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Western Press Review: Mother Russia Draws Press Attention

Prague, 2 December 1997 (RFE/RL) -- There has been, in recent days, a flurry of Western press commentary on Russia's politics, economy and culture.

DIE WELT Russia is irrevocably part of Europe

In today's issue of the German newspaper Die Welt, Jens Hartmann writes that modern Russia still has not solved comprehensively the old riddle of whether Russia is European, Asian or truly Eurasian. He writes: "Is Russia a European power, an Asian state, or even a Eurasian hybrid in its own right like no other? This eternal Russian question, posed by Peter the Great, and the subject of heated debate in the salons of 19th century Moscow and St. Petersburg between western-leaning Russians and Slavophiles, seems to have been answered in recent days -- or at least that is what European politicians believe.

"Russia is irrevocably part of Europe, they are saying everywhere; it is an active part of the continent as never before, and has virtually become a companion in destiny through myriad personal and business contacts. The friendship and cooperation treaty between the European Union and Moscow, which came into effect on December 1, is evidence of this feeling of togetherness."

The writer says: "Yeltsin's Europe analysis is founded on a cardinal error. He is underestimating Europe as an entity. Yet Europe has become much more than a collection of states, which have nothing in common other than their borders. When Yeltsin talks of Europe, he means London, Bonn, Paris, then he means bilateral relations with European states -- not with a body of states, which are moving closer together economically and will soon be equipped with a common currency and a central bank. The idea of European integration, building the European house, as promoted, for example by a politician such as Helmut Kohl, is far from Yeltsin's mind."

NEW YORK TIMES: Discovering what is back-page news in Russia helps one better understand why Russia responds differently

New York Times columnist Thomas L Friedman wrote yesterday that U.S.-Russia disagreements over dealings with Iraq don't represent differing views so much as differing motives. Friedeman said: "Sometimes you can tell a lot about a country by what's on the front pages of its newspapers. Sometimes you can tell even more by what's on the back." He said: "Discovering what is back-page news in Russia helps one better understand -- although not accept -- why Russia responds differently than America to the prospects of Iran or Iraq acquiring weapons of mass destruction. To put it simply: Russia is otherwise engaged. It's hard to worry about Iraq's weapons when your own nuclear employees are going unpaid..."

Friedman wrote: "The fact that the Russians are not with America 100 percent doesn't mean they're against America 100 percent. This is not the return of the cold war. It's the essence of the post-cold war. That is why we get these ambiguous outcomes: Russia persuades Saddam to let the U.N. weapons inspectors back in, but only to hasten the day when the sanctions can be lifted and Russia gets paid."

The writer said: "The cold warriors who want to treat Russia as though it's still and will always be an irredeemable foe will be blind to the potential benefits of working with Russia in some areas. Russophiles who want to treat Russia as a fellow Western democracy will be blind to the dangers inherent in Russia's very different circumstances."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Communism has claimed 85-million-to-100-million lives on four continents

A group of historians in France has compiled a score sheet in blood of what they call the "Black Book of Communism." John-Thor Dahlburg described the book starkly in Sunday's Los Angeles Times: " 'A single death is a tragedy,' Soviet dictator Josef Stalin once remarked. 'A million deaths is a statistic.' But how many millions, precisely? This month, 80 years after the Bolshevik takeover in Russia, a Paris-based group of historians has published the first global balance sheet of the 'crimes, terror and repression' committed under communism.

"The harrowing arithmetic of the 'Black Book of Communism': From the organized extermination of Soviet peasantry to the murderous upheavals of China's Great Cultural Revolution, from organized famine in the Ukraine to repression in Fidel Castro's Cuba, Communism has claimed 85-million-to-100-million lives on four continents."

He wrote: "Though scholarly, thick, 846 pages, and relatively expensive at the equivalent of 32.5 U.S. dollars, the 'Black Book' has shot to the top of France's non-fiction best-seller lists. It also has sparked instant controversy, inevitable in a nation where Marxist theory long dominated intellectual thinking and the French Communist Party claimed the support of up to 28 percent of the electorate."

NEW YORK TIMES: Accountability, it seems, has gained a foothold

In Sunday's New York Times, Alessandra Stanley wrote in a commentary: "It is the kind of political parable that enchants Western democrats eager to see Russia adopt the rule of law: A top government official is implicated in a corrupt financial deal, written about in the press and punished. Accountability, it seems, has gained a foothold in a system that once respected nothing but power. But the story of Russia's top economic reformer and his questionable $90,000 book contract is far from a case study in how the nation's fragile democracy is taking root. Instead it is a sobering reminder of how far Russia still remains from Western standards of open government. Anatoly Chubais, 42, was disgraced by an ethical misstep of his own making and could face dismissal. But he was tripped not by a free press and a fair hearing, but by the bankers and tycoons who support free-market reform, only as long as they remain free to control the market.

"There is little question that Chubais crossed ethical boundaries by accepting a book advance from a publishing company owned by Oneksim Bank, which recently won a series of coveted auctions of state property. What is hazier is the atmosphere of ruthless political warfare, entrenched corruption and back-door intrigue that may have driven Chubais to take the money, and almost certainly prompted his enemies to use it to try and destroy him."

Stanley wrote: "Chubais came into government five years ago as a free-market crusader. Faced with the ugly reality of Russia's entrenched corruption, he went on to make pragmatic but deeply damaging compromises on the age-old calculation that the end - economic stability and reform - justified the means." And concluded: "Yeltsin has said he deplores the ethical breach but argues that Russia's fragile economy cannot afford the loss of Chubais. Friday, Yeltsin was quick to add, 'for now.' For now, at least, Chubais has been saved by the very practice of unprincipled pragmatism and compromise he entered public service vowing to reform."