Prague, 29 August 1997 (RFE/RL) - Western analysts and commentators are focusing today on Russia's military problems and on recent developments in Bosnia.
WASHINGTON POST: Yeltsin may be attempting to soothe generals anxious about military reform
In a news analysis, Moscow correspondent David Hoffman seeks to explain President Boris Yeltsin's abrupt removal yesterday of a key defense official known for advocating the radical reform and downsizing of Russia's deteriorating military forces. Hoffman says the replacement of Yuri Baturin as Secretary of the high-level Defense Council is a signal that Yeltsin is seeking to accommodate senior military officers opposed to large-scale reforms.
He writes: "Baturin's replacement may not indicate a sudden turnabout on Yeltsin's part, but rather an attempt to soothe anxious generals in advance of deep cutbacks likely in military spending and manpower in the months ahead. Several former military commanders now in politics, including...former national security chief Alexander Lebed, have attempted to parlay dissatisfaction among the generals into support for their political movements." Hoffman says that Baturin's successor at head of the Defense Council, Deputy Defense Minister Andrei Kokoshin, "is also considered a reformist, but...may be more accommodating to the military than Baturin was."
CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Russians are worried about the widening military gap with the U.S.
A dispute over whether or not Russia recently broke its moratorium on nuclear testing attracts the attention of other Moscow-based analysts. Correspondent Colin McMahon says that Russian officials continue to deny that seismic activity detected two weeks ago by the U.S. and Finland was the result of an atomic test. He writes: "The incident comes at a time when some Russians are growing more nervous about the widening gap between Russia's military capabilities and those of the West, particularly the United States. Last week...Deputy Atomic Energy Minister Lev Ryabev said Russia was aware of U.S. efforts to improve some nuclear bombs so that they burrow into the ground before detonating, posing a threat to buried bunkers, depots and command centers...The news unsettled some Russians."
WALL STREET JOURNAL: Opposition to NATO expansion from Russian Communists was expected
Russia's continuing opposition to NATO's planned expansion to Central Europe is the subject of two other commentaries today. Former U.S. arms official Edward Rowny notes the efforts of Aleksei Arbatov, a reform-minded State Duma deputy, to emphasize the threat posed to Russia by NATO enlargement during a recent visit to the U.S. Rowney says: "Opposition to NATO expansion from Russian Communists was expected. But when Russia's self-proclaimed democrats start mouthing the party line, it's cause for concern." Rowny notes that Arbatov continually "warned that Russian ratification of the Start Two arms-control agreement could be held up by such concerns. If he is really a sincere proponent of good U.S.-Russian relations, he should be arguing against his hard-line opponents in the Duma, not urging the U.S. to placate them."
NATIONAL REVIEW: Russians are free to ignore what their governors command
In the U.S. conservative weekly, analyst Richard Rose says that "the Russian people today are in no mood for conflict, which ought to ease NATO expansion." Rose writes: "The Red Army has ceased to exist, and the power of the new state to coerce Russians has gone. Russians now have substantial freedom to ignore what their governors command, especially when it means risking their lives abroad. The Afghan war was deeply unpopular in the Soviet Union, but...Chechnya has been doubly sobering. For the first time, television has brought into Russia homes visible evidence of what happens when the Russian military machine starts to roll." He continues: "To ordinary Russians, avoiding civil war is far important than maintaining the country as an international power. You can't fight a war if the population is demoralized, for unhappy conscripts will run away rather than dutifully march toward gunfire."
Several press commentaries deal with the implications of yesterday's clashes between U.S. troops of the NATO-led Stabilization Force in Bosnia (SFOR) and crowds supporting Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb President. The incidents took place in the northern Bosnian towns of Brcko and Bijeljina, where U.S. soldiers used small-arms fire and tear gas to fend off so-called "local residents" wielding sticks, stones and gasoline bombs.
FINANCIAL TIMES: Plavsic is more popular than Karadzic among ordinary Serbs
The British newspaper says that SFOR "is now heavily engaged on the side of Biljana Plavsic, the Bosnian Serb President, in her power struggle against Karadzic, her predecessor. Its involvement was raised another notch yesterday when U.S. forces came to the aid of pro-Plavsic loyalists trying to evict Karadzic supporters from police stations in...Brcko and Bijeljina." The paper's editorial continues: "It is vital that SFOR commanders, and the Western governments behind them, do not let themselves be intimidated by this sort of 'popular resistance.' There is a good deal of evidence that Mrs. Plavsic is in fact more popular than Mr. Karadzic among ordinary Serbs, especially in the northern area around Banja Luka, which she precariously controls."
The paper concludes: "It is therefore in her own people's interest, and in that of Bosnia as a whole, that Mrs. Plavsic should win, and indeed that her victory be seen to be achieved with international backing so that she remains dependent on it. Such an outcome would greatly increase the authority of the international community, enabling it to insist much more effectively on the implementation of the Dayton (Bosnian peace) accords...."
NEWSDAY: The U.S. and NATO have tipped the balance toward Plavsic
In an analysis in the U.S. daily, Roy Gutman says that, "by intervening in Bosnia's strategic town of Brcko Thursday, the U.S.-led NATO alliance took a step from which American officials say there is no pulling back." He writes: "By moving troops into Brcko...in the middle of the night, the U.S. and NATO delved deeper into internal Bosnian Serb politics than ever before and may have tipped the balance toward Plavsic in her battle with Karadzic." Gutman continues: "An action similar to (yesterday's), by British forces in Banja Luka earlier this month, gave Plavsic control of the biggest city in the Bosnian Serb Republic, and now the pattern appears to be in place. NATO turned up the heat after the Clinton Administration began a policy review in April and Britain elected a Labor Government (in early May)."
LOS ANGELES TIMES/INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The NATO-SFOR command is going to implement the Dayton agreement
U.S. special envoy on Bosnia Richard Holbrooke shares that view. In an interview distributed by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate (and excerpted in today's "Tribune"), Holbrooke says: "The world should understand that the NATO-SFOR command is going to be very vigorous from now on in implementing the Dayton agreement. The British have a new government and a new, no-nonsense foreign secretary, Robin Cook. For the first time in five years there is no daylight (that is, differences) between London and Washington on Bosnia. That is very important."