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Western Press Review: Russian Politics, Kosovo War

By Don Hill/Dora Slaba/Anthony Georgieff

Prague, 14 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Many Western commentaries today seek to make sense out of this week's turmoil in the Kremlin, while others continue to dissect what is increasingly called the Kosovo War. Some see connections between the two.

DIE WELT: No Russian prime minister before Primakov had experienced such popularity

Writing from Moscow in the German newspaper Die Welt, commentator Jens Hartmann says that former Russian Premier Yevgeny Primakov enjoyed unprecedented popularity during his tenure in office. Hartmann writes: "No Russian prime minister before him had ever experienced that. His team of ministers, usually divided by petty squabbles, arose as one and gave Yevgeny Primakov a standing ovation [yesterday. He] was visibly moved as he delivered his farewell speech; everyone could see that."

The commentary continues: "Speaking hoarsely, the ex-premier dismissed by Russian Premier Boris Yeltsin Wednesday, thanked the cabinet for their work over the past nine months and then made his departure in the ensuing silence. Always the diplomat, Primakov, a former foreign minister, uttered not a single negative word about the man who at the end had regularly humiliated him."

The writer also says: "Although Primakov was unable to show any economic success during his time in office, he was regarded by many Russians as a guarantor of stability. He spoke to them from the heart when he cast doubt on the healing powers of the market economy and promised people at least a little piece of the Soviet Union again."

NEW YORK TIMES: Stepashin should be allowed to get on with the hard business of reforming the economy

The New York Times offers some avuncular advice to the Russian Duma delegates considering Yeltsin's impeachment: Get on with Russia's business. It says in an editorial: "It is probably too much to expect from Russia's Communist legislators, but they ought to drop their misguided impeachment drive against Boris Yeltsin before it further destabilizes the Kremlin. No good can come of this needless confrontation, and it could produce a protracted crisis that leaves Russia even more wounded than it is today."

The Times concludes: "Russia desperately needs steady, democratic leadership. [Acting Premier Sergei] Stepashin may be unproven, but he should be allowed to form a government and get on with the hard business of reforming and reviving the economy. Impeachment is a senseless and potentially damaging distraction."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Government changes are a blow to Russia's political stability

In a commentary in the Wall Street Journal Europe, Dmitri Sims, president of the U.S.' Nixon Center, says a severe crisis for Russia is developing. Sims writes: "The dismissal [and] Primakov's replacement by Interior Minister...Stepashin is a blow to Russia's political stability and may trigger a major constitutional crisis." Sims adds: "The probability that Mr. Stepashin will be confirmed as prime minister is extremely low. Conversely, the chances that the Duma will vote for impeachment are much higher."

EL MUNDO: Yeltsin is a blood-thirsty dictator

Madrid's El Mundo is pessimistic indeed. It says editorially: "Russian President Boris Yeltsin is a blood-thirsty dictator just as Stalin was. He uses the same political methods to prevent his rivals from holding power." The editorial goes on: "No one believes that Stepashin will do better than the deposed...Primakov. Not even Yeltsin. Yeltsin is turning into a master of political survival. Will Russia outlive him?"

LA REPUBBLICA: Russia's mediation effort in Kosovo is backed by a country in utter confusion

Rome's La Repubblica worries in its editorial about the impact on Russia's mediation effort in Kosovo: "Formally the fall of...Primakov doesn't endanger the Russian mediation role in the Balkan war. Russia continues to be the only framework for a compromise between the NATO states and [Yugoslav President] Slobodan Milosevic. But the fall of the government can weaken Viktor Chernomyrdin's mandate, because the mediator is backed by a country in utter confusion."

INFORMATION: Yeltsin has hurled his country into what may turn out to be its worst political crisis since 1993

The Danish newspaper Information says in its editorial that this time Boris Yeltsin may have sowed a whirlwind that nobody can control. The editorial says: "With his dismissal of [Primakov, Yeltsin] has hurled his country into what may well turn out to be its worst political crisis since [the 1993 rebellion in the Russian Parliament]. This happens at a time when Russia is not only in the midst of a fundamental economic crisis, but also when Moscow was about to play a significant role in finding a solution for the Balkans. Instead, the country has been cast in a situation that forebodes a serious constitutional crisis. Worse, this situation has been created by a weak president who is on his way out and who seems more concerned about power plays than with long-term perspectives and ambitions."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The diplomatic drift in the Kosovo conflict has deepened

In an analysis in Britain's Financial Times, London, writers in Moscow, London and Stockholm describe what they call a "drift" in Kosovo peace efforts. They write: "The sense of diplomatic drift in the Kosovo conflict deepened yesterday after President Boris Yeltsin threatened to end Russian mediation unless NATO heeds his call to halt the bombing of Yugoslavia. At the same time, Western countries appear to be drafting Martti Ahtisaari, the president of neutral Finland, to simplify liaison with Russia."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The Kosovo war has not made a hero of America

Commentator Flora Lewis, writing in the International Herald Tribune, examines growing anti-Americanism co-incident with the Kosovo air bombardment. She writes: "The Kosovo war has uncapped an eruption of anti-American sentiments that goes far beyond the ideological antagonisms of the Cold War. It is true, as NATO and U.S. officials keep saying that Slobodan Milosevic's villainous treatment of Kosovar Albanians has isolated Serbia in much of world opinion. But, paradoxically, it has not made a hero of America.

Partly, she writes, that's because "there is an inflated extravagant fear of American omnipotence due to the American habit of boasting self-promotion, trying to keep up morale with dubious claims of superiority."

Lewis adds: "There will need to be rather some modesty, some willingness to forgo reminding the world of America's might, and even a little extra courtesy, if this unpleasant reaction to America is to be countered. Even American prosperity is something of an insult to those falling behind. They can't be expected to offer sympathy. They need it." She concludes: "There is a price for being on top and trying to make everybody admit it."