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Western Press Review: Ruble Rumble, Bomb Bombast Draw Commentary

Prague, 1 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Rumbling in Russia about the ruble, and Indian and Pakistani bombast about nuclear capability continue to dominate Western press commentary.

WASHINGTON POST: Russia's economy has been dealt a double blow

Washington correspondent Stephen Fidler writes in an analysis today in the Financial Times, London: "Bill Clinton, the U.S. president, yesterday stepped in to try to calm gathering turmoil in Russia's financial markets by promising backing for new funding from international lending agencies." The action, Fidler says, was "triggered by a flight of capital from Russia's markets, which has pushed shares down by 40 percent since the start of the month."

The writer says: "But U.S. officials made it clear that the possibility of bilateral aid direct from the United States and other countries was not under discussion." Fidler writes: "Russia's economy has been dealt a double blow: the Asia crisis, in which investors have drawn parallels with Russia, and the collapse in oil and gas prices as well as the gold price, from which sources Russia derives some 70 per cent of its foreign exchange reserves."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The Clinton statement may well be helpful

In another Financial Times analysis today, Fidler and Chrystia Freeland in Moscow say: "While the (Clinton) statement may well be helpful, the financial markets may demand more evidence of the importance of the commitment."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: For the fourth time in nine months the IMF is being called in to cobble together a bailout plan

In the International Herald Tribune today, New York Times writer David Sanger writes in an analysis from Washington that one more financial crisis greatly extends the International Monetary Fund. He writes: "President Bill Clinton, fearing a meltdown of the ruble that could threaten the stability of the Russian government, said Sunday that the United States would support new international financial support for Russia if it is unable to meet is short-term debts. Mr. Clinton's statement, after a week in which investors fled the ruble, appeared to pave the way for a financial bailout of Russia by the International Monetary Fund.

"While U.S officials refused to talk about the size of any new program, or when it might begin, analysts say Russia could require at least $10 billion to make up for huge shortfalls in oil revenue and tax collection. If an emergency package is required, it would mark the fourth time in nine months that the IMF has been called in to cobble together a bailout plan in the face of market panic. The Fund is already administering huge loan programs in Thailand, Indonesia and South Korea."

A number of commentators today and over the weekend dissect Indian and Pakistani nuclear saber rattling. The consensus is that both nations are engaged in posturing but that the posturing has multiplied in dangerousness now that the sabers actually have been drawn and are glinting in the sun.

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: There is more at stake than self-esteem therapy in kiloton format

Josef Joffe commented Saturday in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung: "After the Indians had exploded their series of five nuclear bombs, Bill Clinton said India was a truly 'wonderful' country which must have been driven by a lack of self-esteem. Get yourself a bomb and you'll feel better? Atomic Viagra for the drooping soul? One prominent Hindu nationalist did indeed say, 'We must prove that we are not political eunuchs.' So of course the Pakistanis had to prove that too, no matter how flattered they should have felt by the plethora of attention that had suddenly been devoted to them."

Joffe wrote: "Has the balance of teeth-baring been restored? After the customary condemnation and sanction gestures, may the world devote itself to its old problems again, from the Middle East to the collapse of the East Asian economies? Unfortunately the matter is not as simple as the pop psychology metaphors suggest. There is more at stake than self-esteem therapy in kiloton format, for the bomb play has two consequences of the worst kind. First, it concerns the very volatile relationship between two arch-enemies in an earthquake-prone region."

He said: "The second problem is that the double test is the worst blow against non-proliferation since 1974, when India exploded a single bomb, after which it remained in the comforting position of 'We could if we wanted to.' "

WASHINGTON POST: India and Pakistan's nuclear tests are a challenge that can be met in either of two ways

Zia Mian is a Pakistani physicist and a research associate at Princeton University. Frank von Hippel is a professor of public and international affairs at Princeton. The Washington Post published their commentary over the weekend: "India and Pakistan's nuclear tests are a challenge that can be met in either of two ways. One would be to simply recreate the nuclear status quo with two more nuclear weapons states and accept the enormous dangers for the people of India and Pakistan and the rest of the world.

"The alternative would be to take international steps to devalue nuclear weapons' possession by moving the nuclear goalposts toward disarmament. The history of the past 50 years teaches that nuclear weapons are unusable for rational military purposes and that their existence makes ordinary human miscalculation or madness potentially catastrophic. Yet the nuclear weapons states act as if they are giants in a world of pygmies -creating indignation in many countries and a temptation for nationalistic parties like India's newly governing Bharatiya Janata Party."

NEW YORK TIMES: India and Pakistan could not have asked for a clearer example of the futility of nuclear arms grandstanding

The New York Times' Steven R. Weisman wrote in a commentary over the weekend: "India and Pakistan could not have asked for a clearer example of the futility of nuclear arms grandstanding than the one they have set themselves. Now that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has answered India's test blasts with his own, India needs to face a fundamental question. Why did Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee give up the advantages of nuclear ambiguity in favor of an action that has clearly worsened his country's security?"

The writer said: "Indians at first rejoiced after the country's tests this spring. Their hunger for self-respect and the respect of others was obvious as Vajpayee declared that India had taken 'its rightful place in the international community.' Now that Pakistan has answered, Indians may have second thoughts because their security is more precarious than ever."

WASHINGTON POST: The fallout the region now faces is political

Teresita C. Schaffer and Howard B. Schaffer, retired U.S. ambassadors with extensive service in South Asia, commented over the weekend in The Washington Post: "With its much-anticipated nuclear tests Thursday, Pakistan now joins India in the international nuclear doghouse. This is a dangerous development, but not because it reveals new capabilities or changes the Indo-Pakistani power relationship. It does neither. The fallout the region now faces is political. India and Pakistan were accustomed to a certain level of verbal saber-rattling and 'controlled tension' across the line separating their forces in Kashmir. With the bombs out of the basement, both governments now are straining to prove that the tests have improved their security. Ironically, they will have a hard time making that case."

The commentators said: "India and Pakistan both intend to manage their bilateral differences without war. However, at least twice in the past decade, military exercises have led to miscalculations on both sides. The resulting crises came uncomfortably close to spiraling out of control. Following the 1990 crisis, India and Pakistan took bilateral measures to discourage a recurrence."