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Western Press Review: Russia And Clinton Face Troubled Prospects

Prague, 18 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Western Press commentary today focuses on two continuing problems of major dimensions: Russia's future under the new government of Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, and U.S. President Bill Clinton's troubles with Congress over the Monica Lewinsky affair.

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE: Europe must insist that the reforms proceed in all areas

Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung today carries a long commentary on Russia, entitled "Threat of a Step Back to the Past," by Leni Fischer, a Bundestag member who is also President of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly. Fischer writes: "Russia is the midst of a crisis which can only fill Europe with apprehension....That's why an appeal must be directed to all the forces in Russia to take a responsible attitude toward the future of their country: There is no way other than the continuation of the reform course that was begun after the collapse of the Soviet Union, even though much was allowed to proceed in the wrong direction and some things were started but never properly concluded."

She continues: "Russia's problem does not lie in democracy and the reforms, but in their implementation; a task which is not going to be easy for the new Premier, Primakov. Nevertheless, his appointment may guarantee the achievement of a stable government. After the events of recent weeks, that at least is something."

Fischer adds: "Since its acceptance by European (multilateral) organizations two years ago, Russia has taken important steps toward an open democracy and the recognition of human rights. But the goal has not been reached by a long shot. There is even a danger of Russia turning back and blithely giving up what it has already achieved. Europe must insist that the reforms proceed in all areas....Only Russia itself can come to terms with its problems. But Europe must be willing to help."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The Yeltsin years are ending in failure

John Thornhill's commentary in Britain's Financial Times today is headed, "Russia's Brave Old World." He begins: "The Yeltsin years are ending in failure....(Seven years after Boris Yeltsin faced down a hard-line Communist coup,) the young reformers who were the intellectual driving force behind Russia's progress into that brave new world (of liberal democracy and a market economy) have been jettisoned by Mr. Yeltsin and discredited in the country at large. In their place have returned the gray men of the late Soviet era, whose beliefs were molded by the tenets of Marxism-Leninism, who mutter increasingly loudly about the re-imposition of state controls in the economy."

Thornhill goes on: "Yevgeny Primakov...and Yuri Maslyukov, the former head of Gosplan, the Soviet state planning agency, who will run economic policy, represent the cream of the old Soviet elite. They are decent, pragmatic, patriotic bureaucrats --( so-called) 'charming Communists' who stayed loyal to their principles and did not jump on the capitalistic bandwagon. Under their influence, Russia may be returning not to the stagnation of the late Soviet era but specifically to the path the country did not take in 1991-92....( the path of Mikhail Gorbachev's) perestroika....It is possible," he concluded, "that future historians will see Mr. Yeltsin's reign as a brief interlude in a longer-run continuum in Russian history, rather than as radical break with the past."

ECONOMIST: Mr. Primakov may keep the chaos at bay or prove a transitional figure

The weekly Economist, in its current issue (dated Sept. 19), asks whether Primakov "Can Help stop the Rot in what it calls Desperate Russia?" In an editorial the magazine writes: "Mr. Primakov, a 68-year-old apparatchik who has served every Russian leader since Khrushchev, may keep the chaos at bay --at least for a few months. That may give Russia's foul-smelling body politic a chance to restore itself a bit and find a consensus for some kind of emergency plan to prevent a still steeper slide into political and economic squalor."

The Economist editorial continues: "There is a chance that (Primakov) will muddle through. After a first inflationary spasm, he could try to revert to the sort of painful course laid out by his predecessor --but with more political backing to hold on to....But it is equally possible," the magazine concludes, "that Mr. Primakov will prove a transitional figure, entirely unable to staunch Russia's slide into anarchy, even --as disaster piles on disaster-- disintegration. His new friends in government do not give cause for confidence. And there is little, at present, that the West can do save watch, wait and hope."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Primakov seen as a transitional figure easily replaced after the worst is over

The International Herald Tribune today runs a commentary by New York Times Columnist William Safire that begins bluntly: "The man the Russian parliament forced President Yeltsin to name prime minister is a former KGB agent, a friend of dictators in Iraq and Serbia, and an enemy of the West." Safire goes on: "Yevgeny Primakov made it to the top because he was every power center's second choice. They all see this cagey spy-master as a transitional figure easily replaced after the worst is over. They may all be wrong."

The commentary continues: "(Today) we see the (Russian) oligarchs in bed with Marxist economists who promise to protect bankrupt enterprises and print inflationary money. Remaining democratic reformers hope that the ensuing disaster will be blamed on the lefties in the Duma elections next year and elections for the presidency the year after. That's wishful thinking," says Safire. "Primakov will take Russia toward more state economic control, which is only a step away from central political control. The old KGB hand knows how to squeeze the oligarchs to make their media support him. Transition is not his ambition."

The columnist concludes by asking: "Should we bail out Primakov's ailing Russia?" His answer: "The Czech president, Vaclav Havel, offered a sage comment at (his) joint news conference (with Clinton on) Wednesday: 'Better an ill Russia than a healthy Soviet Union.'"

WASHINGTON POST: The West has failed to make the most of its opportunities

In a commentary in the Washington Post yesterday, the paper's foreign-affairs columnist Jim Hoagland was equally pessimistic about Primakov's appointment. He wrote: "The ascent of Yevgeny Primakov to the highest rungs of the Kremlin's power ladder represents the most damaging failure of Western foreign policy since Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. This development shreds all pretense that President Clinton and his peers can now significantly influence events in Russia's beleaguered democracy."

Hoagland also said: "Primakov takes over an economic and political wreck of a nation beset by growing threats of widespread social instability. The wreckage is mostly a Russian responsibility. But the turn to Primakov also reflects a final collapse of the reform efforts led by Anatoly Chubais and the others who repeatedly convinced the U.S. Treasury and the International Monetary Fund that success was only a few more thousand-million dollars away. It wasn't. Instead, those sizable U.S. and European rescue efforts have ended with the scorching and undermining of the credibility of a generation of Russia's economic 'reformers.'"

He added: "Russia's fate is now beyond any strictures or empty praise that Clinton, his aides or allies can offer. The West has failed to make the most of its opportunities in Russia and helped the politicians it supported discredit themselves. Primakov's statist efforts now will fail, or perhaps succeed, without the outside investment and involvement of the past seven years."

Both West European and U.S. journals are filled with comments on President Bill Clinton's on-going problems over his admitted extra-marital affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

IRISH TIMES: On the evidence Clinton's lapse of judgment does not merit impeachment or resignation

The daily Irish Times says these are "crucial days for Clinton." In an editorial, the paper writes: "President Clinton may be known as the Comeback Kid but the comeback is now looking rather more uncertain. Earlier talk of a pragmatic compromise deal over the Lewinsky affair has been replaced with speculation about many further details being made available as the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee prepares to vote for releasing the tape recording of Mr. Clinton's evidence to the grand jury and much other material. The next few days will be crucial in determining which way public opinion is to be swayed."

The editorial goes on: "On the evidence to hand so far, neither Mr. Clinton's original lapse of judgment nor his subsequent efforts to cover it up merit impeachment or resignation. It is very much to be hoped that political decisions along these lines can be made rapidly, not drawn out into the election campaign and beyond it. According to opinion polls, the U.S. public has reached similar conclusions; there are solid majorities against impeachment and for some kind of censure, amid general agreement that he is doing an effective job, even if his personal reputation has definitely been damaged by the whole affair..."

The Irish Times concludes: "The next few weeks will tell whether these judgments stand up or whether Mr. Clinton's political position has become unsustainable."

DIE ZEIT: The media is no longer able to distinguish between the significant and less significant

In Germany today, several journals air their views of Clinton's difficulties. The weekly Die Zeit says that "most Americans now have turned their backs to the grotesque spectacle unfolding in Washington....They are thereby quite simply dismissing the waves of 'political correctness' as an obsession of the political and media elite. (That elite) is no longer able to distinguish between the important financial crisis threatening Russia and the Far East, and an unimportant comedy in the White House."

ABENDZEITUNG: Who really wants to become president ?

Munich's Abendzeitung writes: "The witch-hunters have reached their goal. From now on, Clinton is bound to commit failures. If he continues with his legalistic hair-splitting, he'll lose his friends. But if he says he lied, impeachment is unavoidable. The disheartening question is: Who really wants to become president if he is not entitled to a private life or if he is deprived of the right to make a mistake now and then?"

RHEIN-NECKAR ZEITUNG: Did democracy really gain ground ?

The Rhein-Neckar Zeitung, published in Heidelberg, says that "President Clinton will be remembered in history as the first leader who got his sexual privacy exposed all over the world through the Internet. It's unclear, though," the paper writes, "if democracy really gained ground by the release of all these slippery details, or if it was a victory for the American Puritan delusion of exorcising evil spirits."

ECONOMIST: Clinton's failure to leave condemns him most

In Britain, the influential weekly Economist continues to call for President Clinton's resignation. In a lead editorial in this week's issue (dated Sept. 19) entitled "Just Go," the magazine writes: "Nothing (in Bill Clinton's) presidency condemns him like his failure to leave it. He has broken his trust and disgraced his office, but he clings on. Saving his skin at all costs, against the odds, has become the theme of his political career. Each escape is notched up as a victory. But every time he wriggles through --grubbier, slicker, trailing longer festoons of contrition-- he does more damage to his country."

The editorial goes on: "All Mr. Clinton's considerable energies are now turned in only one direction: his political survival....America and the world at large have already suffered many months of this. They are crying out for the President's concentrated attention. People may not care that he is a philanderer, but they cannot afford his distraction."

And the Economist concludes: "Even those who still respect the President, a dwindling band, no longer have any expectations of him. He has severed the trust and thrown away the moral suasion that make presidents effective. He may well stay in office for another two years, but consumed with his own image and continuously on the defensive. No country can afford that."

NEW YORK TIMES: The squabbling does not augur well for the hard work that lies ahead

In the U.S., the New York Times today castigates Congress for what it calls "rancorous diversions" in its consideration of President Clinton's problems this week. In an editorial, the paper writes: "The nonpartisan, dignified review of the Monica Lewinsky case that was promised by congressional leaders last week has quickly descended into political acrimony and the pursuit of tangential matters. The squabbling does not augur well for the hard work that lies ahead as the House (of Representatives) considers whether to initiate impeachment proceedings."

The paper continues: "As the political heat in Washington rises, it is disheartening but not surprising to find the private lives of members of Congress being publicly examined. Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde became the third Republican in recent weeks to acknowledge an extra-marital affair when faced with press reports about a liaison.?

It concludes: "The prospect of impeachment proceedings should be sobering to both Republicans and Democrats. The American people expect more of their representatives than partisan bickering..."

WASHINGTON POST: There is a mismatch between the available constitutional punishment and the crime

In its editorial yesterday, the Washington Post said that "part of the problem the country faces in deciding on a response to President Clinton's behavior is that the authors of the Constitution failed to envision conduct as tawdry as must now be dealt with." The paper then went on to say: "At some level, there is a mismatch between the available constitutional punishment and the crime. Not to impeach the nation's chief law-enforcement officer for having himself, at the very least, lied under oath in the course of a court proceeding meant to achieve such enforcement is to lower the bar --if not to say that it's okay to lie, then at least to say that under certain circumstances it's possible to lie even in an official setting with relative impunity."

The WP editorial continued: "Some people want to solve the awful problem with a brokered deal. They favor an elaborate, albeit still unspecified, form of censure. It is not just the president's remaining friends who are calling for this as a way of allowing him to serve out his term. People rightly fear the disruption that a protracted impeachment process could entail; there is a great reluctance, as ever there ought to be, to tamper with a settled election result, and there is a kind of revulsion that causes just about everyone to yearn for a fix that would let the country put the repugnant episode behind it."

But the paper concludes otherwise: "It seems to us too hasty --premature-- to be discussing an arrangement such as this. To begin with, a fair amount about the episode still remains uncertain or unknown. It has to do not with whether the president lied under oath, which we regard as established, but with whether he engaged in some further obstruction of justice....(So) we return almost by default, for now, to the impeachment process. The House should conduct the Constitutional inquiry. There's time enough to do it right....The risk of tying the country up, and the president down, for some period of time, seems less to us than the risk of coming too quickly to the wrong result."