Prague, 19 December 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Western bemusement over Russia's response to proposed NATO expansion continues to grow, fertilized by mixed messages from the leadership in Moscow.
Commentators today are divided on whether the Russians are showing a new and dangerous intransigence, engaging in a self-serving tactic, or merely opposing what was a bad idea in the first place. On another topic, commentary examines with dismay the massacre Tuesday of six Red Cross workers in Chechnya, and speculates on where to place the blame.
WASHINGTON POST: Primakov's tough words dashed hopes that Moscow will drop its resistance to NATO expansion
William Drozdiak writes in an analysis from Brussels today that a harsh attack on NATO expansion by the Russian defense minister on his first visit to NATO headquarters has sown confusion among the NATO leaders there. Drozdiak writes: "Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov delivered a harsh warning (yesterday) about the impact of NATO's future expansion to the East, declaring that it would doom arms control treaties with the West and resurrect zones of confrontation in Europe."
The writer continues: "The hostile assessment surprised many of NATO's 16 defense ministers, who listened with dismay after expecting signs of a more cooperative Russian attitude on security issues. Only a week ago, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov agreed to open talks on a charter that would set out a new security partnership between NATO and Russia for the 21st century.
"But Rodionov's tough words dashed any hopes among his Western counterparts that Moscow is prepared to drop its resistance to NATO's plans to embrace some Eastern nations by 1999. Alliance diplomats described Rodionov's presentation as reminiscent of Soviet-style rhetoric and said it could presage a rise in the influence of nationalistic voices in Russia's ruling hierarchy."
SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: A two-class NATO is a second-class NATO
Josef Joffe today contends in a commentary that Russia merely is digging a foundation for high-stakes negotiation. He writes: "Russian consent to NATO enlargement was never a matter of whether but of how much. Moscow's 'nyet' has always been intended as a means of pushing up the price the West was prepared to pay for a Russian 'da.' Realists have always warned that the price might prove too high, shaking the very substance of the North Atlantic alliance. This point now appears to have been reached. For the West, as part of its pacification strategy, to have offered last week to dispense with nuclear weapons on the territory of new NATO members was a reasonable price to pay."
Joffe argues, however, that, "German Defense Minister Volker Ruehe's offer of a second sweetener to Russia is another matter entirely. His suggestion was that NATO should undertake not to station foreign troops in new member-states." The Suddeutsche Zeitung's commentator concludes: "Countries that cannot count on pact loyalty are not reliable partners themselves. A two-class NATO will be a second-class NATO."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: NATO's expansion draws a new line of division across Europe
Commentator William Pfaff argues in today's edition that the Clinton Administration is acting unrealistically in pressing for NATO expansion in the face of what Pfaff says will be unsurmountable resistance from the Republican-led U.S. Senate, unless some crisis develops with Russia. Pfaff says: "NATO's expansion actually tends to promote such a crisis." He says: "It draws a new line of political and military division across Europe, with NATO on one side and the rest on the other, which makes no sense. We spent 40 years trying to get rid of the last iron curtain."
NEW YORK TIMES: Albright epitomizes a belief in the virtue of American interventionism
The paper today carries a commentary by Owen Harries on the meaning of President Bill Clinton's choice of Ambassador Madeleine Albright for secretary of state. Harries, editor of the U.S. magazine, "The National Interest," says that Albright will promote a U.S. posture of insufficiently discriminating interventionism. He writes: "More than any other leading foreign policy player since the end of the cold war, she epitomizes a belief in the virtue of uninhibited American interventionism."
Harries says: "If American foreign policy has been so proactive under the stewardship of the cautious and reticent (outgoing secretary of state) Warren Christopher, it is likely to be much more so now under a secretary who, according to "Time" magazine, has a 'passion for American activism' and who regularly attracts adjectives like 'energetic,' 'combative,' 'forceful,' and 'abrasive.' One of the disconcerting things about such enthusiasm for action is its apparently indiscriminate nature."
Does a renegade third force exist in Chechnya, determined for ideological, political or self-serving reasons to disrupt the peace that ended 21 months of war between the Yeltsin Administration and Chechen separatists? Western writers examine the question in analyses published today.
CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Foreign aid workers are being evacuated
Uli Schmetzer writes: "Russian and Chechen officials are blaming a shady 'third force' of extremists for the massacre of six International Red Cross workers at a makeshift hospital in Chechnya. As coffins of the victims were flown to Moscow (yesterday), foreign aid workers were being evacuated from throughout the breakaway Muslim enclave amid fears that terrorists have adopted a strategy of targeting foreigners. Their withdrawal has taken away desperately needed relief for the one million Chechens whose towns and villages were destroyed. "
LONDON INDEPENDENT: Both sides speak of a "third force"
Helen Womack writes from Moscow: "Both sides speak of a 'third force' seeking to derail the peace process. Chechens suspect the motives of hardliners in the Russian military and security services, while the Russians worry that (Chechen moderates) cannot control their militant former comrades."
LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: The pullout of aid workers leaves Chechens without free medical aid
Alan Philps writes from Moscow: "The pullout (of foreign aid workers from Chechnya) will leave tens of thousands of Chechens who have fought for almost two years for independence from Russia, largely bereft of free medical aid." He says: "Only a handful of outside agencies worked in Chechnya. Most were discouraged by the general lawlessness and unwelcoming attitude by armed men on both sides. The Chechens viewed them as spies. The Russians accused them of giving succor to the rebels."