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Western Press Review: Bosnia's Elections, Russian Bargaining, And Kuchma's 'Exit Strategy'

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 8 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Discussion in the Western media today looks at the 5 October elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina, what one analyst calls the U.S. administration's thinly veiled pursuit of war in Iraq, Russian gains at the bargaining table over new UN resolutions, and the Ukrainian president's "exit strategy."


In Britain's "The Guardian," columnist George Monbiot says it is necessary "to expose the two astonishing lies" in U.S. President George W. Bush's 5 October radio address. Bush claimed that the United States does not want military conflict, and that it hopes Iraq will comply with disarmament demands. But Monbiot says on the contrary, Bush "appears to have done everything in his power to prevent Iraq from complying, while ensuring that military conflict becomes inevitable."

On 4 July of this year, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan began negotiations with Iraq over the return of weapons inspectors, and Iraq "appeared to be on the point of capitulation," says Monbiot. The next day, the U.S. Defense Department leaked its plans for an invasion of Iraq to "The New York Times." The talks immediately collapsed.

Negotiations were about to resume at the end of September, as chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix met with Iraqi officials in Vienna. On 25 September, the U.S. "launched bombing raids on Basra, in southern Iraq, destroying a radar system. As the Russian government pointed out, the attack could scarcely have been better designed to scupper the talks."

The U.S. has been intentionally undermining disarmament in similar ways for the past eight years, says Monbiot. It is almost as if Iraq has been saved "as a necessary enemy to be warmed up whenever the occasion demands."


In "The New York Times," former Russian and Eurasian affairs analyst for the U.S. National Security Council Mark Brzezinski says Russia has a lot to lose -- and, perhaps, to gain -- from U.S.-led action in Iraq.

Iraq owes Russia $8 billion in Soviet-era debt, and Russia fears this debt will be canceled if there is a regime change. Contracts between Iraq and Russian oil companies are already in place. And under the UN oil-for-food program, 40 percent of Iraqi oil is traded through Russian intermediaries, accounting for an estimated $1 billion annually.

But Russian leaders are aware of how fervently the U.S. administration wants a tough new UN resolution on weapons inspections. As one of the five permanent members on the UN Security Council with veto power, Russia knows it can bargain for significant rewards for giving the U.S. administration what it wants.

Brzezinski says Russia first wants guarantees "that its economic interests in Iraq will be protected," including a guarantee on debt repayment and allowing Russian oil companies a major stake in postwar oil agreements. Second, Russia wants no opposition to its deployments in Georgia going after suspected Chechen rebels. Finally, it wants trade normalization with the United States.

Brzezinski says U.S. concessions on these points may lead to other demands and suggests encouraging Moscow to join, rather than exploit, American aims.


A editorial in "The Wall Street Journal" says that if the United States does go to war in Iraq, it must ensure "not only a decisive military victory but also the maximum long-term strategic benefits."

This key goal got lost during the Gulf War, the paper says. "If America is going to spill blood and treasure again, the goal has to be about more than replacing one Iraqi thug with another. The goal this time shouldn't be merely disarmament or even 'regime change,' but the liberation of the Iraqi people and a more stable Middle East."

Some within the U.S. administration seem to be hoping for an internal coup in Iraq that will topple Saddam Hussein's regime. But the problem with this scenario is that one dictator may just replace another. And in the long run, this would delay the emergence of a more pluralistic Iraq and miss the potential "for reshaping the Mideast into a more stable, modernizing region."


The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" today discusses the outcome of general elections on 5 October in Bosnia, in which nationalists made strong gains. The commentary describes the results as offering "no prospects."

The electorate has decided that Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat federation remain, which the newspaper says is a situation the Dayton agreement never anticipated. The paper says it was not the accords' intention to create "two states in one."

Now the Croats and Serbs, just as the Bosnians have, are setting their hopes on nationalists. Yet it should be plain to the people what will happen when "obstructive nationalist politicians neutralize each other." The "FAZ" takes a pessimistic view of the future and says, "The high-placed representatives in Sarajevo whom the voters have endowed with enormous power will, as before, decree political developments."


Stefanie Bolzen in "Die Welt" says Bosnia needs "a second Dayton agreement." She says the outcome of the elections must be a "bitter pill" for Europeans, who have strived for so many years to bring peace to Yugoslavia.

"Having been too obsessed in noting ethnic distinctions, they missed the most significant aspect: the economic priorities" for Bosnia. But time is running out, she says, as the world is losing interest.

Bosnia needs a second Dayton as quickly as possible to bring economic prospects into the foreground. Otherwise, there is the danger of more bloodshed.


In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Adrian Karatnycky of the U.S.-based Freedom House discusses allegations by the U.S. -- based on what Washington says are authentic, secretly recorded audio tapes -- that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma approved the sale of an anti-aircraft radar system to Iraq, in violation of UN sanctions.

Karatnycky suggests Kuchma should be heavily penalized for this transgression, as an example to ensure other nations comply with Iraq sanctions. Ukraine under Kuchma has "emerged as a leading supply source for illicit traffic in global arms," he says. This latest development involving Iraq's radar system "suggests that while Ukraine is not a rogue state, it has a rogue president who is engaged in the illegal weapons trade."

Kuchma's credibility with the U.S. "has been pulverized," says Karatnycky. The "best hope for Ukraine [is] in pressuring President Kuchma to quietly step aside in favor of early elections." Demonstrations last month drawing close to 100,000 protesters nationwide are scheduled to resume later this month; 71 percent of Ukrainians polled say Kuchma should go.

"For Ukraine's president to exit the scene, protests against him must widen," Karatnycky writes. "American and European diplomatic isolation of Mr. Kuchma must be airtight and confined to the president and his corrupt cronies, not the entire Ukrainian government or nation."


In "The Washington Post," Middle Eastern studies Professor Fawaz Gerges of Sarah Lawrence College discusses the U.S. administration's statements that toppling Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein would "usher in a peaceful, democratic dawn in Iraq that would spill over into other authoritarian Arab states." Gerges says this is "an ambitious order for the Middle East." Iraq's "fragmented society and blood-soaked political history should make anyone wary of predicting the swift creation of a viable democracy there."

He says the U.S. establishment does not seem to appreciate how deeply entrenched are sectarian, tribal, and ethnic loyalties and how complex would be the job of reconnecting Iraqi communities. A U.S. military invasion "would result in a civilian massacre. Tribal revenge would probably be exacted, complicating the process of reconciliation and healing [and deepening] mistrust between the ruling Sunni community on the one hand and the Shiites and Kurds on the other."

Gerges predicts that, "unless the United States is willing to forcefully police the new order for many years to come, Iraq will fracture and descend into chaos, destabilizing its neighbors and giving rise to new jihad groups." There will be no democracy in Iraq and American interests will also be jeopardized.


Francois Gere of the Institute for Diplomacy and Defense contributes a commentary to today's "Liberation" daily in which he says the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq is a means to an end rather than an end in itself.

There are two possible outcomes to renewed inspections, he points out. First, if a UN weapons inspection team does not find anything, this will not necessarily be evidence that Saddam Hussein is innocent. On the contrary, says Gere, some might insist that the inspectors were deceived and that it is absurd, in considering the nature of the Iraqi regime, to imagine that it is complying with the law.

The second possibility, that the UN team does find missiles or other weapons, does not necessarily create a casus belli, an event that leads to war, either. The revelation would merely establish a reason to intensify inspections, matched with a threat of the use of force under a new UN resolution.

Gere says it is necessary to determine the magnitude of the threat posed by Iraq, which states it is likely to target, and when. Only renewed inspections will answer these questions, he says.

Far from being the ultimate aim, he says inspections establish "a legal tool of political legitimization, on an international scale, of any military action that might be launched" following the results of inspections.


In the "Chicago Tribune," editor Salim Muwakkil of "In These Times" says there is rising opposition within the United States to the Bush administration's plans to launch a military campaign in Iraq. Some members of Congress have blamed the media for minimizing dissenting voices, while others urge the opposition to be more vocal.

Muwakkil cites Californian Democratic Representative Maxine Waters as saying the Bush administration has failed to prove that Iraq has nuclear weapons, or that it is willing to use them. "The U.S. keeps pushing for an intrusive inspection regime, yet," she noted, "we seem to forget that the CIA was caught spying on Iraq during the last spate of inspections."

Muwakkil says there has also been a marked increase in antiwar demonstrations throughout the United States. And in addition to the usual left-leaning antiwar demonstrators, he says "there is considerable opposition to the Bush administration's war plans among conservatives."

Muwakkil writes. "The voices of dissent are rising and just may prevent the U.S. from becoming the 21st century's leading warmonger -- but don't bet on it."

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