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Western Press Review: Russian Bear's Paw Remains in Chechen Trap

Prague, August 13 (RFE/RL) -- "This desperate city (of Grozny) continued to shake despite an urgent overnight visit to the region by the Kremlin's chief security official, Alexander Lebed," Michael Specter writes today in a news analysis in "The New York Times." Lebed's unannounced visit to the Chechen rebel leadership and his blunt remarks upon returning to Moscow attracted a flurry of commentary and analysis today from the Western press.

NEW YORK TIMES: Lebed's military background aids efforts to resolve the conflict

Specter, Moscow bureau chief, writing from Grozny, continues in his analysis: "False promises have become a hallmark of the war with separatist insurgents in Chechnya. . . . Lebed's appearance in Chechnya was the first promising sign in a conflict that seems to grow more hopeless each month. . . . . Many rebel leaders welcomed Lebed's entrance into Chechen negotiations, saying he had a better chance of resolving the conflict than other politicians, in part because of his military background."

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Lebed was shocked by the bedraggled Russian army

In a news analysis in today's paper, James P. Gallagher writes: "Appalled at the condition of Russian troops fighting in breakaway Chechnya, the Kremlin's new security czar, Alexander Lebed, announced (yesterday) that the two sides were trying to work out a cease-fire. . . . Returning from a lightning trip to the tiny Islamic enclave, a somber Lebed told reporters in Moscow that he was shocked at the sight of the bedraggled Russian army, implying that the army lacked the skilled manpower it would take to crush the Chechen rebellion. . . . Lebed's blunt remarks were consistent with his longstanding criticisms of the Chechen war and President Boris Yeltsin's decision to wage it. . . . Although Lebed has a reputation for overstating the facts and outracing events with alarmist rhetoric, speculation about a possible cease-fire agreement was fueled further by word that the ailing Yeltsin had postponed a lengthy vacation set to begin early this week."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Lebed accuses rivals of playing political games over Chechnya

In the British newspaper today, John Thornhill writes from Moscow: "(Lebed), the rising star of the Kremlin, who is open about his aspirations to become president, accused unnamed rivals of playing political games over Chechnya and wanting him to 'break his back over this assignment.' . . .Yesterday's meeting appeared to have no immediate effect in Grozny, which has been the scene of ferocious fighting over the past week."

PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: Many are baffled by Moscow's goals in the war

Inga Saffron writes from Moscow today in an analysis in the U.S. newspaper: "Despite the drama of Lebed's nocturnal talks with the rebel chief of staff, Aslan Maskhadov, intense fighting continued to rage throughout the day in Grozny. . . . Lebed's appointment as Yeltsin's top security adviser in June gave some people renewed hope for an end to the destructive and unpopular war. . . . Many here have long been baffled by Moscow's goals in the war. Its brutal bombing of Chechen villages only intensified the population's hatred of Russia, which has been trying to subdue the province off and on for almost 200 years. . . . Lacking a motivation to fight, and badly equipped and fed, the once mighty Russian army has been repeatedly battered by the Chechen rebels, who are thought to number around 4,000."

LIBERATION: The financial and social costs of the war are enormous

Moscow correspondent Didier Francois comments in today's edition of the French newspaper: "As to the Kremlin, it is entangled in much more complex contradictions (than the Chechens are). This is first of all because in order to make peace one has to know why one started the war. It is difficult to fix one's objective in negotiations if one can't define what one wants to get out of them. In fact Russia initiated the Chechen mess without perspective, and now finds itself enmeshed in its own gears. From the petrol interest to the stake of the interior policy, passing by the wish to reinforce the unity of a heterogeneous federation which is menaced by nationalistic claims following the collapse of the USSR, Moscow's motives are various but none of them seems to be fundamental -- all the more as the financial and social costs of the war are enormous for a country with an economy already sagging at the knees."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Someone wants Lebed to break his neck over the crisis

The paper comments today: "Lebed announced that in the near future President Boris Yeltsin will issue a decree 'over measures for the control of the crisis.' The decree is to turn over to (Lebed's) Security Council all questions concerning Chechnya. Lebed, whose political destiny is strongly linked with the end of the conflict, thus has broken the standoff of the negotiations. What Lebed actually has achieved can't yet be foreseen. Lebed said his appointment as the commissioner on Chechnya was an 'element of the games of the apparatus.' He is not opposed to his appointment, he said, but he disapproves of how it was achieved. He said: 'Somebody wants me to break my neck in trying to gain control of the crisis.' "

WASHINGTON POST: Lebed praises Chechens as fine fighters and calls Russian troops weaklings

Lee Hockstader writes in an analysis today in: "The gruff security chief, who was appointed as President Boris Yeltsin's special representative for Chechnya only on Saturday, clearly relished the drama of his midnight meeting with a rebel leader, which took place in a village that has suffered heavy combat in the last few days. But the audacious trip was also a sign of the Kremlin's desperation to find a way out of a military debacle that is remarkable even by the standards of Russia's performance in the 20-month-long war. In his remarkable news conference, he also praised the Chechens as 'fine fighters,' called the head of the Moscow-backed puppet government in Chechnya, Doku Zavgayev, an impotent 'liar,' and disparaged Russian troops manning checkpoints in Chechnya as 'weaklings' who are 'hungry, lice-ridden and underclothed.' "

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Lebed's meeting with the rebel leader was a high-level effort

The paper today carries a news analysis by Richard Boudreaux and Vanora Bennett. They write: "Lebed's meeting with Gen. Aslan Maskhadov was the highest-level effort to stop the fresh outbreak of fighting since Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin's re-election July 3. It came on the seventh day of a bloody rebel occupation of Grozny, Chechnya's nominally Russian-held capital. . . . The Chechen conflict is so intractable that Yeltsin was able to halt it only for a few weeks to remove it as an obstacle to his reelection."