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Western Press Review: The Bush-Putin Summit And Bilateral Relations, Iraqi Security, And Stability In Kosovo

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 29 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Media analysis today and over the weekend focused on the Camp David summit between the Russian and U.S. presidents, seeking a political solution to deteriorating security in Iraq, protecting international aid workers around the world, and maintaining a tenuous peace in Kosovo, among other issues.


In a contribution to "The Moscow Times," Nikolas Gvosdev of the Nixon Center compares meetings between U.S. President George W. Bush and Russia's President Vladimir Putin to periodic holiday getaways taken by a couple "seeking to re-ignite the spark in their marriage." Gvosdev says: "No one doubts that the two presidents have an excellent personal rapport. The problem is not that the leaders cannot find common ground on issues ranging from combating international terrorism to stopping nuclear proliferation. It is that neither president has been successful in translating their personal relationship into effective, broad-based cooperation between Russian and U.S. institutions." While there has been some progress in recent years, major obstacles remain "that prevent the full consummation of the relationship."

The Putin administration is still unable to "provide firm assurances that Russian state and private entities are not engaging in activities that impinge upon fundamental U.S. interests, such as supplying critical technologies to rogue states." Thus, Russia's "'trust deficit' with Americans will persist." On the other hand, many in Russia feel Moscow has made substantive concessions to Washington since the 11 September 2001 attacks for little in return.

"Camp David exposed the limits of personal diplomacy," Gvosdev says. "[Vague] declarations about cooperation" take the place of "substantive developments" in U.S.-Russian relations. "As long as the relationship is substantively confined to the contours of the two presidential administrations, it cannot sink deep roots in either society."


Writing in "The Washington Post," Jessica Mathews of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says the situation in Iraq today is a reminder "of the obvious: There is no military solution to politically inspired violence by locals against foreigners. What was true for the French in Algeria, [the] Russians in Chechnya and the Israelis in the West Bank is proving true for the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq."

The security situation in Iraq is worsening, she says, and the only solution is political rather than military. The "most urgent" priority "is to address the feeling among Iraq's Sunnis that they have no future. [With] no political party and what many feel to be no voice in the present government, Sunnis feel disenfranchised. It is no coincidence that the worst violence is in Sunni regions."

Mathews goes on to say the current plan to proceed from a U.S.-led occupation to drafting an Iraqi constitution to holding national elections that will finally establish Iraqi sovereignty "forces a completely unrealistic pace of constitution-writing in order to meet the pressures of Iraq." She notes it took seven years to draft the U.S. Constitution, and says any draft document that is hurriedly adopted by Iraqis "would be a piece of paper with little meaning, seeded with political land mines that would explode" soon after the Anglo-American occupation left. The solution is to put in place an Iraqi interim government, she says, that would be "sovereign in name."


An editorial in Sunday's "Chicago Tribune" remarks that recent criticisms of U.S. efforts in Iraq have often cited Kosovo as an example of how the UN might lead a multilateral mission in the Persian Gulf nation. Kosovo has been a UN protectorate since June 1999 after the NATO bombing campaign ended a Serbian assault on ethnic Albanians.

Four years later, "though the NATO intervention can be credited with halting a cruel pattern that amounted to ethnic cleansing, the aftermath has not been a complete success story." Critics of the U.S.-led occupation in Iraq might pause to consider how the international community "is faltering in the multilateral rebuilding of Kosovo." Kosovo's parliament "passes declarations of independence with regularity, while the Serbian government maintains that it will never approve sovereignty for the province," leaving its final status the source of much contentious debate. "Resentment among the citizens of Kosovo is building as living conditions fail to improve."

The paper says: "Building order out of chaos is not easy. Yet some members of the United Nations have taken perverse pleasure that the [Anglo-American] coalition's months-old rebuilding effort in Iraq has struggled to succeed. The UN's mission in Kosovo is now four years on, and it is, in every sense of the word, a struggle to succeed."


Columnist Bob Herbert of "The New York Times" discusses the case of Arjan Erkel, a 33-year-old Dutch medical aid worker stationed in Daghestan for Doctors Without Borders (MSF). Erkel was kidnapped on 12 August 2002 by three gunmen as Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officials looked on. As U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin met at Camp David over the weekend, Herbert says MSF hopes "international pressure on Putin will lead to an intensified effort to secure Erkel's release." Thus far, Russia "has shown no eagerness to vigorously investigate the Erkel kidnapping."

Erkel's case "is an example of the tremendous danger humanitarian workers are encountering in many parts of the world. In the most troublesome hot spots, [the] danger has become so great that lifesaving services have had to be curtailed." Humanitarian aid workers "do not want to be seen as extensions of a government's foreign policy or military action. They are not armed. Under international law, host countries -- or occupying powers -- are responsible for their safety. But governments frequently see aid workers as nuisances, or impediments to political or military initiatives."

He says Chechnya "and, to a lesser extent, Iraq are disaster areas, and the suffering of innocent civilians in both places is profound. More, not less, humanitarian aid is desperately needed." Russian and U.S. leaders should now "affirm their commitment to the protection of humanitarian workers in the regions for which they are responsible."


The massive blackout that hit Italy over the weekend, cutting power in nearly all of the country, is widely discussed in Germany's news today. Norbert Lossau, commenting in "Die Welt," points to the recent failure in electricity supplies to New York, followed by London, Copenhagen, Sweden, and now Italy and parts of Switzerland. Lossau says, "somewhere there is a technical glitch in the complex energy system -- and then there is a chain reaction."

It always seemed that such a crisis was highly unlikely, but since electricity cannot be stored, the supply is "always only as good as the quality of the infrastructure: the high-tension cables, transformer stations and transmission process."

However, Lossau says since the liberalization of the power-grid system all countries have been saving on investing, for "there seems no reason to invest in a competitive infrastructure that also helps rival enterprises."

This situation, says Lossau, will probably lead to ever-greater decentralization, whereby people living in their own houses, companies, and hospitals will invest in their own generators. Correspondingly, public energy supplies will degenerate, become less and less reliable, and at times will be subject to extensive breakdowns.


France's "Le Monde" discusses the prospect that Israel will build a wall to physically separate its territories from Palestinian territories of the West Bank. Since the launching of the second intifada three years ago, the paper says Israel lives under the constant threat of terrorist attacks. Periodic massacres of civilians take place in buses, restaurants, pizzerias, hotels, and all manner of other public places. And always the goal seems to be to kill the maximum number of Israelis. Faced with this inhumanity, the paper asks rhetorically, how would an EU nation respond?

The Israelis are now considering erecting a wall to protect themselves. Originally this was an idea that came from the Israeli left. Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin once said that, for a while at least, perhaps the two sides should be separated, for good fences make good neighbors. A wall following the contours of the pre-1967 borders would presage the eventual borders of a Palestinian state.

But the problem today is that the plan chosen by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon does not follow this logic. He wants to cut deep into the West Bank in order to guard Israeli settlements that the paper says are part of a de facto policy of colonialization. Sharon's wall merely adds to the network of checkpoints and military zones set up to defend the settlements, the paper says. His plan seems to be to carve up the West Bank, transforming Palestinian territories into a series of disconnected islands between which Palestinians cannot freely travel -- an "archipelago that can never constitute a viable state."


An analysis for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting by Almaty-based journalist Amanjol Smagulov (a pseudonym) discusses the political ambitions of Dariga Nazarbaeva, eldest daughter of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev. Nazarbaeva recently announced that she wishes to transform her Asar movement into a viable political party. The author says some regional observers imagine that this could be a first step on Nazarbaeva's path to the 2004 parliamentary elections, "and maybe to the presidency itself."

"Nazarbaeva has always used her privileged position to the full," Smagulov writes. "She became director of the Khabar news agency in 1994, soon turned it into a media empire and a leading mouthpiece of official ideology." But her recent efforts "to establish herself as a pro-democracy figure and champion of press freedom have been largely greeted with suspicion and derision from the independent media, opposition activists and non-governmental organizations."

Nazarbaeva is trying to present herself as a moderate, and perhaps trying "to have the best of both worlds -- using her connections and influence with the ruling regime, while trying to appeal to her father's critics by showing a somewhat softer persona which is more open to compromise."


Stefan Ulrich in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" discusses the prospect of reforming the United Nations to become an organization with more clout, although Ulrich says that "wise words" to this effect "are not likely to be followed by deeds."

"With all the efforts at reform the UN will never succeed in guaranteeing peace on earth as it is laid down in its charter. All it can do, as was shown by U.S. policy in Iraq, is to refuse to participate." But as Secretary-General Kofi Annan pointed out, "the Security Council cannot be satisfied with the role of a spirit that merely unites. Even if it does not want to reform then it has to test whether its rules are still adequate."

The United Nations functions according to a principle of consensus, not according to orders and obedience. That makes the UN strong and weak at the same time. The club is strong where it brings benefits: in humanitarian aid, and in the fight against hunger, sickness, illiteracy. It is weak where it has to oppose some of its own members on issues of war and peace. And it is particularly weak when the U.S. stands in opposition to it, he says.

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