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Western Press Review: Kremlin Attacks on NATO/Yeltsin's Health

Prague, 13 February 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The Kremlin's angry verbal attack against NATO yesterday has fueled comment and analysis in today's Western press.

LONDON TIMES: Language toughens over NATO

A report in the London Times by Moscow correspondent Richard Beeston calls the statements "some of the toughest language yet used by Moscow in the acrimonious debate with NATO" over the alliance's planned Eastward expansion. Beeston quotes Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky's statement that NATO leaders have an "undeclared and secret agenda" to prevent any form of political and military integration in the former Soviet republics.

Beeston says it is "unthinkable" that Yastrzhembsky's remarks "would not have been authorized at the highest levels of the Russian leadership." Beeston suggests that the statements were personally issued by President Boris Yeltsin.

LONDON GUARDIAN: Expansion of NATO will go forward

Most western newspapers agree that the attack was aimed at NATO general secretary Javier Solana, who is touring four former Soviet Republics that are members of NATO's Partnership for Peace program -- Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. A report by the London Guardian's Moscow correspondent David Hearst says: "Moscow's ire was spurred by a call the NATO chief made in Romanian-speaking Moldova for Russia to remove its troops protecting a Russian-speaking separatist enclave in Trans-Dnestr." Hearst says that other comments by Solana also provoked the Kremlin response. He notes that in Georgia Solana made only "vaguely defined" promises about "enhanced cooperation" between NATO and Russia. But Hearst adds that Solana was very clear in his statements that Russia's opposition would not stop NATO's "inevitable Eastward expansion." His report quotes Solana as saying that former Soviet republics "want to rejoin a Europe from which they were artificially separated."

LONDON INDEPENDENT: A bid for Negotiating Room

In today's London Independent, defense correspondent Christopher Bellamy says Russia may be trying to establish a strong negotiating position as NATO begins to work out details of an enlargement that would include Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Bellamy writes that some observers see the attack on Solana as "an attempt to sideline NATO and lend support" to French President Jacques Chirac's proposal for a five-power summit aimed at forming a pact between Russia and the West. Those five countries are the U.S., Russia, Germany, Britain and France. But, Bellamy notes, the U.S. has refused to even acknowledge the summit idea, saying that no "formal proposal" has been made.

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Expanding NATO is folly

British navy admiral, Sir Edward Ashmore, writes in a letter to the editor of the London Daily Telegraph today, that plans to expand the military commitments of NATO are "folly." Ashmore says: "The room for misunderstanding can be compared with the shameful outcome of Allied intervention on the side of the White armies after the Bolsheviks made peace with Germany (in 1918). Then, when things became difficult, we abandoned our former ally." Ashmore note that "this is not forgotten in Russia." He says it would be "unforgivable" to put NATO in a position where "shameful renunciation of commitment bocomes the only alternative to war." Ashmore concludes that "playing politics with NATO (and) ignoring the security of the Baltic states is not the way forward."

NEW YORK TIMES: A chain of problems

An editorial column by the New York Times' Flora Lewis published in today's International Herald Tribune notes that a complicated "chain of problems" linked to Cyprus also will influence NATO expansion. Lewis says: "Greece threatens to veto the admission of Eastern European countries to NATO if Cyprus doesn't get into the EU, and Turkey, a member of NATO but not of the EU, threatens the same is Cyprus does get in (the EU)." Lewis says that it is "essential" to "relocalize" the conflict within Cyprus. For this, she says, a "serious multinational force is needed." She concludes that there is "no virtue in waiting for things to get worse --NATO should prepare to act."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Who speaks for the Kremlin?

John Thornhill, the Moscow correspondent of the Financial Times of London notes in an analysis today that the Kremlin's anti-NATO rhetoric coincides with an announcement in Brussels that NATO foreign ministers will meet next week with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Thornhill says the main item on the agenda will be "how to handle Russia's hostility to enlargement." He also notes that Albright is due to visit Moscow two days later, and that Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov has scheduled talks in Brussels on February 23.

Thornhill says that the central problem for western negotiators over NATO is that "different Russian officials have been making contradictory noises during (President Yeltsin's) absence from daily decisions-making." With the Kremlin underlining the slowness of Yeltsin's recovery from pneumonia, Thornhill says "the confusion over policy towards NATO may persist for some time."

Yeltsin's Health

President Boris Yeltsin's prolonged illness and the recent talk in Moscow of changes in Russia's constitution also are the subject of commentary and analysis in Western newspapers.

FINANCIAL TIMES: The threat of Russia's Constitution

An analysis by Chrystia Freeland in the Financial Times of London today says that as Yeltsin's illness drags on, the "strong-arm constitution" that once seemed so useful to the current regime appears more and more threatening. Freeland notes that the current constitution calls for elections within three months if the president should die or become incapacitated. She also notes that polls show former security chief Alexander Lebed to be the likely winner in a snap election. She says a victory for Lebed or other "outsiders" would be "doubly undesirable" for Moscow's current insiders because of the vast constitutional powers of the presidency.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Don't change Russia's Constitution

An editorial in the Washington Post, reprinted in today's International Herald Tribune, also notes that those now "in or near power" in Moscow want to retain their positions by changing the constitution. The paper says that such changes are a "bad idea" that would undermine Russian democracy and, very likely, stability. Further, the newspaper says that alternatives to Lebed are not clearly superior.

The editorial continues: "Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has not proven particularly adept, and (Moscow) Mayor Yuri Luzkhov is more bombastic in his nationalism than (former National Security Council Secretary Alexander) Lebed. More to the point, many of those who fear Mr. Lebed (now) enjoy privileged and corrupt access to Russia's riches, access that Mr. Lebed might cut off." The paper concludes: "Even those who legitimately fear Mr. Lebed can't justify destroying Russian democracy in order to save it. U.S. officials and businessmen should refrain from encouraging (constitutional changes that are) designed to save particular people's jobs."