russia Sharpens; IMF Leader Debate

  • Joel Blocker



Prague, 29 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's military campaign in Chechnya -- and alleged war crimes -- remain the chief subject of Western press commentary today. Analysts' criticisms of Russian behavior -- and the West's failure to condemn it strongly enough -- are increasingly sharp in tone. There are also some comments on the diplomatic struggle between the U.S. and the European Union to decide who will be named the new director of the International Monetary Fund.

WASHINGTON POST: The Clinton administration needs to demand greater accountability from the Russian government

The Washington Post finds "Russia in Denial" of what has really occurred in Chechnya over the past six months. The paper writes: "It is decreasingly deniable that Russia's armed forces have committed major abuses -- war crimes -- in Chechnya. The most vivid recent evidence is videotape from a German television network, which shows Russian troops roughly disposing of the handcuffed bodies of executed Chechen fighters. ... Still," the paper adds, "Russia tries to deny. 'Falsification of the year,' snorted [a] Kremlin spokesman ... when confronted with the German videotape."

The editorial goes to argue that, in its words, "the Clinton administration needs to demand greater accountability from the government led by acting Russian President Vladimir Putin." It suggests: "A good place to start would be the March 20 session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, whose high commissioner, Mary Robinson, has herself forthrightly called for Russian military murderers and torturers to be held to account. The upcoming meeting," the paper notes, "gives the U.S. and its European allies ... a chance to establish a formal international panel of inquiry on the war, without fear of a Russian [UN] Security Council veto."

The paper also believes that "the Clinton administration has played down the brutality of the Russian campaign in Chechnya so as not to rock the diplomatic boat before Mr. Putin secures long-overdue ratification of the START Two nuclear weapons treaty from the Russian Duma. Such a trade-off," it concludes, "raises a question: If Russia flouts international law when it wages war against its own citizens, how scrupulously will it adhere to any arms control treaty with the U.S.?"

GUARDIAN: Lack of knowledge about Russian crimes in Chechnya is the result of a deliberate Russian policy

Britain's Guardian daily has few doubts about the extent of Russian crimes in Chechnya. Its editorial says: "Nobody knows how many people have been killed since the Russian onslaught on Chechnya began last September. The number of Chechens, civilians as well as combatants, who have been maimed, tortured, raped, incarcerated in 'filtration centers' -- Putin-speak for concentration camps -- bombed into incoherence or madness, terrorized, beaten, and otherwise abused is an even darker secret. This ignorance," the paper argues, "is the result of a deliberate Russian policy which has barred access to Chechnya to international institutions and relief and human rights organisations, as well as -- until relatively recently -- the mass media."

The paper also expresses contempt for what it sees as the West's complicity in the crimes: "Western politicians, traveling to Moscow to voice their concerns, have been effectively co-opted into this continuing cover-up." The Guardian continues: "President-to-be Vladimir Putin and his advisers well understand the need of their democratically challenged visitors to be seen to be reflecting public outrage at home. They have learnt to keep cool while Madeleine Albright, Robin Cook, Joschka Fischer, NATO's George Robertson, the EU's Chris Patten, that well-meaning OSCE chap, and all the hand-wringing rest complain to camera."

The editorial goes to say this: "Now that the war is almost over, and the damage mostly done, Moscow's information embargo is less strictly enforced. Alvaro Gil-Robles, from the Council of Europe, yesterday became the first senior Western official to be allowed into Grozny, the ruined Chechen capital. He, too, gained a promise of dubious worth: the Russians agreed -- in principle -- to let a human rights group open a Grozny mission. But," the Guardian sums up, "much, much more is needed."

BOSTON GLOBE: Awareness of war crimes must be translated into action

The Boston Globe, too, expresses shock today at the extent of what it calls the "Chechen horror." The paper writes in its editorial: "Now that the razed Chechen capital, Grozny, has been opened to reporters and TV cameras, the outside world is becoming aware of the horrors perpetrated in Chechnya over the past several months by Russian forces. This awareness," it urges, "must be translated into action. Strategic and regional considerations aside, the U.S. and the rest of the international community can no longer ignore their humanitarian obligation to alleviate -- and end -- the suffering of the Chechens."

The paper also finds that what it calls the West's "continued solicitude for the patriotic feelings of acting President Vladimir Putin and his entourage will only make things worse -- not only for Chechens, but for Russians as well. If Putin does not negotiate a peace with Chechen leaders soon," it says, "the conflict is certain to enter a new phase of protracted guerrilla warfare that may lead to a proliferation of hostilities across the northern Caucasus and eventually the unraveling of the Russian Federation."

NEW YORK TIMES: Putin is rapidly remilitarizing Russian society

In today's New York Times, Masha Gessen -- the chief correspondent of the Russian news weekly "Itogi" -- says in a commentary: "In the nearly two months since Vladimir Putin became acting president of Russia, the world has barely begun getting to know him. But already, he is building a clear record in one area of policy: little noticed by the West, Mr. Putin, a former lieutenant colonel in the KGB, is rapidly remilitarizing Russian society."

Gessen continues: "Since Vladimir Putin took office on December 31, he has issued 11 presidential decrees. Six concerned the military. [One of them] established a new Russian military doctrine abandoning the old no-first-strike policy toward nuclear weapons and emphasizing a right to use them against aggressors 'if other means of conflict resolution have been exhausted or deemed ineffective.'" Another decree, she adds, "re-established mandatory training exercises for reservists. How many will be called up this year and whether they may be required to serve in Chechnya is unclear, since two of the decree's six paragraphs are classified as secret."

Gessen sums up: "Russia's remilitarization not only testifies to Mr. Putin's resolve to press on with the war in Chechnya, but [also] signals a return to the besieged, us-against-the-world mindset that Russia had begun to leave behind. Yet as the March 26 [presidential] election approaches, Mr. Putin has been complimented as a reformer and an inevitability by President [Bill] Clinton, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, NATO Secretary-General George Robertson and British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook. Such overtures make those of us in Russia who hope never again to touch a Kalashnikov feel very lonely indeed."

FINANCIAL TIMES: An acrimonious transatlantic battle rages over who will head the IMF

Yesterday, the U.S. publicly rejected the European Union's nomination of a German candidate to head the International Monetary Fund, or IMF. A news analysis today in Britain's Financial Times -- by Stephen Didler and Peter Norman -- says that action sets the stage, in their words, "for an acrimonious transatlantic battle over who will win the post." The analysis notes that the U.S. had earlier made clear privately "that it did not believe [German Deputy Finance Minister Caio] Koch-Weser was a sufficiently strong political figure to command widespread support among the fund's members and carry through necessary [IMF] reforms."

"There is no established procedure for choosing the IMF's managing director," the Financial Times analysis says.

WASHINGTON POST: Disagreement has gone public

But another analysis -- this one by John Burgess in the Washington Post -- points out that "half a century of tradition at the normally tradition-bound IMF went out the window with yesterday's U.S. statement. Burgess writes that, "under an informal agreement dating to the IMF's founding in 1946, a European gets the top job." But he adds: "The U.S., which with a 18 percent stake is the fund's largest shareholder, must sign off on Europe's candidate. This time, for the first time, that hasn't happened, and the disagreement has gone public."

Burgess' also says this: "The U.S. maneuver, essentially a veto, seems aimed at forcing Europe to name someone else, not at getting an American into the job. ... Informal polling could begin later this week of the fund's 24-member executive board. Names mentioned as European alternatives included Andrew Crockett, general manager of the Bank of International Settlements, and Philippe Maystadt, chairman of the European Investment Bank."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: A veto of the German candidate from Washington would be an affront to Europe

From Germany, commentary by Oliver Schumacher in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung focuses on the need to maintain the position for Europe. Schumacher writes: "A veto [of the German candidate] from Washington would be an affront to Europe as a whole and to the German government in particular. After all, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has never before involved himself to such an extent on the international stage as with his support for Koch-Weser. Schroeder therefore risks ultimately standing as loser in the end."

For Schumacher, a U.S. veto would "not be an insult to [Schroeder's] honor. On the contrary," he says. "Regrettable though it may be, appointments to international office are made mainly on the basis of nationality. As long as this is so, there is no reason why the Federal Republic should remain respectably on the sidelines."
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