Prague, Feb. 1 (RFE/RL) - Western press commentary focuses today on events and politics in Russia. Newspapers also are looking at politics in Poland and in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Several papers today comment on the U.S. decision to support Russia in its bid for a new loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) worth some $9 billion. Laurent Zecchini, a correspondent for France's Le Monde, writes today that the U.S. support represents a personal vote of confidence by President Bill Clinton for Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Zecchini says: "Despite the dismissal of many governmental figures who embodied the process of economic reforms in Russia, the U.S. still has confidence that Boris Yeltsin will continue in that direction." Zecchini concludes: "That is the unambiguous message delivered by Bill Clinton yesterday."
A news analysis in Britain's Daily Telegraph today says that Clinton's administration is backing Russia despite concerns about Moscow's commitment to economic reform. Correspondent Stephen Robinson writes that U.S. officials "are watching with concern as... Yeltsin distributes sweeteners to the Russian electorate, which they fear might undermine Moscow's efforts to control inflation and liberalize the economy." Robinson concludes by saying that "despite its misgivings, the (U.S.) administration took the view that in the short term it was essential not to do anything to undermine the positions of the Russian president and prime minister before the (June's presidential) elections."
Britain's Independent notes that the Yeltsin turns 65 today. Correspondent Phil Reeves writes: "Boris Yeltsin is 65...a birthday most Russians regard as an opportunity for a big party if only because it is six years above the national average life expectancy for a man." But, Reeves says, "there will be no fireworks in Red Square (because) the president has precious little to celebrate... As his lonely birthday testifies... Yeltsin's latest efforts to salvage his fortunes - by tossing out liberals (and) cracking down on Chechen (separatists) - have (yet to win) him any (new) friends... but there are plenty of signs they have lost him old ones."
Britain's Guardian observes that Yeltsin's plans for a private 65th birthday contrast sharply with such anniversaries during the Soviet era. Correspondent David Hearst writes: "a Russian (leader's) 65th birthday is usually quite an event... in the old days gifts would pour into the Kremlin... and the celebration would culminate in an assembly at the Bolshoi theatre in the evening." But, Hearst says, "Boris Yeltsin...will be spared all this" because his current low popularity requires a low-key observance.
By contrast, France's Le Figaro says today that Russian nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovski has grandiose plans for his upcoming 50th birthday on April 25. Correspondent Irene de Chikoff writes: "Zhirinovski's 50th birthday will not go unnoticed... from February 11 to the end of May, the whole country is invited to celebrate in a kind of pan-Russian festival" including a church wedding to his long-time wife Galina, fireworks, and televised addresses. De Chikoff asks: "should we laugh at his plans?" No, she answers, because "the man (many people) consider a clown is first and foremost a formidable illusionist... and the Russian people don't just love festivals, they have always been fascinated by magicians."
Several newspapers today look at politics in Poland following the designation of Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz to head new cabinet. The change was prompted by the resignation last week of Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy, who resigned amid allegations that he spied for Moscow.
Correspondent Christopher Bobinski writes in the Financial Times of London today that "an early end to the Polish political crisis was in sight last night after the leaders of both coalition parties agreed to put forward Mr Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz to replace (Oleksy)." Bobinski calls Cimoszewicz "a pragmatic and relatively independent figure who is trusted by the former communists... (and liked) by the liberal democratic wing of the opposition Freedom Union."
Writing a news analysis in the Wall Street Journal today, correspondent Daniel Michaels says Cimoszewicz is likely to receive both presidential and legislative approval for the prime minister's post. Michaels observes: "Mr. Cimoszewicz is a leader of the ex-Communist Democratic Left Alliance, which together with the Polish Peasants Party controls 65 percent of Parliament...virtually assuring Mr. Cimoszewicz's acceptance by the legislature if he gets the nod from (Polish President) Aleksandr Kwasniewski."
Turning to Bosnia, the Financial Times of London today expresses confidence in Carl Bildt as the international community's civilian administrator of the Bosnian peace process. Correspondent Lionel Barber says that "a month after taking on one of the toughest jobs in international diplomacy, (Bildt) is up and running." Barber observes that Bildt has been criticized previously by the U.S. for making "a sluggish start" in comparison with "NATO's smooth deployment of the IFOR peacekeeping force." But Barber concludes that those early problems, are largely over. He writes: "(Bildt now) has offices, phones, teams (in Brussels and Sarajevo) and, most important, money... this is progress."
France's Le Monde today comments on the withdrawal of former Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic from the government and his replacement this week by Hasan Muratovic. Correspondent Remy Ourdan writes in a news analysis that "many Sarajevans are (now) counting on Mr Silajdzic to become an opposition leader" against the powerful ruling SDA party. Ourdan observes: "The opposition badly misses leaders capable of getting their heads above water." But, Ourdan continues, few observers expect Silajdzic to join any of the existing opposition parties because of his "continual inability to share power." Orudan concludes: "Silajdzic instead may try to group (the opposition) around himself."
Commenting on Bosnian politics in its Jan. 20-26 issue, Britain's weekly The Economist says that Silajdzic holds differences with Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic which mirror deep divisions among Bosnian Muslims themselves. The Economist said that "among the Muslims there are two visions of the future." The first is that "if Muslims are to fend off the fierce nationalisms of their neighbors they need a tough nationalism of their own." The second is that Bosnia must be a multi-ethnic country. The Economist concludes that "roughly speaking, Mr Izetbegovic speaks for the first group, and Mr Silajdzic for the second... if Bosnia is to hold together, the more liberal view had better prevail."