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Western Press Review: Russia's Troubles In The Wilds Of Chechnya. . . And Space

Prague, 20 August 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's continuing troubles -- in the wild reaches of the Caucasus and the wild reaches of space -- attract Western press commentary.

NEW YORK TIMES: Maskhadov finds it difficult to manage peace in his anarchic land

Alessandra Stanley wrote yesterday that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov demonstrated increased authority in his fractured land by influencing the release of Russian journalists from more than three months of captivity. Other commentators describe a different perception.

Stanley said in a news analysis: "As three well-known Russian television journalists held hostage in Chechnya were freed, President Boris Yeltsin of Russia and President Aslan Maskhadov of Chechnya met on Monday in Moscow to forge a more workable relationship between their wary and hostile governments."

She wrote: "Maskhadov, the Chechen commander who won the war against Russia, has found it more difficult to manage the peace in his devastated and increasingly factionalized and anarchic land."

She said: "Maskhadov, whose authority is under constant assault from rival camps, has increasingly turned to symbolism. He recently signed a decree making Chechen the only official language in a republic where almost everyone is bilingual. The return of Russian hostages was a real sign that Maskhadov has regained some control over the rival clans and outlaw groups who have turned hostage-taking into a national sport."

WASHINGTON POST: As Russian journalists are freed in Chechnya, they are arrested in Belarus

Yesterday, in a news analysis, David Hoffman related the Chechen releases of journalists to Belarussian imprisonment of Russian journalists. He wrote: "Yelena Masyuk, a Russian television journalist known for her fearless coverage of the war in Chechnya, was released from captivity Monday after being held in dank basements and mountain caves for 101 days by armed kidnappers in the secessionist region."

Hoffman wrote: "The release of the three journalists coincided with a meeting in the Kremlin Monday between Yeltsin and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, a former military commander who has struggled to assert his authority in Chechnya."

He said: "Meanwhile, just as Russian journalists were being freed from captivity, others were being arrested in the neighboring former Soviet republic of Belarus, where President Alexander Lukashenko has become one of the most authoritarian leaders in Europe, taking harsh actions against critics and television journalists."

WASHINGTON POST: The peace between Chechnya and Russia is an uneasy one

In a news analysis today, Daniel Williams contends that, rather than indicating any strength in the Chechen leadership, the hostage takings display Chechen duplicity and Russian impotence. He writes: "Joy over the return of three kidnapped Russian journalists from Chechnya Monday gave way (yesterday) to bitterness over the harsh conditions of their imprisonment, the payment of ransom, the alleged double-dealing of the Chechen leadership and the apparent weakness of Russia's government. Compared to the horror of the two-year war in Chechnya itself, when Russia rained punishment on villages and towns as part of its effort to crush a separatist rebellion, the 100-day abduction and its aftermath seem but a footnote. Yet the saga hints at how uneasy is the peace between Chechnya and Russia and how difficult it will be to build trust, forge a final peace and put the war behind them."

Williams reminds readers of another issue involving much higher numbers, that of soldiers still missing in the Chechen war. He writes: "Beside the issue of kidnapping, Russia and Chechnya are grappling with what to do about missing soldiers on both sides. Chechnya says 1,400 of its troops are being held on Russian territory. A Russian commission on missing soldiers says 1,200 Russians are missing on Chechen territory."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The Russian journalists accused the Chechen government of being involved in their kidnapping

Chrystia Freeland writes from Moscow in an analytical brief today in the British daily that the released journalists themselves are charging the Chechen government with implication in their detention. She writes: "Russian journalists recently released from captivity in Chechnya yesterday accused the Chechen government of being involved in their kidnapping, a charge which could undermine the fragile rapprochement between Moscow and the breakaway region."

Freeland says that the president of NTV, the journalists' employer, issued the charge. She says: "(His) allegations could create a new rupture in relations between Moscow and Chechnya."


NEW YORK TIMES: Computer parts have not been changed or repaired for 11 years

A different kind of controversy surrounds the mishaps of the Russian space station Mir. Michael Specter says today in a news analysis that Mir frustrations finally have boiled over. He writes: "After enduring six months in which Russia's Mir space station has been savaged by folly and tortured by fate, the can-do face of mission control finally cracked (yesterday). 'We used to change Mir's computer parts after their technical life expectancy ran out,' said Viktor Blagov, the deputy flight chief, bitterly as the crew members 150 miles above him finally managed to repair the computer that sent the station whirling blindly into space on Monday. 'Now because of problems with money, we must use each part until it dies.' He and other officials of the Russian Space Agency, all of whom have obviously grown sick of seeing their work treated as a running cosmic gag, said that parts of the main computer that drives the world's only manned space station have not been changed or repaired in the entire 11 years that Mir has been in orbit."

Specter notes: "The outbursts came after the latest in the long sequence of Mir's recent near disasters." He writes: "The apparently spontaneous decision (yesterday) to end the long stoic silence reflects Russian space officials' growing frustration with the problems of the Mir and the attention those problems have received."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Mir's crew is fighting for the survival of their trade and for Russia's honor

Thomas Urban comments today that the whole Mir project has become an enterprise combining bravado and silliness. He says: "The men of the Mir space mission are provoking us into sympathy. In full view of the world they are fighting not only for new knowledge but for their own survival, for the survival of their trade and for Russia's honor and prestige.

Urban writes: "The fact is that the aging space station needs to go though a complete refit, something that is not one hundred percent possible on both technical and financial grounds. That is why bravura is demanded, personal self-sacrifice in even the most serious case -- just as the former Soviet Union used to demand. An example was the Chernobyl rescue team."

Urban says: "Life up in wild old space may seem romantic to television viewers and perhaps even to astronauts themselves. However, it also continues to be dangerous nonsense."