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Western Press Review: The Kremlin's Denial On Chechnya And Connecting War And Poverty

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 8 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Analysis in the Western press today takes a look at the Kremlin's policy of denial on Chechnya, the roots of war and poverty, why Europe's economy is foundering, and "facing reality" in Iraq.


An editorial in the Boston-based publication remarks that, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the war in Chechnya is over. In a controversial March referendum, Chechens voted to remain a part of the Russian Federation. Local elections are scheduled for October and military operations have been transferred from the security services to the police, officially rendering the campaign in Chechnya a police, rather than military, action.

"But the suicide bombings at a Moscow rock festival over the weekend tell a different story," the paper says. Between 100 and 150 Chechens disappear each month, seized by Russian forces "and [are] never heard from again." Russian soldiers perish daily in incidents throughout Chechnya. The weekend's two female suicide bombers "[reflect] the deep desperation many Chechens feel. For most of the past two centuries, they have been engaged in an on-again, off-again rebellion against Russia. But the past 100 years have seen hundreds of thousands of Chechens killed."

The paper says the European Parliament last week "rightly" condemned Russian war crimes in Chechnya. "There can be no military solution to the conflict," says the paper. "Moscow should quickly agree to an international conference in which it would sit down with Chechen representatives and European organizations and discuss peaceful solutions. The Russian and the Chechen people are both tired of the killing."


In a contribution today, Mark Malloch Brown of the UN Development Program cautions against relying on free-market policies alone to fight poverty in Africa and elsewhere. Most African nations have opened their markets, he says, "but few have prospered." A "stunning number of countries in the developing world [were] poorer in 2000 than they were in 1990," he says. To reverse this trend, sound domestic policy must be coupled with international support in aid and trade.

Wealthy nations are beginning to provide more aid to the poor but it is still insufficient, Brown says. And there is far to go in altering the industrialized world's trade policies on developing nations. The developed world's tariffs on agricultural imports and its subsidies to domestic farmers "remain an unjust barrier to farm exports" from poorer nations. Brown says: "The vast scale of those subsidies puts foreign aid in unflattering relief. Every dairy cow in the European Union receives an average annual subsidy of $900, while European Union aid to the entire population of sub-Saharan Africa averages just $8 per recipient per year."

Brown calls on American, European, and Japanese leaders to "do their part, mixing the promotion of market reforms with the aid, investment and trade opportunities that Africa's poorest nations need to overcome their physical and human constraints."


Paul Collier of Oxford University's Center for the Study of African Economies says civil wars can be prevented by pursuing the right economic policies. "The key characteristics of a country at high risk for war are neither political nor social, but economic," he says. "Countries are at high risk if they combine low income with economic stagnation and dependence on primary commodity exports." Collier says contrary to some common assumptions, imposing democracy "doesn't make such countries safer, [and] ethnic diversity doesn't usually make them more dangerous."

And civil wars allow "global scourges" to take root, he says. Civil wars account for 95 percent of production of illegal narcotics, as the crops need territory outside government control. The "rape and flight" that is widespread during conflict is ideal for spreading diseases like AIDS. And groups such as Al-Qaeda use "the safe haven of unrecognized territory" resulting from conflict.

Collier says it is time to try to prevent civil wars, rather than discussing intervention once a conflict has spun out of control. And the "key instruments" to prevention are economic, he says. First, the international community must pressure nations to use their revenues wisely and transparently. Second, it must be made more difficult for rebel groups to plunder, through the tracking of commodities. Finally, he says, price shocks must be offset. Price crashes spark recession in commodity-dependent countries and the economic turmoil can serve as a catalyst for war.


A contribution in today's issue from former British Foreign Minister Robin Cook discusses the controversy over the intelligence that led to the war in Iraq.

Cook says, "All other modern wars stemmed from real world events" -- Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic's ethnic cleansing of Kosovo, and the Taliban's complicity in the 11 September 2001 attacks all served as catalysts for military action. But since the recent invasion of Iraq "was intended as a preemptive strike," Cook writes, "by definition it could not be a response to a real event, but depended for its justification on intelligence of 'a real and present danger.' That put colossal weight on the intelligence providing a cast-iron basis for war. Unfortunately, the intelligence served up by the [British] government in its September dossier is now buckling under the strain of that responsibility."

Part of the tragedy of the Iraq campaign was that UN weapons inspectors under Hans Blix "had already demonstrated that the intelligence claims were unsound." Blix has remarked that whenever UN inspectors visited a site picked out by Western intelligence, they found nothing.

Cook says, "It is extraordinary that this gulf between our intelligence information and the reality on the ground did not prompt doubts in the government before they unleashed the war." He says there may be "some truth in the suspicion that Washington wanted the inspectors out of Iraq before they comprehensively proved that Iraq was no threat."


While most of Iraq is stable, "in military terms, the postwar situation is getting worse rather than better," an editorial today says. Daily attacks on Anglo-American forces continue, and while their degree of organization is debatable, the danger "is that they will succeed in triggering a broader guerrilla war against U.S. troops fed [in part] by popular discontent with American [occupation]. To head off that threat, the [U.S.] administration needs to act decisively and soon," says the paper.

The first step, says the paper, should be for the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush to accept "the fact that more resources are needed." Only 10 of 70 nations requested have made concrete troop commitments, and the paper says this "poor support is a direct result of the administration's poor diplomacy."

The only way to bolster the forces in Iraq without deploying more U.S. troops is for the Bush administration "to formally seek assistance from the United Nations and NATO -- and, in doing so, patch its relations with France, Germany and other allies that opposed the war." The paper says, "Internationalizing the occupation would deflect growing Iraqi fears that the United States plans to rule the country indefinitely."

Bush must also level with the American people, the paper says. U.S. troops are dying at the rate of nearly one per day, and "Mr. Bush needs to tell the country why that sacrifice is necessary."


David Ignatius looks at several explanations as to why Europe's economies are sluggish. One explanation, he says, is that Europe doesn't work hard enough to compete on the global market. Europeans work on average 30 percent less than their American counterparts. Moreover, he says, a study cited in Britain's "Financial Times" showed that while the percentage of people working increased between 1960 and 2002 in the United States, it declined over the same period in the euro-zone countries. A smaller percentage in Europe is working today than was 40 years ago, but Ignatius says, "Perhaps that's progress."

The core problem in European markets is labor-market inflexibility. Powerful unions keep wages high, but there is "little incentive to create new jobs," so high unemployment persists.

But Ignatius says several questions arise: "What's so great about work?" some Europeans might ask. "Why not trade a few percentage points of growth for a better life? Why not assign an economic value to leisure, to better evaluate the choices Europe has made?"

He says one French publisher points out that business has never been so good. With France's new 35-hour work week, "People finally have time to read."


Staff writer Remy Ourdan discusses the sporadic but increasing Iraqi resistance. He cites an Iraqi colonel, Hamid Muhammad of Madaen, as saying the anger against Anglo-American forces is growing. It would be a mistake to assume that the resistance is put up only by supporters of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party, says the colonel; a popular resistance movement is growing due to the misbehavior of U.S. forces.

During the war, few civilian Iraqis fought the Anglo-American forces because they were hoping for a better life. But today, everyone accuses the Americans of not keeping their promises.

Ourdan goes on to note that an independent British journalist, Richard Wild, was killed on 5 July by a passerby on a Baghdad street near the university. It seems there was no altercation between the journalist and his killer, Ourdan says -- which would make Wild the first civilian killed simply for being a Westerner since U.S. President George W. Bush announced the end of major combat operations in Iraq on 1 May.