Prague, Mach 22 (RFE/RL) -- Newspaper comment today
focuses on the visit of American Secretary of State Warren
Christopher to Moscow and tensions between Russia and NATO over
NATO's plans to expand eastwards. The papers also look at the
continuing war in Chechnya.
The Wall Street Journal says in an editorial that
Christopher should "probably not expect the warmest reception in
Moscow today -- and that's not such a bad thing." The editorial
observes that Christopher is coming to Moscow after spending this
week "doing something the U.S. should have done a long time ago:
(providing) resolute support for NATO expansion and (condemning)
those in Russia who want the resurrect the Cold War."
A news analysis in Britain's Financial Times observes
that Christopher's visit to Moscow comes as Russian President Yeltsin
has significantly hardened his line against NATO's expansion in the
run-up to the June Russian Presidential elections. But Correspondent
Chrysta Freeland predicts that Christopher will continue to stress
in Moscow that NATO cannot indefinitely postpone admitting Central
and Eastern European democracies as new members. Freeland concludes:
"Western leaders, who have been effusive in their political and
economic support for Mr. Yeltsin...have decided to draw the line when
it comes to security issues."
NATO has decided "not to change course" on plans to expand the
Alliance, says London Times. A news analysis by
Richard Beenton observes that "less than three months to go before
presidential elections and with the Communists leading the polls, Mr.
Yeltsin must be seen to be taking a firm line with NATO, which is
regarded with great suspicion by most Russians." But Beenton
concludes: "despite the West's solid support for Mr. Yeltsin's
re-election campaign, Washington and its allies have made clear that
they are not willing to compromise on NATO."
Britain's Guardian observes that NATO may be wrong to have
worried that pushing too hard for expansion before the Russian
presidential elections could damage Boris Yeltsin's chances for
re-election. Correspondent James Meek writes in a news analysis
that "despite the efforts of Russia's Communists and nationalists to
pin the blame for NATO's plans on Mr. Yeltsin, who five years ago
suggested Russia should be a member, the issue remains a minor one in
the presidential campaign compared to domestic miseries and relations
with Russia's near-abroad."
Britain's Daily Telegraph warns that despite renewed US
emphasis on expanding NATO, Moscow still may be able to force the
Alliance to shelve the issue indefinitely "leaving the Central
Europeans in a strategic limbo." Correspondent Alan Philips writes
that "the Russians are plainly getting the best of the argument so
far, partly due to the presence of a small Russian contingent in the
NATO-led Bosnian peace force." Philips continues: "NATO knows that as
soon as it...embraces the former satellites, the Russians will
withdaw thier troops from Bosnia, thus freeing the Kremlin from duty
to support the Dayton peace agreement."
France's Le Monde says that Christopher has made it clear
before coming to Moscow that "the U.S. is determined to advance" with
plans to enlarge NATO. The newspaper says Christopher told an
audience in Prague this week that "no nation in Europe will ever
again have to serve as a buffer zone between great powers, or be
relegated to the sphere of influence of one country or another."
Turning to Chechnya, several papers today comment on fighting which
continues in the breakaway republic despite Russian President Boris
Yeltsin's recent announcement of plans to settle the conflict with a
"Is there any logic left at the Kremlin?" asks France's Le Figaro. News analyst Laure Mandeville writes that "a month ago
Boris Yeltsin stated with surprising frankness that pursuing the war
in Chechnya would cost him the presidential election...and announced
the imminent implementation of a peace plan." But she says, the plan
has yet to be seen as the "president's advisors endlessly consider
seven mysterious "variations" of the Chechen question, and all the
time the war on the ground is growing in scale and savagery."
Mandeville asks: "Should we conclude that the president has changed
his mind...or that he has resolved to lose the elections?"
An article in France Le Monde expresses shock at the
ferocity of recent Russian army attacks on villages in Chechnya.
Correspondent Sophie Shihab writes that "for the last seven days,
Russia has ceaselessly hammered several villages in southwest
Chechnya with heavy weapons while humanitarian organizations and the
press are kept away." Meanwhile, she says, Moscow has successfully
kept the world's attention off what is happening in the republic.
Shihab writes: "in Moscow, the focus is on diplomatic ballets, with a
succession of (foreign) visitors this week, during which the war in
Chechnya is not publicly mentioned."
`Britain's Independent also expresses alarm at Moscow's
policies in Chechnya. Correspondent Phil Reeves writes that Russian
forces are trying to eliminate separatist activity by presenting
Chechen villagers with the choice between handing over weapons or
being shelled. He says that the "point of forcing villages to sign
(such) agreements appears to be to isolate the rebels and to allow the
Kremlin to tell Russian voters that peace has been restored." But
Reeves warns, "the effect is the opposite, anti-Russian opinion is
growing stronger (as is support among Chechens) for outright
Hopes of a 'grand bargain' to settle all the conflicts in the
Caucasus attract the attention of today's Financial Times.
Correspondents John Thornhill and Bruce Clark note that this week
Yeltsin "unequivocally endorsed" a proposal by Georgian President
Eduard Shevardnadze to try to settle the interlocking conflicts of
the Caucasus simultaneously. The writers say that to many observers
the idea of simultaneously settling disputes in Chechnya, Georgia,
and between Azerbaijan and Armenia "sounds far too good to be true."
But, they continue, "the disputes are intertwined and Mr.
Shevardnadze's proposal is part of a careful strategy that involves
strengthening ties between all the sovereign governments in the
region so as to neutralize local enclaves and warlords."