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Western Press Review: Russia's 'Double-Talk,' Macedonia, Central Asia And Afghanistan

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 12 December 2001 (RFE/RL -- Commentary in the Western press today looks at drawing the line between cultural repression and insurgency; Russia's double-talk in the war on terrorism; and 11 September, three months later. Other issues include the situation in Macedonia, Caspian Basin resources, and creating open societies in Central Asia. Other analysis continues to focus on events in Afghanistan.


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Wolfgang Gunter Lerch says nations must distinguish between clamping down on terrorists and using the fear of insurgency to repress minority groups. He says that while growing resolve to clamp down on terrorists is a good thing, "attempts to see that struggle as a blank check for suppressing minorities in their pursuit of cultural and political freedom [is] another issue."

Lerch says the Chinese government's policies in Xinjiang province are a prime example of the misuse of power under the guise of cracking down on terrorists. He calls Beijing's approach a "systematic attempt by the government to constrain the cultural development of the Muslim Turkic people in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and to marginalize it with resettlement programs."

Lerch says that ultimately, repressive policies are self-defeating. Just like everywhere else, he says, oppression in Xinjiang "will provide an excuse to those pursuing radical ends to employ terrorism as a justified means. If Beijing goes beyond stopping criminal acts and increases repressive measures, that will strengthen solidarity among the Uighur around the world, especially those between Central Asia and Turkey."


In an analysis in "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Frederick Starr of the Central Asia Institute at Johns Hopkins University examines the actions of Vladimir Putin's Russia in recent months.

Starr says that much was made of the Russian president's words of sympathy and solidarity with the U.S. administration after the 11 September attacks. Less well-known, says Starr, is that Putin "then spent the next three days on the phone, cajoling the presidents [of] Central Asia not to cooperate with American requests to use their territory for strikes against Afghanistan." When they refused to obey, Starr says Putin made an about-face and "announced to the world that, through his tireless efforts, he had succeeded in persuading the Central Asian states to cooperate with America."

Starr goes on to say that Putin's top ministers and the head of the secret service, the FSB, "laid out an aggressive plan to preempt America's growing role in Afghanistan." Despite warnings from the U.S. administration, Russian officials "authorized the [Northern] Alliance to charge headlong and seize Kabul...."

Starr asks, "What does all this mean for U.S.-Russian friendship, and for hopes of a breakthrough in NATO's relations with Russia?" First, he says, it indicates that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the FSB, and the Russian army "share none of the current euphoria" over Russian-Western amity. And in light of Putin's own actions, Starr says "one must question where Mr. Putin himself really stands."


In France's "Le Monde," columnist Pierre Georges considers the attacks of 11 September, three months after. He says that now the world has had some time to think about the events, to meditate on and consider them, and to move beyond the shock and emotion. He says that "the blind hatred, the absurd and suicidal fury" that caused the attacks will not be easily overcome. Georges says that whatever the options may be now, 11 September changed the world and our understanding of it.

Georges goes on to consider the videotape of Osama bin Laden, found recently near Jalalabad. He says the U.S. authorities are right in being hesitant to release it. "This cassette [presents] an incredible advantage and a major drawback," he writes. "The advantage is that it would establish proof, proof of bin Laden [being] dazzled by the 'success' of 11 September. But the drawback is that it remains a weapon: for the dissemination of terrorism."


In "Eurasia View," Nick Megoran says the U.S. response to the 11 September attacks has undermined its attempts to create more open societies in Central Asia. Megoran says, "Indeed, it seems as if the United States has moved in recent months toward the Central Asian model: clamping down on civil liberties; refusing to attempt to reach a peaceful, negotiated solution; and swiftly resorting to overwhelming force." He says the U.S. is now not only less willing, but unable, to criticize Uzbekistan's policies.

Megoran remarks that the U.S. response to the 11 September attacks "bears striking similarities to the reaction of Uzbek President Islam Karimov's government to the February 1999 bombings in Tashkent." Both Karimov and U.S. President George W. Bush "sought to deflect criticism of their policies by portraying the terrorist attacks not as particular responses [to] Uzbek domestic or U.S. foreign policy respectively, but as assaults upon civilized norms."

He says both the U.S. and Uzbek presidents likewise overlooked the roles their countries had played in perpetuating Afghanistan's civil war by supporting different factions over the years.

Megoran writes: "By refusing to [take] steps to address the underlying causes that fuel terrorist activity, President Bush has lost the moral authority to urge restraint upon President Karimov. Furthermore, by sidelining mechanisms of international justice and unilaterally assuming the right to act as judge, jury, and executioner," the U.S. can no longer "champion the supremacy of international law."


In the "International Herald Tribune," Gareth Evans considers the situation in Macedonia and says that things "have been looking better" since parliament accepted constitutional reforms last month, giving more rights to its large ethnic Albanian minority. He writes: "The prospect of civil war has for the time being receded. But [the] anti-agreement forces are strong, [NATO] is due to leave in March, and the underlying atmosphere is fetid."

Evans says at the heart of the problem is the "identity problem" felt by Macedonians and the resulting insecurity. Greece continues to veto the international acceptance of Macedonia's name -- it is still known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, rather than its Macedonian name of Republika Makedonija. The international community should address this issue, Evans says.

"To resolve the long-running name dispute with Greece [would] more than anything else fundamentally change the atmosphere on the ground, creating the environment for constructive cooperation and good-faith implementation of the [constitutional] framework agreement." He says that EU and NATO members, along with other countries, must play an active role in negotiations.

Evans writes: "The alternative is just to let the name dispute fester, thereby giving ethnic Macedonians the message that if they want to assert their identity, they will have to do it by other means. That is a message with dangerous implications," he says.


In the "Frankfurter Rundschau," Martin Winter expresses his distaste for Turkish participation in a peacekeeping operation in Afghanistan. He says it is a case of political stupidity to let Ankara decide where EU participation is permitted. The EU is rendering itself untrustworthy when it lets a third party decide its security policy, he says. "It is common sense that he who wants to run will not let his legs be bound together, but that is exactly what the EU is doing."

Winter reasons that the EU is paying a heavy price for Turkey's participation in Afghanistan. Turkey will now gain an upper hand in dictating the future of Cyprus, which is a dangerous prospect, says Winter. He recommends that the EU reject its agreement with Turkey and rely solely on its own forces.


In "Eurasia View," Russian and Eurasian affairs analyst Ariel Cohen considers the possibilities for the Caspian Basin emerging as a global provider of energy resources. In October, the Caspian Pipeline Consortium began shipping oil from the Tengiz oil field in Kazakhstan to the Russian port of Novorossiisk. On 19 December, the Odessa-Brody pipeline in Ukraine will also become operational.

Cohen writes: "The new pipelines demonstrate that the Caspian Basin is emerging as a viable source of energy, creating an attractive alternate to the Middle East and other traditional oil provinces. However, their main strategic importance is as a revenue producer. The pipelines are being counted upon to help drive economic development in post-Soviet countries, as well as in Black Sea transit states, including Romania and Bulgaria."

But transport problems must still be worked out, says Cohen, and new routes are needed. "The flow of oil from the Caspian is constrained by the bottleneck of the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles, the Turkish Straits, a narrow water artery which connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara and the Mediterranean."

The Turkish Straits is one of the most crowded transportation arteries in the world, Cohen says, and it will not be able to handle the increased traffic if more oil and gas deposits are discovered in the Caspian Basin, as is expected.


Germany's role in post-Taliban Afghanistan is the subject of a commentary by Nikolaus Blome in the German "Die Welt." Blome claims that the war in Afghanistan, from a military point of view, is over. The U.S. has proved that it is capable of precisely blending military and political-diplomatic power.

But "darkness will cloud the future" after the last Taliban stronghold is conquered, says Blome. NATO is going to find it difficult to get involved, having left America to act on its own during the first phase. The UN, on the other hand, is being given a second chance for involvement in assigning a peacekeeping force to Afghanistan. But Blome says it is conceivable that such a mission will fail.

Blome says that Germany is finally learning how to act in accordance with its part on the world stage, and it will have to continue to get used to participating in international policing. Moreover, Germany must learn to play a balancing act between solidarity with the U.S. and its own abilities and interests. Blome concludes that, with respect to German participation in a UN peacekeeping force, "necessity and duty supercede in spite of the risks. And parliament must agree."


In a news analysis, Bradley Graham of "The Washington Post" service says that although the first, military phase in Afghanistan may appear to be nearing an end, the U.S. Pentagon continues to warn that future action, including finding suspected terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, "poses even tougher challenges."

Graham notes that although Afghanistan is no longer under Taliban rule, the situation is far from stabilized. "The Taliban have not so much been killed and vanquished as allowed to recede into the countryside or realign themselves with opposition groups, keeping their weapons along the way." A lot of the progress made by the U.S. is due to fighters switching sides, he notes.

"In this latest phase of the war, as in earlier ones, the United States is relying on local opposition groups to do much of the fighting on the ground, thus avoiding the need for large numbers of U.S. ground troops. As long as the Taliban were still in control, the United States shared an interest with those Afghan tribes and ethnic groups willing to pick up arms against the Taliban." But, Graham says, "that may be changing."

He notes that with the Taliban gone, opposition groups may start pursuing some of their own objectives, which may conflict with the regional interests of the U.S. and thereby undermine the solidarity of anti-Taliban forces.


The editor of "Newsweek" magazine's international edition, Fareed Zakaria, writes that there are already some hopeful signs for Afghanistan's future. "So far there have been very few reprisals by the victors -- a marked shift in behavior. The neighboring powers [are] not competing to destabilize the country, as they did in the past, but working to stabilize it. Perhaps most significant, the generation of Afghans who thrived on the feuds of the civil war are being replaced by a younger wave of leaders who want to build a modern country. Rapacious warlords like Abdul Rashid Dostum may represent the past, and moderate, modern men like the interim president, Hamid Karzai, the future."

"But first you need peace," says Zakaria. "The chief lesson that the international community has learned over the last decade is that when a country is still plagued by problems of basic [security], peacekeeping and reconstruction are impossible. The other important lesson is that the United Nations cannot provide this security. It must come from the major powers."

Thus, he says, the most urgent priority in Afghanistan "is a strong, multinational force that will bring security and stability to Kabul." Beyond this, "security must come from agreements between the Afghan warlords." This "will be a test of their desire for peace," says Zakaria, and all international aid "should hinge on their maintaining peace and security in their regions."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)