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Press Review: Focus on Chechnya; Unrest in Russia

Prague, Jan. 18 (RFE/RL) - Although one newspaper declares that "Chechnya is not the West's cause," press commentary and analysis remain focused on the separatist Chechen rebellion and related events.

The British newspaper The Independent says in an editorial today: "It's probably a bit late for (the West) to get morally high handed" about the Chechnya conflict." The Independent contends: "Glibly condemning Russia's intentions in the Caucasus is a luxury. Not one foreign power formally endorses the pretensions to independence of a Chechen clique notable for gangsterism and corruption. Chechnya remains in international law a part of the Russian Federation. The awful example of Yugoslavia should be at the front of our minds whenever we are tempted to toy with encouraging the break-up of federations to create states based on ethnic identity."

In an analysis today in Britain's Financial Times, Chrystia Freeland in Moscow notes the hijacking of a ferry in Turkish waters. She writes, "Already, the fact that the Chechen struggle has gone beyond the former Soviet Union has made it harder for outsiders to ignore." She says: "With the hijacking..., Chechens joined the list of peoples whose struggle for a separate state has led to ugly acts of international terrorism. The latest twist in the Caucasian drama raised the prospect that Chechen separatists will emulate Palestinians, Kurds, and Irish Republicans and wage a long, terrorist war for independence which recognizes no borders." Freeland adds: "Chechnya's fiercely committed, but outnumbered separatist fighters have the motive, and possess many of the means, to turn to international terrorism."

The German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung says today in a signed editorial: "One can almost be grateful to the Chechen commandos for hijacking the ferry. (They) copied the hijacking of the Italian Achille Lauro liner by Palestinian guerrillas 11 years ago -- casting themselves in the same light as other coldblooded terrorists. This comes at an opportune time, since part of the Western public is glorifying the rebels as freedom fighters even after their raids on hospitals and like installations. That's nothing less than terrorism."

In a signed editorial in today's French daily Liberation, Foreign Editor Jacques Almaric says that the Chechen crisis "foreshadows new upheavals in the the former Soviet empire that could affect not only the seat of power (in Moscow) but also the stability of the entire region." Almaric says: "Boris Yeltsin appears to be the first victim of humiliations, which he did not know how - or was unable - to prevent. Whatever the outcome of the battle for Pervomayskoye or the hijacking of the (Turkish) ferry, both incidents will do him no good.... Yeltsin's political adversaries, whether communist or nationalist, are already exploiting the incidents to dissuade him from running for a second term as President in the June election."

In an editorial today, the Swiss Neue Zuercher Zeitung calls Chechnya, "Yeltsin's Afghanistan." The editorial says: "One point should be clear. The mass hostage takings of innocent civilians by Chechen commandos are terrorist acts.... Such actions don't serve the interest of the Chechens. But condemning the actions is not justifying... Yeltsin's decision, using the military to overpower the rebels, to accept the death of many innocent people.... Yeltsin -- looking at the presidential election campaign ahead -- apparently wants to demonstrate the image of a potent leader not allowing himself to be blackmailed by wild terrorists."

Writing from Moscow in The Washington Post today, Lee Hockstader says that Russia's leaders have sacrificed credibility in a transparent propaganda campaign. He says: "When Russian forces unleashed a withering assault Monday on (Pervomayskoye), they said they were forced to act because the rebels had begun executing... some of their captives. Since then, it has become apparent from first-hand accounts that there was no sign that the Chechens were killing hostages. Like much of what the authorities have said about the fighting in southern Russia this week, the official word seemed part of a flood of distorted, conflicting and concocted 'information' from Kremlin authorities.... The truth has been so abused by federal officials that Russia's independent Interfax news agency put out a statement yesterday essentially disowning the material it is transmitting.... Some Russian journalists, upset at what they call a blatant disinformation campaign, have made acid remarks about the authorities on the air and on the newspaper front pages."

Britain's The Daily Telegraph says today in an editorial: "The savage assault on Chechen rebels in Pervomayskoye is further evidence that Boris Yeltsin is in full flight before the Communists and ultra-nationalists who fared best in last month's elections to the Russian Parliament.... At this juncture, Russia needs statesman-like leadership.... Rather than a communist or fascist panacea, Russians are seeking efficient government. That, a weakened President is increasingly failing to provide."

The Wall Street Journal Europe says today in an editorial: "In the summer of 1994, Russia's voucher privatization program was considered a major success story and its chief architect, Anatoly Chubais, was cast as something of a hero for pulling it off. Yet Mr. Yeltsin unceremoniously dismissed his (First Deputy Prime Minister) and reformer-in-chief Tuesday, yielding to criticism from his opponents that Mr. Chubais had made big 'mistakes' in privatization. If only more Russian leaders would make Mr. Chubais's kind of mistakes.... With each sacrifice by Mr. Yeltsin to the insatiable gods of reaction, the reform process becomes more arduous, the results less certain, and the country's political stability more in question. That's no way to win an election."

John Thornhill, writing from Moscow in the Financial Times, says: "There was no denying the sense of shock yesterday caused by Mr. Chubais's departure among Russia's youthful, but dwindling, band of economic reformers -- and some may decide to quit the government as a result.... Mr. Yeltsin's aides were quick to emphasize (that the) removal did not signify a reversal in economic policy. Nevertheless, the President's economic aides made clear there would be a change of economic priorities."