Prague, 29 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - With unofficial results indicating former separatist chief of staff Aslan Maskhadov has won Chechnya's presidential election, a good deal of comment in today's Western newspapers focuses on what comes next in the breakaway republic.
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Chechens want to part company with Russia on peaceful terms
Miriam Neubert, writing in today's edition, says "Maskhadov is seen in Moscow as a moderate" who might negotiate an agreement under which "Chechnya will not secede from the Russian Federation. But," Neubert says "that is the situation as seen from the overweening center of power in Moscow, looking south at a people who are alien to it and with whom it is neither able nor willing to empathize."
Neubert says that "for Chechen voters there were no doubts as to what the election meant. Their purpose was to lend political legitimacy to what they feel they have gained....the right to self determination." She says "their choice of Maskhadov rather than the more extremist (military commander) Shamil Basayev shows that what Chechens want is to part company with Russia on peaceful terms."
POLITIKEN: Chechnya is a de facto independent state
The Danish newspaper, in an unsigned editorial, says "the polls in Chechnya went through calmly and peacefully, to a higher degree than in other countries in Eastern Europe. With the quality stamp of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), there should be no doubt, least of all in Moscow, that now Chechnya has a legitimate and freely elected government." The paper says "Maskhadov will not settle for less than independence." His election "shows that it is not necessary to hold a referendum on the issue."
The paper says the fact that Chechens backed Maskhadov rather than Basayev shows "they realize that, primarily due to economic reasons, they need good relations with Russia." But Politiken concludes that Chechnya "is a de facto independent state. This should later be given a de jure status, through international recognition. While uncertainties persists in Moscow, it is unlikely any Western country will make that step. But with the election of Maskhadov, it seems to have come considerably nearer."
LONDON GUARDIAN: Maskhadov has to tame the hardline forces in Chechnya
David Hearst, writing from Grozny, notes that Maskhadov yesterday "insisted that his country's independence was already a fact which Russia would have to recognize formally." Hearst says: "Maskhadov represents the best chance of unifying the fiercely independent rival Chechen bands....Everything now depends on (his) ability to tame the hardline forces which have gathered around the Basayev campaign."
LONDON INDEPENDENT: Russia has no federal presence in Chechnya
The paper runs a story written by Phil Reeves from Grozny. He says "although Russia may dismiss Chechen cries of independence as wishful thinking, it will convince no one. Its troops, civil servants and security services have withdrawn....There is about as much sense of a federal presence in this Islamic republic as there is alcohol in the marketplace: none." Reeves says Moscow "is not in a position to get embroiled in another war. Its military is falling apart. Another conflict would produce nothing except more loss of life. It would also disrupt (Moscow's) plans to use a pipeline across Chechnya to transport oil from the Caspian to the Black Sea."
FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Chechnya will be an Islamic but not a fundamentalist state
Dietmar Ostermann, writing from Moscow, says that "as president, Maskhadov wants reconciliation for the Chechens and reconstruction of the economy and infrastructure." He notes, Mashadov's "understanding of religion is close to that of most Chechens: the republic will be an Islamic but not a fundamentalist state." Ostermann says "as far as the relationship to Russia is concerned....(Maskhadov) has pledged like all the candidates to defend independence....Moscow can console itself with the fact that...Maskhadov is the one candidate who has preferred a softer tone on Russia."
DIE TAGESZEITUNG: Chechnya will not be a sovereign state in 2002
The Berlin paper argues in an unsigned commentary that full independence for the republic is not imminent. It says Chechnya "is not going to be an independent, sovereign state in the year 2002.... Russia will not be really ready to let go of Chechnya; internationally, the excitement over newly established states has eased considerably."
The paper says "there are only two possibilities," one being that for the present "everyone abides by the status quo, de facto independent, de jure a province of Russia, (a Chechnya) that is without international recognition...." The Berlin daily says "the alternative is a formally recognized status stopping just short of full sovereignty." It concludes, "the Chechens will not be satisfied with just a little autonomy. As in Palestine, Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia, this concerns the development of a new (political status under) international law. Maskhadov can achieve this."
Russia and Israel
The Western press also looks today at the visit of Israeli Trade and Industry Minister and former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky to Moscow. The visit comes some 20 years after his arrest by Soviet authorities and 11 years after he was sent to the West in a high profile Cold War prisoner exchange.
BOSTON GLOBE: The last time Sharansky got a free ride in Moscow it was from the KGB
David Filipov, writing from Moscow, notes that "the last time...Sharansky got a free ride (from authorities) in Moscow, it was from KGB secret police officers hauling him off to prison for the crime of wanting to emigrate to Israel." He says "signs of the new political climate in the Russian capital were evident in Sharansky's reception by such leading politicians as Moscow's mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, and (Russian) Economy Minister Yevgeny Yasin."
LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: Jewish leaders say times in Russia have never been better
An article quotes Sharansky as telling reporters in Moscow that Russia 'is a different country now: (Russians are a) different people.' The paper reports that the situation for Jews in Russia is changing. "In recent years there has been a turnaround. Jewish leaders speak of a renaissance of the Jewish community in Russia and the mass exodus has ended." The paper says "although anti-Semitism is still alive and there were two synagogue bombings last year, Jewish leaders say times have never been better."
LONDON TIMES: Not all changes in Russia have been beneficial
Richard Beeston, writing from the Russian capital, says that although "the wealth of Moscow and the dynamism of its authorities impressed Sharansky, he has also been made to realize that not all the changes have been beneficial. Beeston writes that when Sharansky "walked down the main Tverskaya street to his old apartment building he found the right entrance. (But he) was forced to walk away after he failed to make it past the reinforced security door, fitted to protect against Moscow's high crime rate."