Prague, March 20 (RFE/RL) -- The Western press has responded
cautiously to Friday's vote in the Duma, the lower house of the
Russian parliament, denouncing the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
New York Times writer Michael Specter, in a news analysis published
Saturday after the vote, called the action the Duma's "most direct
challenge yet to the authority of President Boris Yeltsin." Specter
wrote: "The resolution has no legal significance because the
parliament is weak and the president -- who called the legislation
'nonsense' -- has the ability to prevent its wishes from becoming
law. Nonetheless, the measure... increased fears about what will
happen if the communist leader, Gennadi Zyuganov, becomes president
this summer.... The Soviet Union is unlikely to be reconstituted.
Even if the Communists returned to power and sought to restore the
union, there would be little support for the notion. Some former
republics, most notably Belarus but also Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and
Kazakhstan, are often mentioned as the most likely candidates for a
new alliance with Russia. Each country has a large Russian minority,
and in the case of Belarus many political leaders there have often
stated that a new link with Russia is inevitable."
The analysis concluded: "The vote was purely political theater,
with a telling point. The measure's passage was one more sign of the
frustration that lawmakers feel at presiding over a country that is
no longer great and has enormous economic and political problems."
In the U.S. newspaper Newsday, Sophia Kishkovsky wrote from Moscow,
that the Duma action was "a move with virtually no legal force but
one clearly calculated to up the ante in an already-heated
presidential race." She wrote: "Communist Party leader Gennady
Zyuganov is President Boris N. Yeltsin's main challenger and
currently the front-runner in elections scheduled for June 16. The
Communists... especially revile (Yeltsin's) role in a December 1991
meeting with the leaders of Ukraine and Belarus....that resulted in
the formation of the current Commonwealth of Independent States....
News anchors here Friday night opened their broadcasts with sarcastic
salutations directed at the communists that 'we are living in the
newly restored Soviet Union.' "
The Suddeutsche Zeitung, in an editorial signed by Thomas Urban,
comments today: "A few days before his first trip to Moscow as
NATO Secretary General, Javier Solana wrote an article for a Russian
newspaper in which he explained why NATO was still needed despite the
end of the Cold War. NATO is needed as a peacekeeper. When he was
writing the text he could hardly have known the Russian Duma would
provide him with another argument for continuing the NATO alliance
just in time for his visit to the Kremlin. A new version of the
Soviet Union -- for which the communist and nationalist majority of
MPs just voted -- would not just pose a threat to current NATO
members, but would also incite those Central European states that
have just broken out of Moscow's sphere of influence to intensify
their efforts to become NATO members."
The Sudeutsche Zeitung concludes: "The Kremlin too would like to
gather the former Soviet Republics under Moscow's umbrella again. The
only difference is that such a move is not being dramatically
described as a 'reincarnation of the USSR' as the Duma calls it.
Instead the harmless-sounding language of the technocrats is being
brought into play with talk of 'integration' of the Commonwealth of
Independent States. In terms of economic policy this certainly makes
sense, but numerous signs seem to indicate Moscow also is intending
Carol J. Williams writes today in the Los Angeles Times:
"Leaders of former Soviet republics from Armenia to the Baltics
vehemently denounced the Russian legislative action as aggressive,
unlawful and politically disruptive. Even the Duma's colleagues from
the upper house, or Federation Council, warned the communist and
nationalist deputies who backed the resolution that it could
undermine the credibility of Russia's new governing structures and
lead to postponement of June 16 presidential elections. For a
symbolic move intended to fan Russian nostalgia for the
perceived glory days of the Soviet Union, last Friday's vote by the
Duma to annul the 1991 agreement disbanding the old federation has
spread discord among those it ostensibly aims to reunite."
U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, in Kyiv for a one-day
visit to Ukraine, condemned the Duma action. In Britain's Financial
Times today, Matthew Kaminski in Kyiv and John Thornhill in
Moscow write: "Mr. Christopher's comments were the strongest Western
response.... Many CIS leaders have condemned the vote, suggesting it
would inflame destructive nationalist forces throughout the former
Soviet Union.... The three former Soviet Baltic states, which refused
to join the CIS, have reacted particularly strongly to the Russian
James Rupert provides this news analysis in today's Washington Post: "While the Duma resolutions are nonbinding, they have raised
a wave of protest among the 14 nations that, under Soviet rule, lived
effectively as colonies of Russia. From the Baltic states to Central
Asia, political leaders have said the resolutions suggest
that rising nationalism in Russia could lead it to assert again
hegemony over the ex-Soviet republics.... The re-creation of Russian
satellite states was the vision raised Friday by the Duma, acting
under the leadership of the Russian Communist Party. ... Russian
politicians frequently -- and sometimes comically -- have proclaimed
Moscow's intention to renew its rule over lost parts of its empire.
Ultranationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky has been one of the most
vocal, laying claim to lands from Turkey to Alaska. But in the states
neighboring Russia, the Duma's vote is being taken more seriously."
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung says today, "It is a
fallback into totalitarianism that touches the interests of all the
independent states of the CIS."
In France, Le Figaro said in an article from Moscow by Irina de
Chikoff: "For all the Russian commentators, the electoral hunting
season is open. There will be such hits below the belt in everyday
life until the presidential elections in June."
In the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, Alan Philps writes
from Moscow: "The communists have long dreamed of a
'voluntary' reintegration of the ex-Soviet states.... The Duma vote
was a political gesture and has no legislative force. Even if it
did, it would not be able to revive a country which has broken up
into 15 states. The move originally was shrugged off as nothing more
than a stunt, with Moscow newspapers headlining tongue-in-cheek,
'We're back in the U.S.S.R." ...Mr. Zyuganov, who knows that most of
his electorate is nostalgic for the U.S.S.R. and cannot understand
why it broke up, defended his party's stunt. He accused Mr. Yeltsin
of giving in to hysteria."