Prague, Feb. 7 (RFE/RL) - Russia's politics, the economy, and foreign relations has captured the attention of Western
Walter Russell Mead, former Associated Press Washington Bureau
Chief, wrote a commentary in yesterday's Baltimore Sun saying that the "long thaw" between Washington and Moscow is visibly ending. Mead wrote: "Last week, with Russian Prime Minister Viktor
Chernomyrdin in Washington for a round of talks, both sides were
saying the relationship was on track, but they weren't fooling
anyone. At the end of the Cold War, Americans and Russians fell in
love with one another. Russians accepted every new fad from the West.
Western political methods would create a stable and just social order
on the ruins of communism...."
Mead continued: "Wrong. The Russians may have believed that Yeltsin
and his colleagues were implementing 'Western"'economic and political
reforms, but the reality was far different. Russian privatization was
a feeding frenzy for various corrupt interests; behind a democratic
facade, Russian politics was a struggle among large economic
interests.... The wonder is that the love affair lasted as long as it
did.... But the news out of Russia isn't as bad as it looks. While
the overinflated hopes of a grand U.S-Russian partnership have
collapsed, we are not headed into Cold War II. The changes in Russia
are not as important as they look, and Russia is in no economic
condition to start a new Cold War."
Steve Liesman, writing in today's Wall Street Journal Europe,concludes that Russia is on the brink of renationalizating some hastily privatized enterprises. He says: "Privatization, the most
successful and important of Russia's reforms, has come under severe
assault in recent days, and some officials are warning that the
program could either be curtailed or, in the worst case, reversed.... Russia's prosecutor general, the top law-enforcement official in the country, has said he will review the legality of privatization and exects to levy criminal charges. Also, parliament has formed a special committee to investigate the program. The moves are least partly political and it's unclear how far they can go... In just a couple of years, an estimated 120,000 enterprises were privatized in what amounts to the world's most massive (privatization) effort. But with many of those assets concentrated in the hands of a few, many Russians have been left wondering what they gained from the process."
Russian President Boris Yeltsin is expected to announce by February
15 whether he will run for reelection in presidential elections in
June. In the U.S. newspaper Journal of Commerce, Moscow correspondent
Geoff Winestock commented yesterday: " It is hard to believe
that many Russian citizens will vote once again for the puffy-faced,
sickly 65-year-old who dragged them into the war in Chechnya. The
pro-Yeltsin party came in a poor third in parliamentary elections in
December... In opinion polls, Mr Yeltsin is well behind. But it is
still far too early to write Mr Yeltsin off. Incumbency in Russia,
much more so than in the United States, confers major political
advantages on a president. Indeed, it is almost as it was in the days
of communist rule. Then, as now, the head of state can rely on the
support of scores of local officials, from taxi managers to local
governors to the official media."
In the Financial Times of London today, John Thornhill
writes from Moscow: "President Boris Yeltsin has made spending
pledges ahead of the presidential elections in June that could be
worth (the equivalent of $250) a head and may double the
Russian budget deficit this year. Seven presidential pronouncements
in recent weeks have promised, among other things, to spend more on
rebuilding Chechnya, pay wage arrears to government employees, and
increase student grants.... The announcements have led to stark
warnings from Mr Anatoly Chubais, the former first deputy prime
minister and chief architect of Russia's IMF-approved stabilization
programs, that a populist spending spree... could reignite
inflation... But, so far, Russia's infant markets have taken both
wild promises and fierce warnings remarkably calmly."
Writing in yesterday's Washington Post from the Swiss resort of
Davos, William Drozdiak commented on the appearance at the World
Economic Forum of Russian Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov: "With
Boris Yeltsin in frail health and Russia's free-market program under
attack, the rising political fortunes (of Zyuganov) have concentrated
the minds of leaders elsewhere who fear a renewed chill in East-West
relations if he wins the June presidential vote. Seeking to soften
those anxieties, Zuganov visited (Davos) to wage a charm offensive
among 1,000 politicians and business executives attending the annual meeting. As he shook hands, slapped backs and sipped champagne, Zyuganov struggled mightily to project his party as a kinder, gentler mutant of its Soviet predecessor."
A political cartoon reproduced in the current Newsweek magazine from the U.S. newspaper Kansas City Star shows the Russian bear
in one panel gleefully removing the bandages from a wounded foot
labeled "Afghanistan." The next panel shows the bear painfully
stepping with the same foot into a bear trap labeled "Chechnya."
New York Times writer Michael Specter concurs with that cartoon's
sentiment in a commentary today in the International Herald Tribune. From the Chechen village of Novogroznensky, he writes:
"There is something unusual going on (here). The most
wanted men in Russia - the military and political leaders of this
secessionist republic - stroll about the muddy streets as if
President Boris Yeltsin had never publicly vowed to hunt them
down... Russia is only going through the motions of its war here...
There are as many as 40,000 Russian soldiers stationed in Chechnya... They do not want to be here; they don't want to fight;
and they are eager to admit it."
Stephanie Simon wrote yesterday in the Los Angeles Times: "President Boris Yeltsin on Monday prepared a fresh effort to halt his widely despised war against the separatist republic of Chechnya. Just last month, Yeltsin had talked tough about destroying the Chechen rebels once and for all, slamming his fist into his hand as
he vowed to root out the militants and flatten their hideaways. But
public frustration with the costly, bloody war has swelled. Yeltsin,
just one week away from announcing his re-election plans,
increasingly looks ready to listen... With both his reputation and
the army's on the line, Yeltsin has been signaling his intention to
pull his troops out of the frustrating, embarrassing war. The head of
Moscow-installed government in Chechnya predicted that Russian
soldiers could begin withdrawing within three weeks."