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Western Press Review: Russia And Its Neighbors

  • Joel Blocker



Prague, 3 April 2000 (RFE/RL) -- A week after Vladimir Putin was elected Russia's president, Western press commentary remains greatly concerned with Russia's prospects -- and, particularly, its relations with its old Cold War adversary, the United States. There is also some comment today on Russia's western neighbor, Belarus, and on the European Union's relations with 10 Central and East European states that are now active candidates for EU membership.

LOS ANGELES TIMES : Putin will seek to introduce more stable, predictable and orderly government

In the Los Angeles Times today, former U.S. diplomat Raymond Garthoff asks: "What will distinguish Russia under Vladimir Putin?" He answers: "The first thing to be said is, no one knows, not even Putin. Some of his aspirations and characteristics do, however, provide important clues. He will seek to introduce more stable, predictable and orderly government, policies and society. To Russians and the West, that would be a step forward from [former president Boris] Yeltsin's capricious course."

The commentary continues: "Putin takes office riding the wave of a moderately resurgent economy. [But] the favorable economic wave is largely due to oil-export earnings, caused by the rise in world market prices that is likely to recede. [Russia's] relative [military] success in Chechnya has by no means ended all conflict there and has had severe economic and humanitarian consequences in the region." On Putin's future foreign policy, Garthoff adds: "He will not, by choice, pursue an anti-Western policy, nor will he seek to re-establish hegemony over former Soviet republics. There will, however, be some frictions when Russian national interests conflict with other countries,' including the U.S."

The commentator says further about U.S.-Russian relations: "Putin is likely to obtain [State] Duma ratification for the long-stalled START Two, the U.S.-Russian strategic-arms-reduction treaty, and to negotiate a START Three. The main problem will be Russian insistence that START Two and Three reductions be tied to U.S. adherence to the [Anti-Ballistic Missile] treaty." Garthoff concludes that if the U.S. can, in his words, "recognize common interests and seek to resolve differences, [it can] make relations with Putin's Russia mutually productive."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Russia has every reason to negotiate the ABM treaty

Also in the Los Angeles Times, three other analysts -- Ivo Daalder, James Goldgeier and James Lindsay -- write: "Putin's election opens the door for negotiating a serious deal on deploying a national missile defense. [U.S.] President Bill Clinton must move decisively to take advantage of this opportunity. He must devote attention to persuading Russia to revise the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty to allow for deployment. Equally important, he must lay the foundation for Senate passage of a modified treaty."

"Will Russia agree?" the commentators ask. Here's their answer: "Many believe Moscow's long-standing opposition to changing the ABM treaty means agreement is impossible. That is wrong. Faced with a choice between modifying the treaty or watching the U.S. abrogate it, Russia has every reason to negotiate."

They argue: "Recent changes in the Russian political landscape make it possible for Moscow to conclude a deal. Putin had previously called on the Duma to ratify the long-stalled START Two, cutting U.S. and Russian nuclear forces. Now that he has won the presidential election, Russia has a leader who commands greater parliamentary support than Boris Yeltsin did. That bodes well for reaching an agreement."

NEW YORK TIMES: Putin and Clinton have before them a clear opportunity

The New York Times -- in an editorial today titled "The Unfinished Nuclear Agenda" -- argues similarly that Putin's election should revive stalled arms talks between Washington and Moscow. The paper writes: "Completing a treaty that would lock in deep new weapons cuts by the time President Clinton leaves office is a realistic target. A new agreement should also incorporate changes in the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty that would allow both countries to deploy limited defensive systems."

The editorial continues: "Even before that pending treaty is ratified, intensive negotiations should begin on a new treaty. [The 1972] ABM treaty was negotiated at a time when this kind of missile calculus was premised on a clash between the two superpowers." It adds: "The likely emergence of smaller, less-predictable nuclear-armed nations over the next few years creates a different equation. Neither America nor Russia wants to be blackmailed by countries like North Korea."

The New York Times sums up: "Putin, who has not yet made his mark on the world stage, and Clinton, whose two terms in office have not brought a major arms control success, have before them a clear opportunity. They can eliminate thousands of unneeded nuclear weapons and help free their countries from one of the Cold War's most dangerous legacies. "

WASHINGTON POST: Clinton and Putin will race the clock and attempt to thrash out big decisions

In Sunday's Washington Post, columnist Jim Hoagland also analyzes likely U.S.-Russian relations in the remaining months of the Clinton presidency. He writes: "Out of different perspectives and needs, the White House and the Kremlin have reached rough agreement on a calendar and an agenda for the Clinton-Putin era, an overly elaborate label for one of history's most momentous blind dates. The [nine] months they will share as elected leaders of the world's two most militarily powerful nations provide scant time for Bill Clinton and Vladimir Putin to become acquainted, test each other and decide if their interests and national goals coincide or compete."

Hoagland goes on to say that Clinton and Putin, in his words, "will race the clock and attempt to thrash out big decisions on arms control, the Balkans and the aftermath of the Chechen war as this year winds down. Their agreements, or disputes, will reach far into a Clinton-less future. That," he says, "is particularly true on containing nuclear arsenals. Mr. Clinton faces the prospect of leaving office without a major arms control agreement to his credit. But he still hopes to agree with Mr. Putin on a framework for a START Three accord to slash future U.S. and Russian nuclear warhead totals."

The columnist is uncertain whether Putin will agree to modifications in the ABM treaty. He says this: "In the run-up to his electoral victory, Putin [instructed] his officials not to shut the door on eventual agreement with Mr. Clinton to modify the ABM treaty, despite strong opposition from Russia's generals. But he also made clear that he would not agree to ABM changes as the price for a bilateral summit."

Hoagland concludes with this critical assessment of the U.S.-Russian foreign-policy record during the Clinton era: "Seven years of mutually mediocre diplomacy and unsteady leadership form the backdrop of Mr. Clinton's brief twilight encounter with Mr. Putin."

WASHINGTON POST: U.S. and European governments need to step up pressure on Mr. Lukashenka

The Washington Post on Sunday also carried an editorial on Russia's neighbor, Belarus. Under the heading "Thuggery in Belarus," the paper wrote: "The Soviet Union is gone, but its political spirit lives on in the Belarus of Alyaksandr Lukashenka." The paper says that the Belarusian president "is an avowed admirer of the old Bolshevik order who [not long ago] threatened to fire his country's sports officials if the nation of 10 million people fails to win enough medals in the 2000 Summer Olympics. This admonition revises his earlier view that Western 'mafias' were to blame for Belarus doing poorly in the 1998 Winter Games."

The editorial continued: "More seriously, Lukashenka [also] stands accused by Western human rights organizations of having 'disappeared' three political opponents, limiting opposition access to the media, mounting a show trial of a former prime minister and staging a questionable 1996 referendum that extended his term in office and led to the dissolution of parliament. Recently," it went on, "Lukashenka's police clubbed and detained hundreds of marchers, including some journalists from next-door Russia's main television networks."

It is clear, the paper summed up, that "U.S. and European governments need to step up pressure on Mr. Lukashenka and [bolster] support, material and moral, for Belarus' democrats, while making greater freedom there an issue in diplomacy with Mr. Putin's government."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: The former Soviet satellites could serve as a U.S. Trojan Horse in the ESDI

In a commentary in today's Wall Street Journal Europe, analysts Joshua Muravchik and Lawrence Kaplan say that the European Union is telling some Central and East European candidate states, in their words, to "keep quiet" about the EU's planned European Security and Defense Identity, or ESDI. According to the commentary, West European leaders were not pleased when the foreign ministers of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic last month commemorated the first anniversary of their countries' admission to NATO with a statement that included what the analysts call "a note of anxiety" about ESDI.

The commentary goes on to say that the Central European nations' major concern about ESDI is that it might compete with -- rather than complement -- NATO. It adds that plans for ESDI have created what the analysts call "triangular tensions among Western Europe, the U.S. and the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe. Because Washington has doubts of its own about the wisdom of ESDI," they add, "the West Europeans had apparently tried to still any criticism of it from their eastern neighbors."

The two analysts cite reports circulating in the U.S. State Department that say the following: "French President Jacques Chirac and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer recently upbraided Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek for having expressed his reservations [about ESDI]. President Chirac is said to have asked Mr. Geremek whether Poland wished to be America's 51st state, while Mr. Fischer lectured him about the imperatives of being a 'good European.'" The commentary adds: "Czech and Hungarian officials have been subjected to similar pressures. Implicit in these admonitions has been the threat that the West Europeans will stall the Easterners' applications for membership in the EU."

The analysts then argue: "The unease Poland and the Czech Republic express about ESDI is easy to understand. They have just won admission to NATO, only to discover that the EU -- of which they are not yet members -- proposes to create its own defense and foreign policy, which may in turn undermine the Atlantic alliance."

They say further: "The more difficult question is why the French and Germans have responded so harshly to these reservations." For the analysts, "the answer is that the West Europeans fear that complaints about ESDI are just the beginning. Once inside the EU, the former Soviet satellites could serve, in the words of French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, as a 'U.S. Trojan Horse,' [thereby] subverting French and German aspirations to make the union a proud and effective rival to the U.S."

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