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Western Press Review: Lebed Calls Tune, But Russian Forces Refuse To Dance

Prague, 15 August 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Russian Security Chief Aleksandr Lebed's showy trip to Chechnya to negotiate a ceasefire seemed for naught yesterday as the truce deadline came and went and the fighting surged on. Press commentators today examined the Chechen conflict.

NEW YORK TIMES: Lebed's candor betrays a disturbing degree of Kremlin infighting

The paper says today in an editorial: "Few great powers have ever looked as powerless as Russia does today in Chechnya. An explosive offensive by Chechen fighters over the last week has left Russian military forces shattered and has badly rattled the government of Boris Yeltsin. . . . The blow to the Russian armed forces is staggering, almost unimaginable for a military machine that just a few years ago was respected and feared around the world. . . . Lebed, a former general who now serves as the Kremlin's top security aide, said after a visit to Chechnya on Monday that threadbare partisan forces in World War II were better clothed and fed than the lice-infested Russian soldiers he saw this week. He called them 'cannon fodder.' "

The editorial continues: "Lebed also suggested that political enemies had arranged to have the Chechen problem turned over to him in hopes of undercutting his position. Lebed's candor is refreshing, and probably accurate on most counts. But it betrays a disturbing degree of turmoil in the Kremlin at a time when Yeltsin is ailing and unable to direct the government. Kremlin infighting is nothing new, but it may prove particularly destructive when so much needs to be done to advance economic and political reform in Russia."

NEW YORK TIMES: The hills rang with the screams of people desperate to escape a Russian onslaught

Moscow Bureau Chief Michael Specter writes today from Gekalo, a suburb of Grozny: "The latest truce in the war for Chechnya began (yesterday) at noon. Fifteen minutes later, two Russian SU-25 attack planes swooped across the azure skies, firing rockets at a caravan of refugees who were trying to take advantage of the announced truce to flee Grozny, the besieged Chechen capital. Gekalo is a small hamlet of squat houses on the southern edge of the capital, only four miles from the city's center. (Yesterday), the nearby hills rang with the screams of people desperate to escape the unexpected Russian onslaught. Local Russian military leaders. . . denied that a cease-fire had been struck. . . . Confusion is normal in this war, which has seen more than a dozen peace accords and truces violated. But many participants here had high hopes for the truce. . . because it had been initiated by. . . Lebed."

POLITIKEN: Boris Yeltsin, the West's chosen candidate, started the war, not Communist Zyuganov

Danish historian Thomas Larsen commented Tuesday in the Copenhagen newspaper: "When will the West set limits on its patience with the Russian-led war in Chechnya? What should happen before we start articulating conditions for our economic help without which MI-24s and T-80s would not be able to operate in Caucasus? It is worth remembering that it was not Communist Zyuganov who started the war in Chechnya, but the West's chosen candidate, Boris Yeltsin. . . . Today, Yeltsin's system. . . directs the same brutal repression against the Chechen people as did the Soviet Union against the Afghans."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The Russian army shows signs of resistance to Lebed's peace initiative

In today's edition, Vanora Bennett writes in a news analysis: "Russia's acting commander in Chechnya, Lt. Gen. Konstantin B. Pulikovsky (said yesterday) that he had made no agreement. . . except to keep talking. . . . The confusion of (yesterday) was a blow to. . . Lebed, who began the latest of many peace negotiations with a daring late-night drive into Chechnya this weekend to meet with Maskhadov. Lebed returned to Moscow with a blueprint for a long-term settlement of the conflict, which. . . Yeltsin signed (yesterday). Pulikovsky's remarks indicated resistance within the Russian army to Lebed's peace initiative ."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: The rest of the world doesn't seem to want to get involved

Dietmar Ostermann says today in a commentary: "Russia's proud army. . . takes revenge on women and children because it can't get hold of the rebels. . . . The rest of the world doesn't seem to want to get involved. Embarrassed silence everywhere. . . . From the military aspect -- this is documentation of the state of a superpower's army which has degenerated into a social case. . . . From the political aspect -- all the lies have been uncovered, the masquerade of a pro-Russian Chechen government which is controlling the situation, the bold election fraud, the reports of a wearying opposition."

LONDON TIMES: A humanitarian corridor for civilians was peppered with shrapnel and rocket marks

Richard Beeston comments today: "Two jets banked sharply before diving toward their victims below, unleashing a salvo of rockets into the bedraggled refugee trail. . . . The refugees. . . fled down the mud track dragging young children behind them. . . . The air strike by Sukhol 25 ground-attack jets on the district of Gikalo occurred exactly five minutes after hostilities were supposed to have ended. . . . It was a miracle no one was killed, since the grassy hillside, supposed to have been part of a humanitarian corridor for civilians, was peppered with shrapnel and rocket marks."

NEWSDAY: Lebed was the target of Kremlin sniping over his peace initiative

In an analysis in today's edition of the U.S. newspaper, Sophia Kishkovsky writes: "Political intrigue heightened here (yesterday) as fighting in Grozny waned. . . . Russian and Chechen fighters exchanged and evacuated their wounded and dead from eight days of battle. . . . Civilians emerged from improvised basement bomb shelters. . . . Behind the scenes in Moscow, there were signs of infighting at the highest levels. Lebed, newly appointed. . . as special envoy to the region, was the target of (Kremlin) sniping over his peace initiative to end fighting."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: If Lebed is the architect of peace, he will take a political step forward

The paper said yesterday in an editorial: "Like most Russians. . . , Lebed has come to despise the brutal and unwinnable war in Chechnya. Unlike most Russians, Lebed may be able to do something to stop the conflict. . . . Lebed had earlier helped his political cause by calling for replacing Russia's widely evaded and much hated military draft with all-volunteer armed forces. His sympathy for the plight of common soldiers and his unsparing contempt for those who have so badly led and so poorly looked after them can only boost his popular standing. . . . Lebed has unabashedly spoken of himself as Yeltsin's eventual successor, a prospect that alarms many in the Yeltsin camp and in the military. But if Lebed proves to be the architect of peace in Chechnya he will clearly have taken a big step forward in the political scramble."