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Western Press Review: Views Of Russia's Stand On NATO And Chechnya, And Of The Serbian Standoff

Prague, 6 January 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Today's Western press analysis focuses on Russia, in the wake of German Chancellor Helmut Kohl's weekend meeting with President Boris Yeltsin. Yesterday's announcement by Moscow of its complete troop withdrawal from Chechnya also draws commentary. Other analysts continue to follow the political standoff in Serbia.

DIE WELT: Who is making decisions in Moscow?

Mathias Bruggmann writing in a commentary for the German newspaper, says Saturday's summit meeting between Kohl and Yeltsin near Moscow produced mixed results. Discussions focused on NATO's planned eastward expansion. Bruggman notes that despite Kohl's optimistic tone at the end of the meeting, only 24 hours after Kohl's departure, the Kremlin was back to its "hard line" on the issue. Bruggman says this is not unusual, adding: "There is a tendency in the Kremlin, when under pressure, to take irrational decisions. This leads to the automatic question: Who is making decisions in Moscow?" Bruggman notes that "Germany and Kohl as intermediaries between Russia and the West, have used all their political creativity to try to reach a historic compromise...But there is no sign yet of how that compromise will look." Although Bruggman notes that German-Russian relations are stable, he warns in his conclusion that a compromise solution on NATO expansion has to be widely debated beforehand, if the "cold peace threatened by Yeltsin" is to be avoided.

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Yeltsin is taking a middle road on NATO expansion

Today's editorial also looks at the Kohl-Yeltsin summit. The paper says "Yeltsin is taking a middle road between the hawks and the doves on the questions most preoccupying Western leaders: security policy and NATO expansion." But the paper notes that the Russian military, still a powerful influence on the Kremlin, remains deeply unhappy about having its "sphere of influence" about to be cut by NATO's planned expansion. The paper concludes that because of this and other factors, "it cannot be expected that a solution regarding the expansion will be reached before July, when NATO holds its summit meeting."

NEW YORK TIMES: Russia is a severely weakened country that abhors its image as a fallen power

Michael Specter, in his analysis on the meeting, reminds readers that: "There are few touchier issues for Russia than the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to include countries that were members of the Warsaw Pact. Russia is a severely weakened country that abhors its image as a fallen power." He adds that "the plan of the Western military alliance to grant membership to Moscow's former Communist allies is the most tangible reminder of how Russia has declined as a military power. The idea that countries such as Poland and Hungary, which only 10 years ago were subservient to Moscow's orders, could be formally linked to NATO has driven many Russian politicians to distraction."

Specter says we can expect more activity out of Moscow, now that Yeltsin is back in the Kremlin after several months of illness. He notes that "over the next several months, he (Yeltsin) will be talking with world leaders again -- traveling, for instance, to the United States in March -- and he is expected to press them to grant Russia a special security arrangement in return for its agreement not to oppose NATO expansion."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Germany is proposing sweetners to assuage Moscow's objections

John Thornhill and Bruce Clark, writing for the British paper note that so far, "Germany has gone further than the U.S. in its proposals for 'sweeteners' that could be offered to Moscow to assuage its objections to NATO's incorporation of former Soviet allies in Central and Eastern Europe." The authors note that "German officials have suggested a 'committee of 17' grouping NATO's full members and Russia could be given substantial authority in areas ranging from peacekeeping to arms control."

They add that "France also favours a concerted effort to incorporate Russia into a new European security system" but that "U.S. officials, in a more cautious stance, have stressed recently that no non-member should be allowed to interfere with NATO's decisions."


Remaining on the military front and in Russia, two of today's major French dailies turn their attention to Chechnya. Both "Le Figaro" and "Liberation" note yesterday's announcement by Russia of its total troop withdrawal from the wartorn republic after nearly two years of fighting. Both use the opportunity to analyze the psychological state of Moscow's former warriors.

LE FIGARO: Former Russian conscripts suffer from a "Chechen syndrome"

Isabelle Lasserre writes in an analysis about what has come to be known among former Russian conscripts as the "Chechen syndrome." She quotes Professor Magomed Madrudin, at Moscow's Institute of Psychology, who says "at least 70 percent" of the approximately 250,000 Russian soldiers who fought in Chechnya, have returned home scarred with post-traumatic stress syndrome. They "cannot readapt themselves" to civilian life and are plagued by "nightmares, a sense of guilt, an absence of emotion...They have lost their souls and have no more ideals."

Lasserre quotes one of these veterans, a 20-year-old conscript, who says "for me, blood has become like water. I am no longer like the other boys." Before the war, this conscript wanted to be a cook, but since seeing his fellow soldiers eaten by dogs in Chechnya, he says he "can't stand the sight of meat." Lasserre quotes another former soldier as saying Chechnya veterans are a "ticking time bomb." But as she notes, quoting Professor Madrudin once again, "because this war was not considered a real war by Moscow, the Russian government has not even accorded Chechnya veterans the same benefits it awarded to veterans of Afghanistan."

LIBERATION: Russian veterans of Chechnya get nothing

Veronique Soule writes similarly in today's edition. She says that "unlike veterans of Afghanistan who benefitted from many privileges upon their return, veterans of Chechnya got nothing: the State has no money and this war was never popular. For this reason, specialists agree that the trauma experienced by Chechen war veterans -- collectively called the "Chechen syndrome" is particularly acute and difficult to bear." She adds that the government is making no efforts to help veterans of this conflict, quoting the chief psychologist at the Russian Interior Ministry, Vasili Vakhov, who says "There is no Chechen syndrome."


Moving away from Russia and back to Serbia, commentaries focus on the continuing stand-off between anti-government demonstrators protesting the November cancellation of municipal election results and the government of President Slobodan Milosevic.

INDEPENDENT: The opposition has full control of the streets

The British paper carries a report from Andrew Gumbel in Serbia's second city of Nis, who notes: "The ranks of police that lurk menacingly on street corners in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, are absent here. The opposition may not yet have the keys to city hall, but it has full control of the streets and, more importantly, has won over much of the city's population." He adds that "local army commanders have made it known that they too, are on the demonstrators' side."

Gumbel also analyzes the situation from Belgrade. He writes about yesterday's "drive-in" rally through the city, which successfully paralyzed the capital's downtown and enabled protestors to march in ever greater numbers. He writes that "despite the stench of exhaust from the rickety Yugo cars, the mood was irrepressibly optimistic as opposition leaders once again demanded that their victories in November's municipal elections be recognized."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Many workers remain indifferent to the protests

Despite the success of yesterday's demonstration, Michael Dobbs notes in an analysis that "the opposition shows little sign of broadening the social basis of its protest movement against Europe's last Communist regime. For the most part, the demonstrators belong to the middle classes and the intelligentsia, who have suffered most as a result of the economic policies of the Milosevic government and Serbia's isolation from the outside world. Many workers remain indifferent, while some are hostile."