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Western Press Review: Ailing Russia Spells Disaster

Prague, 27 August 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The downward spiral of the ruble, the likely political fallout in Russia and the economic impact of this development on other economies are grist for the mills of numerous editorial writers across Europe today.

SCOTSMAN: A popular return to communism cannot be ruled out

An editorial in Edinburgh's Scotsman, entitled Capitalism Hurts in Moscow, warns: "The danger for Yeltsin, and for his successors, is that once the money runs out or is devalue to nothing, panic will give way to anger. The Russian people may have forgotten the repression of the communist regime, but they have not forgotten that the Soviet Union brought order and employment, and did not give up the streets of Moscow to gangsters. A popular return to communism cannot be ruled out. Meanwhile, the Western world of hard currencies, open banks and trading stock markets will not escape unscathed... A Russian default will devastate the German banks just as third world debts damaged London a decade ago."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Russia itself must take the lead in turning the country around for the better...

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung takes a similar tone in a commentary today: "If the German Economics Minister says: 'we won't let Russia fall', he ought to know, that not even with more powerful credit programs can Russia be maintained as a reliable and stable economic partner as long as the Russians themselves do not take the lead in turning the country around for the better....Russia is not the ruble, but the ruble stands for the assessment of Russia. The IMF's allegation 'if there had been no George Soros, we would have succeeded in Russia', is the misdiagnosis of the year. It is not only blind to facts, but also dangerous."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The oligarchs chased Kiriyenko into the political desert

Munich's Sueddeutsche Zeitung in an editorial says "the banks speculate and fuse, to stave off the worst. But the banks' owners have avoided the absolute worst, that is letting the banks being placed under state control, by the replacement of Sergei Kiriyenko with Viktor Chernomyrdin at the head of the government. The young, impetuous reformer wanted to lock up the oligarchs. But they chased him out into the political desert."

DER STANDARD: We have never before had such a situation

Vienna's Der Standard in an editorial by Guenter Baburek says "Chaos rules in Moscow. At the moment, no one knows where the ruble is lurching to... Even an experienced financial expert like the chairman of the board of Creditanstalt Gerhard Novy who has been in the business for more than 40 years, can only shake his head saying, 'we have never before had such a situation.' ... The long term impact of this opaque zigzag course will be ghastly. Trade with Russia in many areas will come to a standstill, since no reliable basis is left. Many (potential) investors from the West after this financial debacle will think thrice whether to put their money in Russia. And those who have already done so and paid the price as a result of the latest refinancing operation, will try to get out of the market as quickly as possible."

DIE PRESSE: What a false start!

Vienna's conservative daily Die Presse, in and editorial by Andreas Schnauder, comments "Chernomyrdin sent the ruble and stocks plummeting with his first important official act. He appears to have lost any lingering trust among western lenders in advance of any refinancing negotiation which no doubt will be necessary very soon. What a false start!"

LA REPUBBLICA: The fact is that an attempt to restructure Russia happened

In Rome, the left-liberal daily La Repubblica, in a commentary by Sandro Viola, says "few times in history has a country reaped from one and the same person so much cause for hope and then grief as Russia has with Boris Yeltsin. If we look at the loss of power in the large Russian cities, the unstoppable fall of the ruble, the run on the banks to withdraw one's savings, the coma of the institutions, then a few things should not be forgotten. That is the efforts, the courage the broad vision with which Yeltsin sought to steer Russia from the communist night to the banks of the European community... The fact is that an attempt to restructure Russia happened. For the time being this attempt, however, has failed."

IL MESSAGGERO: Two key victims are liable to go under

The liberal Rome daily Il Messaggero comments "the ruble has sunk with the weight and speed of a stone into the stormy sea of Russia's economic and political crisis. With the economic foundering, two key victims are liable to go under: President Yeltsin and the embryo of a middle class that was supposed to be the backbone of the new democratic and capitalist Russia... The mass media speak correctly of a crack, of a state bankruptcy. Foreign investors are panicking... Russian citizens -- the new middle class -- who believed in the state, invested in the ruble and created jibs have their backs to the wall."

LES DERNIERES NOUVELLES D'ALSACE: A weakened head of state is devastating the country

In France, the Strasbourg-based regional daily, Les Dernieres Nouvelles d'Alsace comments: "Boris Yeltsin is apparently without any reserve of strength. The autocratic Russian system rests almost entirely on the President of the federation. In this constellation, a weakened head of state is devastating the country. Yeltsin's resignation, already demanded by the Duma is now on everyone's tongue. This outlook is the most disturbing of all possibilities for the West. The early departure of the Russian president would leave the field open for people like general Lebed. To delay the day of reckoning, America and Europe will certainly continue to grant loans. But for how long and with what results?"

LE FIGARO: The state has fallen into a deep depression

In Paris, the conservative daily, Le Figaro, comments: "panic is descending on Moscow. As the ruble continues its dizzying fall and the dollar and deutschmark soar, as the Communists sharpen their tone and demand the immediate resignation of the president, the Russians are going to the banks and trying to withdraw their valuable deposits before it is too late... Some people already have the impression that Yeltsin is almost dying. These rumors do not jibe with the president's latest appearances. Rather most observers consider that Russia's number one's bitter political defeat in recent days has once again shown that the state has fallen into a deep depression."