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Western Press Review: Russian Diplomacy, The Fragile Mideast Truce, And Serbia's Centrist Labus

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 22 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Analysis and commentary in the Western press today take a look at the World Bank's annual development report, Russia's diplomatic two-step, upcoming elections and Western involvement in the Balkans, investigating war crimes in Afghanistan, and the fragile Middle East truce. Discussion and debate also continue over a possible U.S.-led military operation in Iraq.


An editorial in today's "Financial Times" discusses the World Bank's recently released World Development Report. The paper says this year's study "offers something for everyone," while failing to take a firm stance on the tough issues it is meant to address.

"More often than not, the report sidesteps the difficult policy choices that must be made when there is a trade-off between economic progress and environmental or social concerns. [If] the World Bank cannot find a clear route through the minefield of development policy, nor will the 60,000 or so delegates in South Africa next week," gathering for the global summit on sustainable development. "The most depressing aspect of development policy, as the bank's report makes clear, is that even in areas where the appropriate policy choices are well-known and widely agreed, institutional weaknesses often prevent them from being implemented."

Rich nations "refuse to limit, or even reduce, subsidies in agriculture," although they are fully aware that farm subsidies squeeze out farmers in less-developed nations. Western markets "also remain closed to too many developing-country exports."

Yet policy "is even worse in much of the developing world," the paper says, as war and corruption "are the enemies of development." The "Financial Times" concludes that the World Bank "needs to be much clearer about trade-offs and policy choices."


In a contribution to "The Washington Post" reprinted today in the "International Herald Tribune," Leonard Rubenstein of Physicians for Human Rights calls on the United States to investigate allegations of war crimes in Afghanistan.

He says throughout its opposition to the International Criminal Court, the administration of President George W. Bush "has defended its commitment [to] prosecute perpetrators of mass murder and other war criminals." Yet in Afghanistan, Rubenstein says, the U.S. has thus far "done nothing" to investigate possible mass atrocities.

Evidence is accumulating that many of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters who surrendered or were captured in battles last year were killed by Northern Alliance forces, U.S. allies in the fight against the Taliban.

Rubenstein says the truth behind these allegations lies in mass graves near Shebergan prison. A "comprehensive forensic investigation could reveal the number of dead [and] lead to a determination of who was responsible." But the U.S. administration's response thus far "has been inadequate," says Rubenstein. The Pentagon has refused to support or conduct an investigation. "It has even refused to acknowledge that anything untoward may have taken place."

Rubenstein says in refusing to pursue the allegations, the United States is at risk of committing "the very political manipulation of war crimes investigations that it claims [is] a flaw in the International Criminal Court."


Bernard Kueppers, writing in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," looks at presidential elections set for 29 September in Serbia. Kueppers focuses on Miroljub Labus, who is said to occupy the political space between Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.

Kueppers describes Labus as someone who is not truly in the center since he remains a member of Djindjic's party and, moreover, "has no desire to conspicuously join with the unpopular government chief."

Kueppers stresses that Labus's perceived impartiality stems from his work as an economist who managed to negotiate credit and debt relief on Yugoslavia's behalf with international financial institutions. Equally positive, says Kueppers, is his willingness to cooperate with the war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Before former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was handed over, Labus expressed that it was not a matter of international intervention and national pride, but "a question of survival."

Kueppers summarizes by saying that Labus, a professor of economics, is also a pragmatist.


In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," David Phillips of the Council on Foreign Relations notes that the West "has been involved in the Balkans for a full decade now." He says, "Now it is clear that, without an exit strategy, there will be no end to the international community's involvement in the Balkans."

But before exiting, it is important "to stabilize the region and resolve potentially explosive issues, starting with Kosovo's political status." He says to do this, the international community "must be honest with its interlocutors, clear about its goals, and resolute in implementing policies which take into account the interests of all parties."

Resolving the Kosovo question peacefully through negotiations "would be a major success for the international community, and a triumph for European diplomacy," says Phillips. It would also "help consolidate Serbia's democracy, preserve Bosnia's integrity, and enhance Macedonia's multiethnicity."

Europe, in particular, must leave the Balkans "in order to embrace the region as a partner, not as a protectorate." Balkan nations all aspire "to a peaceful and prosperous future as part of Europe." But they will not be able to join the EU "until Kosovo ceases to be a flash point where violence could erupt anew."


An editorial in "The New York Times" today remarks that it is still not clear whether the deadly 19 August crash of a Russian helicopter in Chechnya was due to mechanical failure or a missile fired by Chechen rebels. But the paper says whatever the cause, the incident "dramatizes two obstacles to President Vladimir Putin's goal of remaking Russia into a modern state."

Moscow's "increasingly dysfunctional military forces" resist reform, while the Chechen conflict "bleeds Russia's morale and stains its reputation abroad." The editorial says Putin "should grasp this chance to transform Russia's military as boldly as he has its foreign policy, and find a negotiated solution to the Chechen conflict."

"The New York Times" says Russia's military reform "will come easier once Mr. Putin acknowledges the need for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Chechnya. [Chechen] separatism, organized crime, and Islamic terrorism are genuine problems, but the answers are more political than military."

The paper adds that the U.S. administration "does Moscow no favors by muting its criticism of Russian human rights violations in Chechnya in the name of antiterrorist solidarity."


A "Stratfor" (Strategic Forecasting LLC) commentary says when President Vladimir Putin set Russia on a pro-Western course and declared support for America's war on terrorism following the attacks of 11 September, he was "taking a huge risk." One aspect of this new policy was to withdraw Russia's longtime support for Iraq and ally more closely with the U.S.

"Stratfor" says although this new alignment "has at times put Moscow in a politically awkward position," Russia has "gathered a small fortune," both politically and economically. Among other benefits, Russia was granted market-economy status earlier this year, Western loans have been approved, and Russia has been "fast-tracked" for membership in the World Trade Organization.

But "Stratfor" says when Moscow realized support for a U.S.-led campaign against Iraq was dwindling, "it decided to officially oppose the war." Moscow "found itself in the odd position of opposing both Europe and the Islamic world," and in alliance with the U.S. Russia thus resumed dealings with Iraq in a shift back to more traditional policy.

But "Stratfor" says Russia has successfully become "an interlocutor between the United States and much of the rest of the world, a role that the United Kingdom normally occupies." If Russia can hold this position, "it can count on the United States to be an active enabler, or at worst only a passive resistor, for Russian aspirations."


The German daily "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" discusses the five Iraqi hostage-takers who raided the Iraqi Embassy in Berlin on August 20. The hostage-takers were alleged to be members of the Iraqi political opposition and reportedly took the hostages to protest the regime of Saddam Hussein. But the paper says that the London-based Iraqi National Congress, an umbrella group for Iraqi exiles of various political convictions, "has done well to immediately distance itself from the five who occupied the Iraqi Embassy in Berlin and took the diplomats as hostages."

It appears that no one in London knows who or what these people, who are seeking asylum in Germany, represent. The "FAZ" says such events undermine the Iraqi opposition movement, particularly the Iraqi National Congress abroad -- which, the paper says, for many years has been "waiting for its moment."

The paper advises the INC movement to continue to "stick to the rules."


The "International Herald Tribune" today reprints a "Chicago Tribune" editorial on the fragile peace that is currently being maintained in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As a result of the Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territories, Palestinian police are once again patrolling the streets of Bethlehem. The Israelis, who reoccupied seven of the eight major West Bank towns two months ago after a spate of suicide bombings, have agreed to ease their military clampdown provided the Palestinians can avert further violence through their own security apparatus.

The "Chicago Tribune" commends this move forward by saying, "The fact that Israeli and Palestinian leaders were able to reach even this tentative security arrangement is praiseworthy."

It says that for now, rational thinking seems to be prevailing as the Palestinians and Israelis seem to favor a two-state solution based on the exchange of "land for peace." Chances are slight that the current deal will work and lead to a lasting peace, the paper says, although "it's a fair bet that if it does not, the parties will not get another opportunity for a long time."


In "The Washington Times," historian Andrew Apostolou of St. Antony's College at Oxford and the Economist Intelligence Unit says, "Missing from preparations for a campaign against Saddam Hussein is a political strategy to create a viable Iraq -- a strategy that can both prepare the way for military action and serve as a basis for administering a postwar Iraq."

He says without "a clear notion of how Iraq should be governed after Saddam Hussein, the United States will struggle against considerable skepticism from its regional allies."

"Settling the future of Iraq before a military campaign facilitates a victory on the ground and helps fend off chaos after Saddam's defeat," he says. "A credible political strategy for Iraq [would also] allay the concerns of U.S. allies in the region, particularly Saudi Arabia and Turkey." Both "are hesitant about 'regime change' not because of any sympathy for Saddam, but out of fear that his demise may destroy the territorial integrity of Iraq."

Apostolou says Turkey needs to be assured that no independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq will form as a result of Saddam's downfall. Saudi Arabia is worried that a postwar Iraq would be open to undue Iranian influence, as most Iraqis share Iran's Shia Muslim faith.

Apostolou says an agreement must be reached on "rebuilding and reunifying Iraq" -- an agreement "that would satisfy America's allies, Iraq's neighbors and, above all, Iraqis themselves."

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