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Press Review: Eastern Window on the World

PRAGUE, March 26 (RFE/RL) - Press scrutiny ranges over Russia's relations with its own Commonwealth of Independent States and the European Union, NATO, and other international groupings.

From Oslo, Norway, Carol J. Williams writes in the Los Angeles Times today: "Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin launched an ambitious pre-election campaign of diplomacy here (yesterday), rattling his saber against NATO expansion and brushing off worries about rebirth of the Soviet Union. His two-day state visit to this sole NATO country sharing a border with Russia is long on ceremony and likely to be the least taxing of trips packing Yeltsin's schedule as he tries to strike a robust pose ahead of June 16 presidential elections.... As he moved woodenly through the pomp and pageantry of his Oslo itinerary, Yeltsin looked every one of his 65 years and little like the brash democratic crusader who came to power five years ago."

In a New York Times analysis today, Michael R. Gordon says: "Russia has dropped a plan for a sharp across-the-board increase in import tariffs, clearing the way for a 10,200-million-dollar loan from the International Monetary Fund, Western economists said (last) night. The election-year loan had been thrown into doubt earlier this month after Russia's finance minister proposed a 20 percent increase in the tariffs, contradicting previous assurances to the IMF. (President Boris) Yeltsin has been gaining ground in the polls against Gennadi Zyuganov, the communist candidate. One of Yeltsin's selling points has been his ability to secure Western financial assistance."

Michael S. Lelyveld contends today in the U.S. newspaper Journal of Commerce: " President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus has apparently discovered that if he proposes to the same woman often enough, she will eventually give in. In this case, the fiancee is the Russian Federation, which finally agreed over the weekend to a vague union treaty with Belarus after nearly two years of being asked. Lukashenko caught Russian President Boris Yeltsin at a weak moment following the State Duma's vote on March 15, declaring that the 1991 Soviet breakup was, in effect, an illegal divorce. But the treaty set to be signed April 2 sparked demonstrations in Minsk, the capital of the post-Soviet republic, which has proved the least able to go it alone. The independence rally by some 30,000 protesters Sunday apparently gave Yeltsin a case of morning-after regrets."

"Boris Yeltsin was forced to backpedal furiously yesterday," David Hearst in Moscow and John Palmer in Brussels write today in the British newspaper The Guardian. Their comentary continues: "The Russian president denied that a union treaty with Belarus he will sign on April 2 will mean the merger of the two countries.... Russia's cold feet derive from the knowledge that Kazakhstan and Kyrgestan... now are interested in no more than a concept of 'deeper cooperation.' ...The European Union signed a trade agreement with Belarus yesterday after reciving assurances from MIkhail Chigir, the prime minister, that his country was not about to merge with Russia."

The Los Angeles Times today carries an analysis by Carol J. Williams of the record of Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov. Williams writes: "After more than a decade of whiplash-inducing swings in Russian foreign policy, says prominent Sinologist Mikhail L. Titarenko, this country's trademark eagle finally has its heads on straight.... Since fellow Asian scholar and erstwhile intelligence chief... Primakov took over the Foreign Ministry a mere two months ago, Titarenko (says), Russia has repaired damaged ties with China, put new emphasis on neglected relations with former Soviet republics, capitalized on its clout with rogue Middle East states and re-emerged as a premier power in the Eastern Hemisphere. The sudden swing from West to East in foreign policy priorities apparently also is turning human heads in this country."

The analysis continues: "To the extent that Russia's role on the world stage is an election-year issue..., Yeltsin suddenly has stolen his opponents' thunder and removed just about every contentious international issue from the resurgent Communist Party's campaign agenda.... Russia remains vehemently opposed to any eastward expansion of NATO to include countries on its borders. But a cooperative deployment of Russian troops along with NATO forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina apparently has pushed that most contentious of issues onto a back burner."

"President Yeltsin yesterday voiced his concern about NATO war exercises and the alliance's plans to embrace former Warsaw Pact states when he arrived in Norway for a state visit," Leyla Linton writes in today's The London Times. She adds: "The Russian leader opposes NATO plans to extend membership to former Soviet bloc countries in Eastern and Central Europe. Mr. Yeltsin, who faces in elections in June against tough communist opposition in Gennadi Zyuganov, will use the visit to raise his profile as a world leader."

John Thornhill writes today in a commentary in Britain's Financial Times: "Yeltsin yesterday held out the possibility of a compromise solution to the vexing issue of NATO expansion, suggesting former Warsaw pact countries could join the alliance's political committee without being integrated into its military structures.... Yeltsin... has been fiercely opposed to NATO's plans to expand eastwards, warning the move might fan the flames of war."

European unity was the subject of a New York Times editorial yesterday. The Times said: "The 1991 Treaty on European Union set out an ambitious plan for political, economic and monetary union by the end of this decade. With the decade more than half over, much of that agenda remains wishful.... This week, the 15 member governments open what amounts to a yearlong constitutional convention with a mandate to revise the treaty.... Creating a common European currency would be a convenience to international businesses and would force close coordination of economic policies. But it is not a necessity for continued union.... A realistic retreat now on currency targets will not shatter the European dream. On the contrary, it will conserve strength for the expanding challenges of the future."