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Western Press Review: Russia, the West And Strategic Divergence; Renewed Pledges At Ohrid For The Balkans

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 30 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Much of the discussion in major Western media outlets centers on Russia's refusal yesterday to ratify the Kyoto Protocol at the World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere in Moscow. Other debate focuses more broadly on Russian-Western relations and strategic interests, paying for Iraq's reconstruction, and a renewed pledge for cooperation in the Balkans.


A "Financial Times" editorial criticizes Russia's decision not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol at the World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere yesterday in Moscow. The Kyoto agreement is designed to come into effect only if it is ratified by countries responsible for 55 percent of greenhouse gas emissions; since the United States and Australia have refused to endorse it, Russia's ratification is necessary.

Russia has decided to abuse this pivotal position, the paper says. And in fact, the Kyoto treaty "is a gift to Russia." Because its emission levels have fallen along with its industrial production, Russia need make no further cuts but could benefit from selling up to $10 billion worth of its extra emissions permits to other nations. Thus Russian "stalling" is hard to explain, but the paper says "the most likely explanation is simple brinkmanship." Moscow must believe that "the treaty is worth more to others than to Russia."

The Kyoto Protocol's real significance lies in providing a framework for the international institutions necessary to tackle climate change. If Russia withdraws, these still-fragile mechanisms -- such as emissions-trading and cross-border investing -- could severely suffer. Further delaying Kyoto's ratification "hurts Russia most and the EU [must] be willing to call its bluff." Brussels should "[reiterate] the benefits for Russia, while emphasizing that further sweeteners will not be forthcoming. [The] sooner it is clear there is nothing to be gained holding out, the sooner Russia will ratify the treaty."


An item in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" discusses suggestions that the cost of rebuilding Iraq should eventually be repaid by Baghdad's new oil revenues. The "Journal" calls such proposals "shortsighted in the extreme," and suggests that it is "not a good idea to charge Iraqis for spending over which coalition authorities, not an Iraqi government, will have more or less total control." Moreover, Iraq's massive debt, incurred during the rule of Saddam Hussein, may total as much as $130 billion. The United States "should be working to get the likes of France and Russia to forgive at least some of these odious loans, not adding to the burden."

The Iraqi Governing Council has already passed an economic plan "providing for open trade, and a pro-growth, flat-rate 15 percent tax on corporate and individual income." Plans are also anticipated that will "give all Iraqis a stake in the success of their new society through the creation of an oil trust, some of which would go to fund public goods like education and some of which would be paid out directly to individuals." The "Journal" calls this an "enlightened" way to give Iraqis "a stake in this transition to self-rule." And these plans would be impossible if Iraq were further crippled by debt. Until the country is back on its feet, short-term spending by the U.S. is simply indispensable.


A second piece in the European edition of "The Wall Street Journal" comments on last weekend's Camp David summit between U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Their meeting "showed that no amount of personal rapport can bridge the gap in strategic outlook that separates Russia and the West." Putin refused to end Russian support for a civilian-use nuclear plant in Iran "or make any significant concessions" to Washington. The United States has long worried that Iran might use technology acquired with Russian help to eventually build a nuclear weapon. Putin promised only to send a "clear but respectful" message to Tehran.

The "Journal" says the "test of Russia's sincerity in the global war on terror lies in Iran. A nation sitting on the world's second-biggest natural gas reserves doesn't exactly need nuclear plants to meet its electricity needs. Unless proven otherwise," says the paper, it's "safe to assume" that Tehran's conservative clerics "are dreaming about a bomb down the road." The paper asks, "Which side does Russia want to be on?"


A number of leading officials from the Balkans met on the shores of Lake Ohrid, Macedonia on 27-28 September to take another step on the long road to membership in NATO and the European Union. Writing in "The Washington Times," Tod Lindberg says NATO membership is usually seen as the first step, because fulfilling all the requirements of EU membership "takes time and huge reform efforts across a vast array of policy areas." NATO membership is "a certification of security and stability that in turn paves the way for economic development."

Lindberg goes on to question whether the vision of a free and yet united Europe, bound together by common membership in both the European Union and NATO, is a realistic future for the continent. Will this lofty vision "extend to all of Europe, including the Balkans in the southeast?" he asks. "Or will 'Europe' refer to a core of nations fully integrated into the Euro-Atlantic, along with a periphery, in a kind of twilight zone of underdevelopment, stagnation and the potential for the recurrence of instability and violence?"

Representatives at the Ohrid conference pledged mutual support and cooperation on issues of regional concern, including sexual trafficking. Lindberg says the nations of the former Yugoslavia "have had enough trouble from their past." He urges the United States and Europe "to avoid decisions that will keep them mired in it."


A commentary in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" discusses attitudes toward the Kyoto Protocol on curbing global warming now that yet another conference, this time in Moscow, is in progress (23 September 23 to 3 October).

Kyoto is a pact agreed on by governments at a 1997 United Nations conference in Kyoto, Japan, to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by developed countries by 5.2 percent of 1990 levels during the five-year period from 2008-2012.

The commentary says whatever differences exist between U.S. President George W. Bush and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin "with regard to climate protection, they are at one in both heart and soul." In fact, the commentary says, Putin's speech in Moscow at the UN Convention on Climate Change could "very well have been uttered by Bush, which is to say the Kyoto Protocol will only be ratified if it does not infringe upon national interests. Russia is only interested in international emissions trading should it prove sufficiently profitable."

The commentary says this is regrettable, but adds that action on climate change is possible without the implementation of the protocol. It is important for people to realize that economies can be run successfully on less fuel and that the techniques developed for the future will pay off eventually. "A failure to make progress in these areas will only render the Protocol a useless piece of paper," it says. But "the snail's pace of progress in ratifying the Kyoto Protocol is no excuse for inaction on the national level."


David Ignatius of "The Washington Post" discusses recent revisions to the plan for creating the New Iraqi Army. A first 700-member battalion will complete its two-month training course and be honored with a graduation ceremony on 4 October. "The heart of the revised plan is to build the new army quickly around salvageable remnants of the old one, rather than create it from scratch," he says. The Anglo-American occupation will seek help from the old Ba'athist military apparatus, perhaps even including Iraq's former Defense Minister, General Sultan Hashem Ahmed. Ignatius says this plan is, in effect, "an accelerated exit strategy." The new army should comprise a total of 40,000 troops and be ready in about a year. It will then be able to "take over from coalition troops basic tasks such as guarding Iraq's borders, escorting convoys and maintaining checkpoints."

Ignatius says the most controversial part of the new plan, whether in Washington or Iraq, "is likely to be its reliance on officers from the old Iraqi Army. That marks a sharp break with the strategy of wholesale 'de-Baathification' that has been pressed by Ahmed Chalabi," a member of the Iraqi Governing Council and formerly of the Iraqi National Congress, an exile opposition group. But Ignatius says this revised plan for Iraq's army suggests that the U.S. administration now "understands that time is short, and that it can't reinvent Iraq from the ground up. It must make compromises, and work with the material at hand. That pragmatism about postwar Iraq is long overdue," he says.


The French daily "Le Monde" says Europe "is less and less popular in France." It is a sad assessment that France, one of the founding members of the European Community, has no more europhiles left in its political ranks. The paper says there are many reasons for the change. Europe disappointed; it no longer coincides with the original vision of a club of nations, approximately equal in social and economic status, joining together in order to maximize influence on the international scene. EU expansion to 25 members undoubtedly marks a turning point. Perhaps there is a historical or moral need for this expanded Europe, but it diverges ever more from the original vision of the French europhile. The decision to expand killed a certain "community spirit" that was already struggling to survive with just 15 members.

European institutions have also disappointed, the paper says. The European Parliament, Council, and Commission are the three pillars of EU institutions and form a complex machinery. But the borders of their competencies are unclear, rendering them opaque and unintelligible. "Le Monde" says Europe "is unpopular because it is a convenient scapegoat, for the political right as well as the left."

But all things considered, the theoretical value of Europe is essential. France without Europe would be in a worse situation. And to deny this, says the paper, would be "irresponsible."


The tenuous situation in Afghanistan is the subject of a commentary in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung." The paper discusses the drafting of a new constitution, which it says "is a difficult but realizable compromise between the indigenous traditions in the country and Western values."

The preamble describes Afghanistan as an Islamic state whose laws should be orientated toward religion. However, it stops short of imposing conservative Islamic Shariah law, a contentious issue of debate. The discussion of Shariah law met with an outcry from abroad and threats of curtailing financial aid.

There is more tension in considering the powers of the president whose appointment should be the result of a general election, the paper says. But presidential powers will be limited by a prime minister, chosen by the president but confirmed by parliament. If the president represents the majority Pashtuns, then the premier must come from a different national group.

The functioning of these checks and balances depends on the will of all factions to share authority fairly and submit to the central authority residing in Kabul. The paper comments that considering warlords in the provinces are still a mighty force and Tajiks exert significant influence, it seems the Afghan tradition will continue that "politics are not implemented by words, but by weapons."

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