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Western Press Review: The Evolving Iraqi Resistance, Putin's Economic Legacy, Belarus And The Future Of Europe

Prague, 25 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics up for discussion in the press today are the evolving nature of the Iraqi resistance; the latest interethnic violence in Kosovo; Russian President Vladimir Putin's economic legacy; the European Union, Belarus, and the future of Europe; and the targeted assassination this week of Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.


Iraq continues to be plagued by internal instability, and this "bodes ill" for the chances that security can be maintained through the scheduled 30 June transfer of power from U.S. forces to an interim Iraqi administration. An analysis by S.L.V. Gorka says the insurgents targeting U.S.-led coalition forces in the country "seem to be becoming more sophisticated in their operational methods." The coalition is now facing dangers "of a more subtle and serious nature" than the common rocket-propelled grenade attacks seen in the past, particularly the increasing use of culvert bombs.

Gorka says another telling development is "the growth in audacity and professionalism" of the insurgents' conventional attacks. An attack on an Iraqi police station in Fallujah earlier this year entailed it being "stormed by a platoon-sized force of fighters, in daylight and from several directions at once."

Gorka remarks, "That the insurgents not only feel comfortable moving in such numbers, but that they can maintain discipline operationally among so many fighters, clearly separates them from a conventional terrorist force." Terrorist movements are generally limited to individual assassinations or small-group operations, "but not head-on synchronized confrontations."

Gorka says although "the smoking gun of Iraqi-Al-Qaeda links has yet to be found," this evolution in tactics raises the question of whether the Iraqi insurgency is primarily an indigenous resistance force. But perhaps the more pressing question is "how fast the indigenous extremist religious and nationalistic forces are growing and what skills they are acquiring. If these groups flourish, there will be no need for external help and Iraq will remain unstable."


Boris Kagarlitsky of the Institute of Globalization Studies writes: "Pogroms have once more rocked the Balkans." Kosovar Albanians destroyed Serbian homes and churches last week in riots that followed reports that three ethnic Albanian boys had drowned after being chased into a river by Serbian youths. The violence left at least 28 people dead and was the worst seen in the province since the March 1999 NATO-led bombing campaign brought former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic's ethnic cleansing campaign to an end.

But Kagarlitsky says throughout last week's clashes, "The enlightened West looked on with a mixture of bewilderment and indifference. People have become so accustomed to humanitarian catastrophes in the Balkans over the past decade that they now regard them as par for the course."

He reminds us that the crisis "is not unfolding in the midst of a civil war, [nor] as the result of the nationalist policies of [Milosevic]." This latest pogrom "occurred in a province that has been run by the UN and controlled by NATO troops since 1999. It occurred after the creation of transitional structures in accordance with Western guidelines, after elections were held for a new parliament, after countless conferences devoted to rebuilding the [region]. It is now obvious that none of this has worked," he says. "Western intervention has not solved the problem, it has merely modified it."

Kagarlitsky says some of the West's interventionist policies in the Balkans of the late 1990s were "tragically and criminally wrong." But he adds that in conflicts like this, "there are no good guys, just the bad and the very bad. And determining who is who with any certainty is impossible."


In a contribution to "The New York Times," Sergei Guriev of the New Economic School in Moscow discusses Russian President Vladimir Putin's likely economic legacy.

Although this month's presidential elections in Russia were widely criticized as unfair, there is little doubt that Putin would have won a fair election on the strength of his economic record alone. Despite a global economic slowdown, "Russia's gross domestic product has grown spectacularly during [Putin's] tenure, at an average rate of 6.5 percent annually. Mr. Putin has presided over four consecutive years of budget and trade surpluses. Foreign debt has declined to 30 percent from 50 percent of GDP; [and] foreign currency reserves have tripled."

Moreover, Guriev says, capital outflow "has finally come to a stop."

And contrary to widespread opinion, the benefits of these trends extend beyond the rich. The average Russian household "is now 53 percent better off in real terms than four years ago," Guriev says. Inequality is still pervasive, "but poverty and unemployment have declined by one-third."

To some extent, Putin has been lucky. Oil prices remain extraordinarily high, and -- according to some estimates -- may account for as much as one-half to two-thirds of Russia's recent growth. But Guriev says long-term economic growth cannot continue to come from the natural resource industries. The manufacturing and service sectors must undergo structural reforms, while a reorganization of the educational and financial systems has been put off throughout Putin's first term in office.

Such restructuring will demand an "honest, competent and accountable bureaucracy," says Guriev. Unfortunately, he says, the "notoriously inefficient and corrupt" Russian bureaucracy "will not willingly release its grip on the Russian economy."


Former Czech President Vaclav Havel discusses May's eastward enlargement of the European Union in a contribution to the British "Independent." Havel says the former Soviet accession countries were ruled "just 15 years ago by totalitarian regimes suppressing basic human rights and freedoms." These countries "will now become a part of the first multinational community based on truly democratic principles, sharing common values as well as the responsibility for the future of the whole continent."

Belarus will soon lie on the eastern border of this pan-democratic European bloc. And yet, 10 years of autocratic rule by Alyaksandr Lukashenka "have brought the country into deep political isolation." Belarusian citizens "are on a daily basis exposed to violations of their basic rights, such as the right to freely disseminate information or express their opinions."

But a number of activists and groups oppose corruption, and may sow the seeds of a future of "free decision-making that may gradually develop into free elections." The rising generation sees its future in the European Union, not in Belarus's traditional ally, Russia.

"I believe that the future of Belarus is firmly linked with the future of Europe."
This minority struggles on, despite the fact that its influence seems "marginal" and "its chances of achieving better conditions minimal." Havel encourages the international community to "isolate official Belarusian representatives" and "make available as many of their programs and funds to those who are keen to cooperate."

This is the only chance for change, he says. "I believe that the future of Belarus is firmly linked with the future of Europe," writes Havel. And cooperation with the pro-European aspects of Belarusian society may lead Belarus to someday experience "a triumph of democracy and [become] a part of a united Europe."