By Stephanie Baker and Fred Woefel
Prague, Jan. 26 (RFE/RL) - Russia is again dominating the editorial pages of today's western newspapers. Commentators are
looking at the fate of Russian reform efforts after the appointment
of Vladimir Kadannikov to the post of First Deputy Prime Minister in
charge of the economy. They are also assessing yesterday's decision
to admit Russia into the Council of Europe.
In a news analysis today in the British daily Guardian,
David Hearst writes: "The appointment of Vladimir Kadannikov, the
director of AutoVaz, Russia's biggest and most troubled car maker, as
first deputy prime minister, was the clearest sign yet of the rise of
the industrial lobby in the government. It wants controls on energy
prices, tariffs on foreign imports and the end of punitive taxation."
Hearst argues that "Mr. Kadannikov's appointment will further isolate
Viktor Chernomyrdin, the prime minister." He notes that Kadannikov
openly criticized Chernomyrdin earlier this week for being out of
touch with industry.
An editorial in today's Financial Times of London, entitled "Russia
Steps Backwards," says: "Westerners with an interest in Russian
economic success must come to terms with the fact that the country
has effectively acquired a new government -- with new priorities.
They should not cling to the hope that the shifts in policy and
personnel since the December parliamentary elections only signal
changes in style, not substance." The editorial argues: "President
Boris Yeltsin has sought to encourage such wishful thinking.... But
there is little evidence to suggest that the new cabinet members will
be any more committed to transparency and economic pluralism in the
macroeconomic realm -- quite the reverse." The paper continues:
"People should be wary of putting too much faith in Mr. Yeltsin's
very questionable economic judgement in the run-up to the election."
The Financial Times concludes that westerners should not "continue to
presume that Mr. Yeltsin should be supported at all costs, on the
assumption that the West's interests in a stable, pluralistic market
economy in Russia is one that he -- and he alone -- shares."
In a news analysis in today's London Times, Richard Beeston
observes that the appointment of Kadannikov "although predicted, was
greeted with widespread disappointment in the business community." He
says: "The threat of a U-turn in Russian economic policy, away from
reform and back towards protectionism and government subsidies had
already been signalled." Beeston writes: "The Kremlin's apparent
policy change seems aimed at wooing disaffected voters away from the
Communists.... However, the tactic of subsidising loss making
industries, increasing pensions, and freezing reforms could backfire
A news analysis by Michael Gordon in today's New York Times calls Kadannikov's appointment "the most vivid display yet of
(Yeltsin's) disenchantment with economic reform." Gordon argues that
the policy shift "has led the Russian government to issue sharply
divergent statements to Western governments and to its own
electorate. With one eye on foreign investors and the International
Monetary Fund... Yeltsin and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin have
insisted that the basic direction of economic reform will not
change." But he points out that when Yeltsin addresses the electorate
he has been "unsparing" in his criticism of reform. Gordon says: "The
worry for Western governments is that Yeltsin is putting political
expediency ahead of sound reform."
Phil Reeves, writing today in the British daily Independent, notes that the appointment of Kadannikov is "certain to fuel fears
among the free market lobby that the embattled President is willing
to sacrifice Russia's tough, if painful, anti-inflationary strategy
in order to win support among an estranged electorate." He writes
that President Yeltsin seems to have two aims: "On the one hand, he
seems to want to convince reformers that his latest moves are merely
vote winning tactics; on the other, he is clearly hoping to overhaul
his image, presenting himself as a decisive leader who will slay the
dragons of corruption and poverty. Whether cosmetic or not the shift
has been nothing if not eventful."
An opinion piece by Alan Philips in today's Daily Telegraph,
entitled "West Shivers as the Iceman Cometh," takes a long look at
policy changes in the Kremlin as exemplified by newly-appointed Foreign
Minister Yevgeny Primakov. Philips notes that American foreign policy
commentators have called him "the 'Iceman' who beneath a veneer of
charm 'displays a constant and deep distrust of U.S. motives in
foreign affairs'." Philips acknowledges that the contrast with his
predecessor Andrei Kozyrev is stark, writing: "Mr. Kozyrev was
smiling and soft-spoken. Mr. Primakov is more authoritarian, with the
stamp of the Soviet elite on him." But he contends that: "compared with
some of the dinosaurs occupying positions of power (since) the
liberals have been sent packing, he seems quite reasonable,
English-speaking and with a broad knowledge of the outside world."
Philips writes: "His career shows that he is a man who could work
under different regimes but who flourished under Mr. Gorbachev's
liberalisation." Nevertheless, writes Philips, Primakov "comes to the
job with his nationalist credentials well-established." He says: "A
hardline policy has been in place for some time. Mr Primakov is just
a more credible figure than Mr. Kozyrev to implement it." Philips
concludes that Primakov's "aura proclaims to ordinary Russians that the 'age of unconditional surrender to the West' ...is over."
In an opinion piece in today's Financial Times, Janusz Reiter examines new challenges to NATO expansion in light of the
cabinet reshuffle in Moscow. He writes: "The hardening of Russian
policy is a fact. Mr. Primakov, as the head of Russian diplomacy,
personifies this change. His initial statements, including those on
Poland, do not leave any room for illusions." Reiter recalls recent
statements by Primakov that while Moscow would not consider any
military intervention in Poland, Russia could not accept Poland's
accession to NATO. Reiter says: "This language is tough but clear.
The west has not used such tough language for a long time." He
continues: "What are at stake are geopolitical interests. Moscow
wants political room to maneuver in central Europe.... those who are
interested in a good relationship between Europe and Russia should
be doing everything in their power to prevent the historic triangle of
tension between Russia, Poland and Germany from resurfacing." Reiter
concludes: "Mr. Primakov's harsh language is not necessarily a bad
omen. In this 'window of opportunity,' real interests are being
negotiated and niceties do not need to be exchanged."
Jean Quatremer, writing today in the French daily Liberation, looks at yesterday's decision to admit Russia into the Council of Europe. Quatremer notes that Russia was accepted into the Strasbourg-based organization despite criticism from some corners about human rights abuses in Chechnya. Quatremer says Moscow's moral scruples are "well worth covering... with a fig leaf." He says: "The assembly decided that it was more worthwhile to admit the sick man of Europe into the sanitorium of democracy, which the Council of Europe is supposed to be, in the words of the Bulgarian socialist (ex-communist) Philip Bokov, than to isolate and risk strengthening the forces of nationalism and communism in Russia."
A commentary in the Swiss daily "Neue Zuercher Zeitung"
uses the headline: "The Council of Europe 'Swallows' Russia." The paper says that the institution "has taken on too much by admitting Russia,
especially at a time when it is visible to everyone that this big
nation does not belong in this organisation." It says: "The
parliamentarians in Strasbourg -- advised by their governments --
found it justified to give Russia democratic blessings and a show of confidence. One can only suspect that Paris, Bonn and the other
European Union governments were led by the principle of 'polititical
economy,' and believed that admitting Russia would not cost anything."