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Western Press Review: Attack On Shevardnadze Attracts Comment

By Don Hill and Esther Pan

Prague, 11 February 1989 (RFE/RL) -- A number of Western press commentators turned their attention momentarily from the Iraq war threat and Clinton scandals to Monday's attack on Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze.

LES ECHOS: The breakup of the Soviet Union loosed old demons

The French economics newspaper Les Echos asks rhetorically whether the assault stemmed from "a Russian or nationalist conspiracy?" Its answer seems to point toward Moscow. Les Echos editorialized: "The attack against Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze on Sunday will in any case worsen the relationship between Moscow and Tbilisi." It said, "Georgia is a direct competitor with Russia for a lucrative pipeline deal from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea. The pipeline is a bone of contention between Russia and its former possession in the Caucasus, but it is not the only reason for conflict in the unsettled region. The breakup of the Soviet Union loosed old demons of nationalism, that are combining armed violence with words. Moscow is incidentally taking part, with its military help contributing to destabilizing the government which it has shown so little cooperation."

WASHINGTON POST: This was the second assassination attempt

Writing from Moscow in The Washington Post, correspondent David Hoffman recalls the history of Shevardnadze's troubled presidency. Hoffman writes: "It was the second assassination attempt against Shevardnadze in three years. On Aug. 29, 1995, the white-haired former Soviet foreign minister was injured by flying glass when a bomb blew up under his car as he left to sign a new constitution for Georgia, which became an independent state after the Soviet Union collapsed. Shevardnadze, as foreign minister to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, played a pivotal role in the end of the Cold War, but has faced civil war and economic upheaval upon returning to his native Georgia. In 1993, Shevardnadze led an unsuccessful campaign to crush separatists in Abkhazia, along the Black Sea coast, a conflict that remains unsettled."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Russian ultranationalist and communist groups masterminded the assault

The British newspaper Financial Times carries this analysis from Tbilisi correspondent Selina Williams today: "One presidential adviser said yesterday he was not surprised by the attack, claiming that Russian ultranationalist and communist groups, who still see Georgia as an intrinsic part of Russia, had masterminded the assault." Williams writes: "Russia had much to lose when the three countries in the Transcaucusus, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, abandoned the Soviet Union in 1991 and began a period of shaky independence."

DIE WELT: The Georgian president himself blamed 'international terrorists'

The accusing finger does seem to point towards Russia, Jens Hartmann writes in the German newspaper Die Welt. Hartmann asks the central question, "Who was to blame for the attempt on Shevardnadze's life?" He answers that the Georgian president himself blamed " 'international terrorists,' hinting that someone might have wanted to kill him to prevent construction of the oil pipeline from Azerbaijan on the Caspian to the Georgian Black Sea port of Supsa. That was clearly a finger pointed in Moscow's direction. Russia says that all pipelines carrying Caspian oil westward must run through Russian territory, first because billions in transit fees beckon and second because Moscow could then control the flow of oil."

Die Welt's analysts says: "Russia was outraged by the Georgian parliament's order to blockade all Russian military bases on Georgian territory. Georgia is still deeply hurt that Russia backed the rebel Abkhazians in the Georgian civil war, enabling the western region to break away from the rest of the country."

LA REPUBLICA: Yeltsin came to Rome in a difficult phase

La Repubblica, Rome, says it was a burdened Boris Yeltsin who visited the Pope. La Repubblica says in an editorial: "Yeltsin came to Rome in a difficult phase in relations between Russia and the United States. It is a phase of increasing problems over Washington's determination to expand NATO up to the Russian borders, over the expressed interests of American oil companies in deposits in the Caspian sea, over the Iraq crisis. In this entangled situation Boris Yeltsin's position becomes harder every day, because of his numerous internal enemies. So Yeltsin has come to Rome, to a country that understands the importance of European integration of Russia, that resisted NATO expansion eastward and is interested in finding a peaceful solution to the Middle East crisis. The ideal partner to come in to from isolation."

LE SOIR: Yeltsin had a double objective in his visit to Rome

Le Soir, Brussels considers Yeltsin motives. The newspaper editorializes: "Russian president Boris Yeltsin had a double objective in his visit to Rome, which began on Monday: to strengthen the economic and political bilateral ties with Italy and to relaunch the dialogue between the papacy and the patriarchy in Moscow."

SYDSVENSKA DAGBLADET: France wants to distance itself from the United States

Sydsvenska Dagbladet chides France editorially for narrowness in its view of the Iraq crisis. The newspaper says: "It is clear that the Iraq crisis is not only over weapons inspections. France, Russia and China have seized the occasion to show their resistance to the role of the United States in world politics. This is consistent with the agreement reached between French President Jacques Chirac and Chinese President Jiang Zemin in May of last year. In a declaration, they stated that both partners had agreed to expand their cooperation, seek multipolarity and fight all attempts to dominate international politics. It doesn't seem to bother the French administration that it itself brought the Iraq question in to divide the EU, and that its country is behaving the same way as totalitarian China. The main issue, evidently, is that France wants to distance itself from the United States. Such national quests for validity are the greatest hindrance to a common European foreign policy."

LE MONDE: A common foreign policy still has no form

Le Monde, Paris, takes issue with British Prime Minister Tony Blair for siding with the United States. Le Monde says: "Forgetting that he holds the rotating presidency of the EU, he -- who has declared himself a candidate for the future leadership of united Europe -- without consulting one of his partners, without a glance to those he leads, even in the first hours of the military movement against Iraq had already vowed his support." Le Monde says: "This situation makes us remember that a common foreign policy still has no form, and the only common thing Europe has for the moment is the Euro."

BALTIMORE SUN: This is a quarrel that involves contested territory and centuries of historical animosities

The Baltimore Sun yesterday discussed the political upheaval in Armenia, with emphasis on the Nagorno-Karabakh question. The Sun said: "The forced resignation of controversial President Levon Ter-Petrosian threatens to derail complicated efforts to ease hostilities between largely Christian Armenia and its nominally Islamic neighbor, Azerbaijan. This is not a dispute that arises from religious differences, but a quarrel that involves contested territory and centuries of historical animosities. It now has all the potential of rekindling a regional crisis." The editorial concluded: "Nagorno-Karabakh was the defining issue of Armenian politics even before the collapse of the Soviet Union. The remote enclave's only realistic hope for cultural and religious self-determination is as an autonomous part of Azerbaijan. Mr. Lev-Petrosian recognized this and was branded a traitor. Finding a solution to this difficult dilemma will be much more difficult without him."