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Western Press Review: Iran, Ukraine, Baltics And Chechnya

By Jan de Weydenthal and Anthony Georgieff

Prague, 13 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western press comment today continues to focus on the situation in Iran, with particular attention given to the political impact on the regime from the student upheaval. Other comment concerns prospects for Ukraine, where presidential elections are scheduled for the Fall, the Baltic countries' efforts to join NATO, and tension surrounding relations between Russia and Chechnya.

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: Demonstrations are not a direct threat against the system of power

With regard to Iran, the Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende editorializes, "It is tempting to compare the current students' protests in Iran with the revolution twenty years ago, when a corrupt, feudal and pro-American government was toppled by a group of militants. But the comparison ends here. The rule of the mullahs today is as out of step with the will of the people as was the Shah, but the demonstrations in Tehran, and at several universities in the provinces, cannot be seen as a direct threat against the reactionary system of power."

The paper says: "...we can hope that in the longer term, the demonstrations will influence the current rulers toward making further reform. The power struggle in Iran is at the present time focused on the parliamentary elections next March. The unrest might persuade the conservative, religious rulers to accept some more liberal candidates.... If the government takes a more restrictive course of action, the current discontent will flare up again."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Undeniably Iran is at a turning point

The Wall Street Journal Europe says in an editorial: "whether or not the mass student demonstrations that have spread across Iran in recent days will eventually result in the overthrow of the country's theocratic regime, it seems unlikely that the Islamic republic will ever be the same."

The paper continues: "it seem undeniable that Iran is at a turning point. The student demonstrators, who have been chanting 'Islam and the law or another revolution,' will not be easily appeased."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The president must take control of the police and intelligence services

The British newspaper Financial Times notes in an editorial that the demonstrations "...are a challenge for Mohammad Khatami, Iran's reformist president, who is trying to create accountable government under the rule of law."

The paper concludes: "The president must take control of the police and intelligence services, and press for impartial selection of a judiciary now dominated by hardliners. The alternative is a slide into violence as privileges and powers of the theocrats are eroded."

WASHINGTON POST: Half reform has given birth to powerful, corrupt elites

Turning its attention to Ukraine, which faces important presidential elections in the Fall, The Washington Post says in an editorial that the ballot may well determine Ukraine's future course and possibly even its survival as an independent nation.

The Post says: "The nations that have done best in overcoming their Communist heritage are those that opted for quick and complete economic reform. Those that managed only partial reforms now find themselves in a dangerous way station. The old central command economies are gone, but the rule of law has not been established to make a real market economy work. This half-reform has given birth to powerful, corrupt elites that in turn have an interest in blocking completion of the reform process." The Post continues: "Ukraine and Russia both find themselves in this hard-to-escape netherworld. Ukraine is caught in the middle in other ways, too: geographically, between Russia and Central Europe; demographically, with large populations of ethnic Russians and ethnic Ukrainians; politically, with a communist-leaning parliament that can stymie reforms proposed by President Leonid Kuchma."

The paper admits that Kuchma is a skillful politician, with good connections in the West, but says: "there are worrying signs, though, that Mr. Kuchma's team may overreach in its use of his incumbency, manipulating media, election machinery and other institutions to promote his reelection. Such behavior would only hurt Ukraine and its ties with the West, no matter who won the election."

BERLINSKE TIDENDE: NATO should not to change its enlargement procedure

In Denmark, Berlingske Tidende expresses concern about prospect of NATO membership for the Baltic countries. The paper says in an editorial: "There have been some alarming signals from Washington suggesting that some Balkan countries may gain faster entry into NATO at the expense of one or several of the Baltic states. If this is the beginning or a revision of the enlargement strategy, we must immediately stop and think twice."

The paper continues: "...with the exception of Slovenia, it is unrealistic to imagine full membership any time soon for any of Yugoslavia's neighbors. None of these countries is prepared for this either militarily or politically. Instead, NATO should consider intensifying its Partnership for Peace program in the region."

The paper stresses that "...the Baltic countries' progress should be recognized. Their need for a formal security arrangement with the West is no less acute now than it has always been."

And Berlingske Tidende concludes: "It is extremely important that in the enlargement process -- that will last for many years -- NATO does not suddenly change its course, but instead keeps to its original strategy, which is in the best interests of Europe's long-term peace and security".

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Russian strategy in Chechnya is doomed to fail

The Wall Street Journal Europe worries in an editorial about the deteriorating security situation in Russia's breakaway republic of Chechnya. The paper says: "Almost unnoticed in the Russian-NATO brinkmanship over Kosovo peacekeeping, Chechnya has been sliding slowly back toward war. Late last month, the Russian government closed dozens of border crossings with Chechnya and launched artillery and helicopter gunship strikes on Chechen positions. There have been armed skirmishes nearly every week.

The paper continues: "The sordid history of Russian-Chechen relations suggests this strategy is doomed to fail. If anything would unite the Chechen rebel gangs, it is another fight against Russia. If anything is needed to ensure that Chechen society remains impoverished, rebellious and criminalized, it is further attempts at subjugation from Moscow."

The Journal concludes: "If Russia's leaders are to hold the territory together, they will have to regain the confidence of the governed through policies that improve public well-being. The alternative opted for in Chechnya -- forcing them into submission-- has already proved disastrous more than once."