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Western Press Review: Russia Has A Beast By The Tail And Cannot Let Go

Prague, 21 August 1996 (RFE/RL) -- "The Caucasus is once again living up to its 19th-century reputation as the graveyard of the Russian army." U.S. author, historian and Russia specialist Steven Merritt Miner wrote in Sunday's "Los Angeles Times."

The dilemma of the Russian Goliath being taunted and felled by the Chechen David continued for the third day to dominate Western commentary on Central and East Europe affairs.

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Russian soldiers are surprisingly unable to subdue a small but determined people

Miner went on, "As was the case then, today's Russian soldiers are proving surprisingly unable to subdue a small but determined people, the Chechens. . . . It is no easy thing to cut Russian losses and withdraw from Chechnya. For one thing, granting independence to the rebels would only hearten the many remaining non-Russian nationalities within Russia itself, such as the Tatars and Bashkirs, who might like to follow the Chechens' path at the first sign of Russian weakness. Even more important, the Chechens have the misfortune to run afoul of Russian oil politics. . . . Russia's military leaders understandably feel embattled. . . . (Russian security chief Aleksandr) Lebed will have to craft a compromise that can satisfy the Chechens' demand for independence while assuring Moscow's military and industrial leaders that peace will not bring yet another humiliation and economic blow."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: A Chechen expression: "To lie like the Soviets"

In todays edition, Vanora Bennet comments: "When Russian troops look down their gun sights at Chechnya, they see only the ghetto home of criminally minded, primitive people of popular Russian legend. In Chechnya, they see only impenetrable hills, dusty roads and ruins of villages that Moscow's tanks and aviation have destroyed. But Chechens examining the same sites see a landscape of defiance to the Russians who have ruled them by the sword for two centuries of almost continual battle; the Chechens draw strength from this. Their villages are named after long-ago battles against the Czars' armies. Their Muslim graveyards house shrines to modern and ancient martyrs in the fight against Russia. Long experience of broken promises by Moscow has left their language with the bitter expression, 'To lie like the Soviets.' "

NEW YORK TIMES: An air of anarchy grows daily about the Russian government

The paper says today in an editorial: "An air of anarchy grows daily about the Russian government. President Boris Yeltsin is ill and absent. His aides appear to be waging a fierce struggle for power. Military commanders may be preparing a counterattack against Chechen rebels without authorization from Yeltsin and in defiance of his top military adviser. It is a deeply disheartening and disturbing turn just weeks after Yeltsin's decisive election victory. . . . Instead of skirmishing with one another, Russia's civilian and military leaders ought to address the serious problems that confront them and their country. Their elected leader is disabled, at least temporarily. The war in Chechnya is tearing apart the government. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin may lack the political strength to pull together the government and settle the differences between Lebed and the military. But if he does not try, the discord will only get worse."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: An attack on Grozny would block negotiating success by the ambitious Lebed

The paper says today in an editorial: "In order to eliminate even the slightest chance for a peaceful solution in Chechnya, (Russian) army chief Konstantin Pulikowskij threatens now to attack Grozny. This would be militarily absurd, politically reckless and, for the civilians who are enclosed in the capital, catastrophic. But that is not the point. For Pulikowskij and the Moscow clique of power ministries which is supporting him, the carnage would block any negotiating success by the ambitious Lebed."

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: The Russians show little stomach for a long war

Robert Fox writes today in an analysis: "The chances are that, like the allies in the Gulf in 1991, as the American air commander of the day put it, 'They will not so much prepare the battleground, but destroy it. . . . The battle for Chechnya is not a story of firepower alone, which is where analysts in both Russia and the West seem to have gone wrong. . . . Unlike the Russians, the Chechen wild men. . . seem to know exactly what they want to do and are prepared to risk a lot of blood. . . . Like many an army of the democratic West, the Russians show little stomach for a long war -- and may seem reluctant to fight at all for an alien land in the Caucasus."

NEW YORK TIMES: Lebed doubts Yeltsin signed orders he received on the Chechen war

In today's paper, Moscow Bureau Chief Michael Specter writes: "Directly challenging the authenticity of a major presidential directive, Aleksandr Lebed, the blunt, determined Russian national security adviser, said (yesterday) that he did not believe that President Boris Yeltsin had actually written or signed a series of harsh new orders on the Chechen war that he received this week. The extraordinary statement, issued on a day when a spokesman said the president had left the Kremlin on a brief 'vacation inspection trip' and rumors of failing health continued to circulate, reflected deep confusion about who is in control of the government. It also set up a direct confrontation between Lebed and the military establishment that he is supposed to lead."

DIE WELT: The chaos of Moscow policy toward Chechnya could not be greater

Jens Hartmann writes in a commentary in today's edition of the German newspaper: "On the one hand, a cynical ultimatum of the Russian army to 200,000 civilians to leave their homes before Grozny is to be leveled. On the other hand, a Russian Chechnya commissioner who protests any such bombardment. . . . The chaos of the Moscow policy towards the rebellious Caucasus republic could hardly be greater. . . . While the ill Yeltsin reportedly is considering his holiday site, Lebed asserts that orders are written on Kremlin paper without the president's knowledge. . . . If so, the Kremlin-hawks have got the upper hand for the time being. Right now Lebed can't expect to find allies in the Kremlin. . . . Even if he should reach agreement on peace with the separatists, disturbing fire from Moscow could destroy all the effort."

WASHINGTON POST: A vacationing Yeltsin left behind a bizarre public brawl among lieutenants

David Hoffman sums up the situation in an analysis in today's edition: "Russian troops. . . prepared to launch a risky new offensive against Chechen separatists in the capital of Grozny even as a high-stakes Kremlin power struggle escalated among top aides to an absent President Boris Yeltsin, who was said to have left Moscow for a vacation resort. Yeltsin left behind a bizarre public brawl among his lieutenants about whether he had given permission for the latest Russian military moves in Chechnya."