Prague, 2 April 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The implication of NATO's imminent Eastern expansion continues to attract analysis and commentary in the Western press. Commentators also examine a compact on Russia-Belarus unity scheduled to be signed today by Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and the pact's relationship to NATO.
SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: NATO is agreed that new members will be admitted
Kurt Kister comments today: "For months, (NATO advocates and the Russians) have been happy to convey a public image of a hard-fought diplomatic tug-of-war, which in reality has all been for show. The result already is decided, with (NATO) making it clear that its members are agreed that new member states will be admitted. Russia at all times has lacked sufficient political, economic and even military power to stop the enlargement."
He says: "Faced with the imponderability of Russia, the cordon sanitaire against it would continue even without Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic becoming NATO members. But once they are admitted, their rights and obligations mean that we will be obligated to defend them should it be required."
The commentary continues: "If, next month in Paris, Russian President Boris Yeltsin does sign the charter on NATO expansion, he will merely be acknowledging what he has no choice but to accept. Three sovereign nations, formerly forced to be client states but never actually part of the Soviet Union, have decided they want to join an international alliance."
Kister concludes: "NATO nonetheless will find it easy to renounce the stationing of foreign troops inside its three new member countries. That is no capitulation to the Russians, only a recognition that NATO has no strategic need of Poland, Hungary or the Czech Republic. Politically, however, they will be welcome."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Eastern Europe will never be a global player
Alexei K. Pushkov is foreign affairs director at Russian Public Television and a member of the board of the Russian Council on Foreign and Defense Policies. In a commentary published today he writes: "The reaction of some Westerners to the results of the Helsinki summit reminds one of something the Russians often are accused of by the West -- old thinking." Pushkov goes on: "It is as if the last eight to 10 years of new relations suddenly were forgotten just because Russia dared not to accept a controversial Western move that does against Russia's national interests."
He says: "For all its importance, Eastern Europe will never be a global player politically, militarily or economically. For all Russia's present weakness, it will remain such a player." And adds: "By pledging in Helsinki not to deploy nuclear weapons and foreign troops on the territories of the future new member states, (U.S. President Bill) Clinton took important steps in the right direction. Now, as negotiations progress, these pledges should be codified and turned into obligations."
Pushkov writes: "In the long term, a structured European space giving no reasons to worry about its stability is in everybody's interest. This is why the West needs a binding clear-cut Russia-NATO document as much as Russia does."
LONDON FINANCIAL TIMES: While the West expands, Russia has shrunk
In an editorial entitled "Zwischenland" today, the paper says: "For 200 years or more, the lands between Germany and Russia have had a hard time of it. That is why Poles, Czechs and Hungarians now are so determined to enter NATO, hoping to escape this tragic destiny once and for all. But while the West thus expands, Russia has shrunk, leaving a belt of newly-independent states between its main land mass and the putative new Eastern frontier of NATO."
The editorial takes note of the Russia-Belarus ceremony planned for today, and of a visit by NATO Supreme Allied Commander George Joulwan to Ukraine. It says: "Russia may be able to dictate terms to Belarus, but it is in no state to force its will on Ukraine or, indeed on the Baltics." The newspaper says: "In today's Zwischenland, friendship has to be earned, not imposed."
SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The union of Russia and Belarus moves Russia further West
Thomas Urban comments today: "The union of Russia and Belarus appears to be a foregone conclusion." Urban writes: "Russia will move further West, geographically and strategically speaking, in response, as it sees it, to NATO's opening to the East."
The commentator writes: "Supporters (of the union pact) naturally include the Communists and nationalists, who have never come to terms with the break-up of the Soviet Union. For them, partly because they lack attractive leaders of their own, Belarus dictator Lukashenka, who appointed his own parliament and sends police in to beat up demonstrators, cuts a shining figure."
LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: Yeltsin is using the Belarus union as a counterbalance to NATO's expansion
In an analysis today, Nanette van der Laan writes from Moscow: "The (Russia-Belarus) accord is based on a draft drawn up by Mr. Lukashenka, who sees the new community between the two Slav nations as the first step of the political, economic and military reintegration of the Soviet Union. But critics who have studied the treaty say it is riddled with contradictions. Even the most basic issues have not been worked out."
She writes: "It appears that Mr. Yeltsin wants to use the union as a counterbalance to NATO's plans for eastward expansion."
WASHINGTON POST: The situation of the Balts is especially painful
An editorial Monday examined another aspect of the NATO tangle, asking: "What about the countries that seek NATO membership but are not expected to get it the first time around?" The editorial said: "The situation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania is specially painful. Not only were they swallowed for 50 years by the Soviet Union. They remain exposed to any intimidation by the new Russia."
The Post said: "(The Baltics' case essentially) is unanswerable. They are of the historical democratic West. The alliance they would be joining is defensive to the core. Russia can legitimately ask respect for its security interests. But its concern for fallen pride and status is something else. Who is to tell the Balts, just emerged from a half-century in the belly of the beast that they must accept less security so that an unthreatened Russia may enjoy more pride?"
U.S. Domestic Issue: Mass Suicide
A mass suicide in California last week by 39 members of a religious group has captured U.S. press attention.
NEW YORK TIMES: Technical expertise is no proof against bizarre beliefs
The paper editorialized Saturday: "Some find it shocking that a technically gifted group, earning its keep by designing web sites for businesses, could fall prey to aberrational beliefs that blended far-out science fiction with elements of Christianity, (but) technical expertise is no proof against bizarre beliefs."
TALLAHASSEE DEMOCRAT: We should refrain from curtailing the activities of cults
Religion professor Leo Sandon writes today that "(One) response we should refrain from indulging is one curtailing the activities of religious 'cults.' (If) we believe in religious liberty, we will refrain from censoring them on the basis of their peculiar ideology or bizarre behavior."