Prague, 15 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western media today looks at Russia's diplomatic overtures toward the West, as well as its deteriorating ties with Moldova; the link between nation-building and combating terrorism; and this week's presidential election in Zimbabwe. Other analysis focuses on the situation in the Middle East, in light of the arrival of U.S. special envoy Anthony Zinni in the region, and the EU economic summit getting under way today in Barcelona.
An editorial in Britain's "The Times" discusses what it refers to as "the maturing partnership" between Russia and the West. The Russian State Duma on 14 March accused Washington of seeking, "under the guise of curbing the twin threats of international terrorism and nuclear proliferation, to 'settle scores' with Iraq, Iran and North Korea." Russia's Chief of General Staff Anatoly Kvashin has also expressed the view that improving relations with NATO is merely a "media smokescreen." Russia's "Nezavisimaya gazeta" has reported that President Vladimir Putin's strategic alliance with the United States has the backing of barely one-third of Russia's career servicemen.
But "The Times" says not too much should be made of these misgivings, as Putin's Westward moves were inevitably going to bring dissent from within Russia's political and military establishments. Furthermore, Putin's popularity remains at 75 percent among Russian voters.
"The Times" says Putin has been "unswervingly determined in his pursuit of [an] enduring transformation of Russia's relationship with the West. [The] U.S. needs, however, to be as willing as Mr. Putin to shed the Cold War thinking that permeates the establishment. [U.S.] President [George W.] Bush should urge Congress rapidly to review a raft of laws that unduly restrict trade, technology exchanges, visas and the freedom of movement allowed Russian diplomats in the U.S."
The editorial concludes: "America must shed bad old habits of its own in dealing with Russia, if it wants it to be a predictable and reliable partner."
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
An analysis by columnist Matthew Kaminski in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" says that nation-building and combating terrorism are complementary goals. He says after the attacks of September, the U.S. cannot afford to avoid involvement "in places where porous borders, organized crime, corruption, Islamic extremism and the absence of a rule of law create a haven for terrorists. This describes the Balkans, and in particular Bosnia. The real question in Bosnia and elsewhere is whether America can flush out terrorist threats and shore up weak states effectively."
Kaminski says the challenges are "both tactical and diplomatic." In the past, he says, NATO powers were unwilling to take great risks, and often let Bosnian factions "block attempts to create a viable, single state." The U.S. similarly failed to back up diplomatic attempts with political and military muscle and sought to avoid casualties above all else. But 11 September has altered this view, and the U.S. is "no longer hampered by a risk-averse culture," he says.
Kaminski suggests that the European Union's new high representative to Bosnia, Paddy Ashdown, "should be the last; then Europe can put Bosnia on a path toward the EU." He remarks that the Bush administration "seems to understand American political and military leadership is needed in Bosnia," which has now become a focus of the new commitment "to make sure weak states don't fall into terrorist hands again."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
An editorial in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" looks at the situation in Moldova, which had been part of Romania before World War II, became part of the Soviet Union thereafter and which is now independent.
The commentary says that over the course of the year since the victory of Communist President Vladimir Voronin, "the situation has developed as was to be expected." The Communist Party was incapable of putting into practice any of the election promises that brought it to power, the paper says. "Instead, the opposition has had to reckon with violence, imprisonment and wrongful accusations of being 'nationalistic fascists.'"
Social protests in the capital of Chisinau have grown into a national crisis, as the majority Romanian population resists what it sees as attempts at Russification. This situation is aggravated by the number of Russian troops in the country, which despite promises of withdrawal, are present in the same numbers as during the war between Moldovan forces and pro-Russian separatists over Transdniester in the early 1990s.
Matters have come to a head with the mutual expulsion of diplomats, as Voronin accuses Bucharest of "destabilizing" Moldova. This, says the editorial, exemplifies the tensions that are developing between Moldova, Romania, and Russia.
"Yugoslavia is dead," writes columnist Bernhard Kueppers in "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," referring to yesterday's decision to officially rename the Yugoslav Federation "Serbia and Montenegro." He discusses the history of the country between the two world wars and when as a rump state under Slobodan Milosevic, existing merely for what Kueppers calls "tactical interests of the moment." Kueppers writes: "Milosevic has left an empty shell, burned out and torn at the edges."
To avoid further disintegration and a referendum in Montenegro, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana has been given the task of brokering an agreement on a lasting partnership between the two entities. But Kueppers says: "Brussels has no cause to be happy about its diplomatic success [in establishing Serbia-Montenegro]. Solana cast the bait that would guarantee the largest number of fish in the Balkans. He dangled EU membership as a prospect and, in return, demanded accommodation from the Yugoslavs. However, the history of EU expansion shows that the organization will be burdened by the responsibility of helping the candidates through a transition period. Solana's pledges may eventually prove to be exerting too much strain on the organization."
THE WASHINGTON POST:
An editorial in "The Washington Post" today looks at the re-election this week of President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, in a vote that was widely criticized by election observers and the international community. The editorial notes that Morgan Tsvangirai, Mugabe's main opponent, was denied access to state radio and television. His followers were often beaten, detained, or otherwise intimidated, while Tsvangirai himself was accused of treason.
The paper writes: "There can be no economic development, and no progress against the continent's awful poverty, if dictators like Mugabe mock the rule of law and the wishes of their people. Foreign investors will stay out of Zimbabwe so long as Mugabe is there, rightly fearing that any money they put in might be stolen by the government. Aid donors [will] make the same judgment. And the extent to which investors and aid donors send money instead to other African countries will depend on the signals they receive. If other Africans can endorse Zimbabwe's fraudulent election, why should outsiders believe in their commitment to the rule of law? And if that commitment is in doubt, how can outsiders sustain hope that their aid will make a real difference?"
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" says that France is the last socialist holdout against the liberalization of EU economic policy, the stated goal of the EU summit getting under way on 15 March in Barcelona. The paper quotes French President Jacques Chirac as saying France has become "the last refuge in Europe of socialist ideology." The paper says the French thus go to the Barcelona summit "feeling concerned and put-upon. The government of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin is a holdout not just on the liberalization of the European energy market, but on labor markets and other issues as well."
The prime minister and the French president will "speak with one voice this weekend," the editorial says, although at home they are battling each other in the midst of a bitter presidential election campaign. But the editorial suggests there is little chance of the French holding back liberalization reforms. It remarks that "just about everyone in Europe now has twigged to the fact that something must be done about labor markets." The paper adds that the other 14 members of the EU are arrayed against France's staunch socialism and are beginning to support "lowering taxes and cutting red tape."
In France's daily "Liberation," columnist Gerard Dupuy says it is "very ironic" that the two Frenchmen currently dueling for the presidency -- the incumbent Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin -- are going to be acting as allies at the European economic summit in Barcelona. But Dupuy says it is time to remember that these two men harmonized politically for a long time and that this was facilitated by their common views on foreign policy generally and in European policy in particular, as both are moderate Europeanists and are similarly unenthusiastic about deregulation.
Dupuy says that the French view is far outside the main train of thought currently dominating the European meetings -- the deregulatory liberalism of Spanish President Jose Maria Aznar, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He says this triumvirate has emerged to replace the disappearance of the formerly indomitable French-German leadership in Europe.
Dupuy says France also exhibits its uniqueness among its European peers in response to the inevitable demonstrations that will take place at the summit. Although for the demonstrators the "cautious opposition" of the French is already too much of a concession to EU neoliberalism, Dupuy says both French leaders publicly recognize the legitimacy of the demonstrators' concerns. Being "the French exception" is "a hard life," Dupuy concludes.
An article in this week's "The Economist" says the United States must get involved in the Middle East. U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's tour through the region to prepare Arab support for operations in Iraq has turned into a public relations disaster, says the magazine. "Faced with an unstoppable wave of Palestinian attacks," it writes, Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "has followed the habit of his soldier's lifetime and escalated. [If] Mr. Cheney is to salvage his mission, the United States must now take urgent remedial action," the weekly says.
It suggests the first part should be to "spell out loud and clear America's support for an independent Palestine," calling the UN Security Council resolution this week a "start." The magazine suggests that part two should be implementing the plans former U.S. President Bill Clinton devised at Camp David. "These called for Israel to withdraw from up to 96 percent of the West Bank and Gaza, and to hand over a bit of Israel 'proper' in exchange for the bit of the West Bank it annexes. In Jerusalem, Israel would have sovereignty over Jewish areas and Palestine over Arab areas."
"The Economist" says by offering a detailed, realistic framework instead of broad ideas, Bush "could at least persuade the Arabs that America envisages a Palestine worthy of being called a state, rather than the Bantustan (any of the former black homelands in South Africa) which they are sure Mr. Sharon has in mind."
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
An editorial in "The New York Times" today says that, with 20,000 troops in action, "Israel is currently engaged in the biggest military offensive in the Palestinian territories since the 1967 war. In less than two weeks it has killed more than 160 Palestinians. Soldiers [have] ripped their way through large refugee camps [and] troops have rounded up and questioned all male camp residents between the ages of 15 and 45. The paper writes: "[This] kind of extended military operation is unacceptable." It calls such actions "utterly counterproductive, undermining Israel's own interests and immensely complicating American diplomacy just ahead of the arrival [of U.S.] Mideast envoy, Anthony Zinni. Israel must cut way back in its use of military force [and] direct its actions against suspected terrorists rather than against the broader Palestinian civilian population. Its current methods are causing great civilian suffering and unnecessary humiliation."
"The New York Times" says that to "undertake such operations at a time when the Bush administration is pushing hard to rein in the violence is doubly shortsighted." Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "needs to realize that while Washington remains fully committed to Israeli security, it cannot accept a policy that relies increasingly on military force alone and seems indifferent to American efforts to help negotiate an early cease-fire as a first step toward an eventual fair and lasting peace."
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)