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Press Review: Russian Membership In Council Of Europe

Prague, Jan. 29 (RFE/RL) - Western press commentary today focuses on politics in Russia and last week's admission of Russia into the Council of Europe.

An editorial in the New York Times today criticizes Boris Yeltsin for recent cabinet changes which, the paper says, "distance him from (painful reform measures) to placate voters." The paper says that Washington owes "Yeltsin a blunt condemnation of his drift away from economic reform." The New York Times concludes: "The Clinton administration must make clear that (relaxing) the tough monetary and fiscal policies that have brought inflation down... would throw the (Russian) economy into a free fall that was only recently stopped by four years of painful reform."

The Wall Street Journal today calls Boris Yeltsin "bipolar." It says that to appease voters Yeltsin "has been getting rid of reformers faster than you can say do svidanya" but at the same time he tells western journalists that "all discussions about abandoning economic reform are a bluff." The Wall Street Journal warns that the danger of this bipolar approach is that Yelstin is "legitimizing (his) opposition's objections to reform by firing those who fought for it" and could thereby lose the presidential election.

A news analysis in the Financial Times of London today observes that the recent appointment of the former chief of the Avtovaz car company, Vladimir Kadannikov, as first deputy prime minister in charge of economic affairs "confirmed Mr Yeltsin's growing conviction that the slump in (Russia's) industrial production was a greater evil than high inflation." But correspondent John Thornhill warns: "By appointing (Kadannikov), Boris Yeltsin has gambled that the man who makes the notoroiusly unreliable Lada cars is the right person to steer Russia's fragile economy."

Turning to Russia's admittance into the Council of Europe, the London Times today calls Russian membership in the human-rights body "a gain for Russia (and) a gain for Europe." The paper's editorial says: "Last week's vote has been hotly contested...yet the balance of wisdom lies with those who swallowed their doubts and voted yes." It continues: "As a (council) member, Russia must ratify within a year a number of conventions on human rights, on safeguards for ethnic minorities, and on torture." the London Times concludes that the conventions will "give greater solidity to... Russia's constitution" bringing a greater social stability to Russia "which will affect every country in Europe."

A commentary in Britain's Observer today sharply criticizes the Council of Europe's decision to admit Russia. Adrian Hamilton writes that "the rationalization... is that Europe will achieve far more by bringing (Russia) closer to the West than by isloating (it)." But he objects: "The council is about specific (human rights) aims and Russia does not comply with them." Hamilton concludes that "far from moving toward human rights, everything in Russia - treatment of prisoners, arrests without trial, suppression of dissent, and persection of minorities - moves in the opposite direction."