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Western Press Review: Russia And Chechnya Sign A Shaky Accord

Prague, 10 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - Western analysts and commentators are looking at Russia's relations with the breakaway region of Chechnya and the Federation's economic progress. They also cast a glance at two Central Asian nations, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan.

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Public punishments may be a way of emphasizing the Chechen government's power

Writing from Moscow, two U.S. correspondents analyze yesterday's signing in Moscow of major economic accords with Chechnya that will allow the transport of oil from Azerbaijan through the separatist republic to a Russian export terminal on the Black Sea. One of them, Richard Paddock, links the accords to Chechnya's continuing public execution of criminals, strongly criticized by Russian officials.

He writes: "While they remain at odds over the legality of public executions carried out under Islamic law, the pipeline agreement moved Chechnya and the Russian Federation a step close to normalizing their relations by acknowledging that they need one another....Last week, Chechnya staged the public execution of a man and a woman convicted by an Islamic Sharia court on murder charges...a gruesome scene widely televised in Russia (and condemned) as 'an act of lynching' (by President Boris Yeltsin)." He continues: "While there is broad public support in Russia for capital punishment, Yeltsin decreed an end to executions this Spring at least in part because of international pressure. He wants Russia to retain its membership in the Council of Europe (which) promotes democracy and bars members from carrying out executions." Paddock adds: "With the signing of the oil deal, it appears that Chechnya's defiance of Russia extends only so far....The public punishments (may be) a way of emphasizing the power of government in Chechnya while it forges closer ties with its former enemy in Moscow."

THE WASHINGTON POST: For war-devastated Chechnya, pipeline money is sorely needed.

David Hoffman agrees, writing that "for war-devastated Chechnya, the money (the pipeline will provide) is sorely needed." Hoffman says: "Negotiations had dragged on for months as Chechen leaders sought maximum leverage over Moscow in exchange for repairing the critical pipeline....It appears that Chechen negotiators, after making huge initial demands for reparations, came close to accepting Russia's offers on tariffs and money to rebuild the pipeline." He continues: "Since a cease-fire was signed a year ago, Russia and Chechnya gradually have been repairing their economic relations, with agreements on customs procedures, for example, while postponing any resolution of their basic disagreement over Chechnya's demand for independence."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Chechen officials plan to go ahead with a second public execution

In another analysis from Moscow correspondent Charles Clover focuses on the executions : "The row could intensify today, when Chechen officials have said they plan to go ahead with a second public execution by firing squad. The Kremlin insists that Chechnya is part of Russia (and will) investigate (last week's) execution, which it considers to have taken place on Russian territory, as murder. Chechen officials believe the territory to be outside Moscow's jurisdiction....Apart from crime-fighting, the broader issue at stake is the right of Chechnya to have its own legal system --in this case, the Sharia..."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Nationwide economic conditions are certainly better than official statistics imply....

In a long commentary earlier this week a leading U.S. economist who recently visited Moscow finds the capital "is enjoying a remarkable renaissance." Martin Feldstein, former chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisers, says: "The city's residents obviously appreciate the improved quality of life: They recently re-elected their mayor with an amazing 90 percent of the vote in a fair and open election." Feldstein writes: "While the rest of Russia is n-o-t enjoying an economic resurgence on Moscow's scale, nationwide economic conditions are certainly better than official statistics imply....The (supposed) fall in industrial production is due to the decline in military output, which never contributed to the well-being of Russian consumers.....The official statistics are also misleading because Soviet bureaucrats were rewarded for overstating the actual output, whereas today managers understate output in order to avoid the taxes levied on each company's total sales."

Feldstein goes on: "The underground economy may represent 40 percent or more of total Russian (gross domestic output). The standard of living has also improved because the end of price controls in 1992, combined with the shift to a system of private ownership, ended the widespread shortages of virtually all consumer goods at the end of the Soviet period."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Akayev and his country.have become the litmus test of problems for post-Communist societies

Introducing an interview yesterday with Kyrgyzstan President Askar Akayev Robin Wright wrote that "Under Akayev, Kyrgyzstan is unique among the (five) predominantly Muslim Central Asian republics. It is increasingly referred to as the Switzerland of Central Asia because of its spectacular snow-capped mountains, its comparative political tranquillity and the use of referendums as the most frequent means of deciding national issues....Akayev and his country...have become the litmus test of problems for post-Communist societies --and the difficulty of dealing with the slow pace of progress."

Here are some excerpts from Akayev's remarks to Wright:

--"Among the lessons of the transformation is what I call the collapse of illusions. The essence of this lesson is that both the West and the post-Communist nations naively expected too much in too short a time. The post-Communist nations, including Kyrgyzstan, obviously had an exaggerated and simplistic idea about the kind of support they could receive from the West...And the West underestimated the systemic complexity of change and the degree of resistance from old and still powerful quarters."

--"The political elites in our country are...still primarily made up of the second echelon of the former communist party and the state 'Nomenklatura.' Their dream is to try in one way or another to concentrate power and property in their hands. But our democracy has been rooted. Now I think most people understand democracy is the best way of organizing the state."

--"Our CIS partners originally criticized our radical (economic) reforms and predicted Kyrgyzstan would collapse. Yet today every macro-economic indicator shows that we look better than any of the other 14 (CIS) republics And of all post-communist countries, our progress is third only to Poland and the Czech Republic."

JOURNAL OF COMMERCE: Gas reserves in Turkmenistan are nearly equal to those of the United States

In an analysis of Turkmenistan's recent offer to share one-third of its offshore and onshore oil and natural gas resources with international companies. Correspondent Michael Lelyveld wrote: "Turkmenistan estimates its offshore oil reserves at 6,500 million metric tons, or more than 47,000 million barrels. The gas numbers are also staggering....According to the most conservative foreign estimates, proven gas reserves (much of which are onshore) in the country of just four million people are nearly equal to those of the United States."

Lelyveld continued: "Many of the world's oil giants are expected to bid (on Turkmenistan's offer), despite uncertainty about how to transport the resources out. But Turkmenistan and its autocratic president, Saparmurad Niyazov, have already complicated the sale by including one oil field claimed both by (Turkmenistan) and Azerbaijan...." He concluded: "Turkmenistan needs to mount a campaign to convince investors that they can have an uncomplicated relationship. In the past, deals have soured and there have been few legal protections to make them stick."