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Western Press Review: Russia And Europe, Russia And The U.S.

  • Don Hill

Prague, 30 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Russia and its interaction with the United States and Europe dominate Western press commentary today.

SUEDDEUTCHE ZEITUNG:

German commentator Tomas Avenarius writes from Moscow in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that he sees cause for European optimism in the leadership of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Avenarius puts it this way: "In the close but thorny relationship between Europe and the giant to her east, Russia has always been a team-mate and outsider at the same time. With that history, not surprisingly, discussions of neighborly relations and the vital need to work together dominated yesterday's Russian-European Union summit. Also not surprisingly, new Kremlin boss Vladimir Putin's move into the Russian president's office has raised a number of European expectations."

Avenarius goes on: "Putin has been sending positive signals. He's seen to it that the Russian parliament finally ratified the Start Two strategic arms reduction treaty and he signed the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty personally."

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung's commentator says he also sees danger in the Russian leadership's renewed willingness to depend on force and the threat of force. In Avenarius' words: "Unfortunately, there's a boisterous, little saber-rattling Putin standing right next to Putin, the anti-nuclear goody-two-shoe. The sight of the little saber-waver can only make Europeans skeptical, because he represents the return of the Russian military as a tool of Moscow's foreign policy makers."

Another Sueddeutsche Zeitung commentator, Klaus Brill in Washington, says that Clinton, himself, seeks little in the form of diplomatic movement from the European tour he began yesterday. In Brill's words: "His itinerary ensures the president will be touching on all the issues currently preoccupying Europe. However, no-one is expecting too much of this tour, which is scheduled to begin in the Portuguese capital city Lisbon. Still, with just eight months left in office, Clinton wants to define his legacy, not just at a domestic level, but on the international stage as well."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:

The International Herald Tribune carries today a commentary by Los Angeles Times Syndicate international affairs writer William Pfaff. While Russia hardens its unified stance, Pfaff writes, Europe and the United States act like a couple whose marriage is buckling. He says trans-Atlantic exchanges seem, in his phrasing, "filled with allusions to old grievances and innuendo about hidden motives."

Pfaff says this: "The debate sets a European assertion of sovereignty against America's old and unresolved uncertainty as to whether its security is better assured by dominating Europe or withdrawing from it."

He writes that the lessons of history support Europe's moves to create its own defense force. As the writer puts it: "The countries behind the drive for an independent European military force are the former European great powers: Britain, France and Germany. What they are doing responds to a bedrock reality of political existence. Sovereignty does not exist without the military means to defend it. The European nations have not been fully sovereign since the second world war. The NATO intervention in Kosovo made plain to them just how subordinated to Washington they have become. Now they are doing what history tells them they have to do."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:

Another prominent international affairs commentator, George Melloan, writes today in the Wall Street Journal Europe that the best outcome for the United States from a scheduled meeting this weekend between U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Vladimir Putin would be no noticeable outcome at all.

These excerpts illustrate Melloan's stance: "Anatoly Chubais, once the chief rain-maker for Boris Yeltsin, was asked last week why his former boss picked the obscure Vladimir Putin as his successor. 'Because Yeltsin is a political genius,' came the reply. Russians were tired of the old faces in politics and welcomed a young newcomer. Moreover, Mr. Putin had the toughness to fight a bloody rematch with the rebels in Chechnya, an endeavor that proved to be a popular way of restoring a Russian national pride damaged by the army's 1996 defeat in Chechnya."

Melloan continues: "It is this newcomer to world politics that Bill Clinton will parley with in Moscow this coming weekend. The American president will have the upper hand in both age and experience. Like Mr. Yeltsin, he also is a talented politician, otherwise he would never have survived thus far all the misdemeanors that have marked his years in office. But whereas Mr. Putin is on the way up, Mr. Clinton is on his way out."

"It is too soon," the commentator adds, "to know how well Mr. Putin will succeed in his ambitious plans to take Russia to a new level of reform. The only way Russians could survive under the dead hand of communism was by flouting the law, and that attitude will be hard to change until political liberalism -- that is to say the absence of excessive regulation -- finally takes root in Russia."

Melloan concludes: "Mr. Clinton, whose administration has been marked by steady and pervasive regulatory mission creep, will likely understand very little of this. But as a lame duck, he is not in a very good position to cut new deals that would continue to finance the Russian status quo. The best thing that could come out of this summit is nothing at all."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG:

Another Sueddeutsche Zeitung commentator, Klaus Brill in Washington, says that Clinton, himself, seeks little in the form of diplomatic movement from the European tour he began yesterday. In Brill's words: "His itinerary ensures the president will be touching on all the issues currently preoccupying Europe. However, no one is expecting too much of this tour, which is scheduled to begin in the Portuguese capital city Lisbon. Still, with just eight months left in office, Clinton wants to define his legacy, not just at a domestic level, but on the international stage as well."

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