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Western Press Review: For Commentators, Chechnya Won't Go Away

By Don Hill, Dora Slaba, and Anthony Georgieff/Alexis Papasotiriou

Prague, 22 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- For Western press commentators -- as for Russia -- Chechnya just won't go away. The recent OSCE summit, Kosovo, peregrinations of the U.S. president, and links among these topics also excite comment.

TIMES: It took inventive diplomacy to get Moscow to admit that the OSCE had a right to intervene

From London, The Times says in an editorial that President Boris Yeltsin's faint bow to OSCE demands last week implied that Russia is mildly embarrassed over Chechnya. As The Times describes it: "Yeltsin flew to Istanbul last week to tell the West that it had no right to criticize Russia. But despite a bravura performance, he won no support at the summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. [Then he] flew home early, masking physical weakness behind the appearance of a walk-out. But he knew that unless Igor Ivanov, his foreign minister, made concessions over Chechnya, the entire summit would end in failure and recriminations."

In The Times' words: "It almost did. America, Britain and their main allies were ready to scrap the final communiqu, reject the proposed new OSCE charter, and return home without signing the revisions to the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty. It took inventive diplomacy, a long night of negotiations and Western brinkmanship to get Moscow to admit that the OSCE had a right to intervene."

POLITIKEN: President Yeltsin has every reason to be happy

Denmark's Politiken takes a similar view in an editorial. It says, in the editorial's words: "The Russian public generally supports [the government's] brutal and completely out-of-proportion policy, and President Yeltsin has every reason to be happy following the Istanbul meeting of the OSCE where the international community upheld its support for Russia's rule over a region that three years ago had already obtained its de facto independence."

Politiken goes on with this: "Fortunately, [the West] insisted that Chechnya is not only a Russian internal affair. Moscow has committed itself to allowing some humanitarian aid to enter the republic, and has also admitted that a political solution to the conflict is to be preferred."

WASHINGTON POST: America must now follow a minimalist policy of avoiding actions that would make a bad situation worse

Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland, writing on Sunday, disagreed with even those faint perceptions of progress. The OSCE summit was ineffectual, he said. Russia's generals are using bodies as building materials for a new edifice of nationalism, Hoagland contended.

In the columnist's words: "Russia's generals are rebuilding their state on the mangled corpses of Chechnya's civilians. Chechens must die for Russian notions of power and territorial control to live again. The bodies are just bricks in the Kremlin's bloody wall of revived nationalism. The man-made humanitarian disaster in Chechnya will accelerate now that Boris Yeltsin has faced down President Clinton and Europe's leaders at the ineffectual summit on European security in Istanbul."

Hoagland expressed foreboding with these words: "If they succeed in Chechnya, the Russian generals will have more influence at the Kremlin than at any time since the early days of Soviet rule. And these generals are not only angry. They are also determined to redress and avenge the successive demonstrations of Russian state impotence in the first Chechen conflict, in Clinton's politically driven rush to NATO expansion and in NATO's air war on Serbia over Kosovo."

Hoagland's pessimism extended also to what options may be left. He put it this way: "A revitalized Russian state built on the brutal reconquest of Chechnya might be as unpalatable for the United States as the further weakened and chaotic Russian state that would emerge from defeat there. America must now follow a minimalist policy of avoiding actions that would make a bad situation worse. In dealing with Russia today, that is a mighty challenge."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The 'strategic partnership' is suffering

German commentator Daniel Broessler, writing in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung says Chechnya is only one of a list of tense issues that are driving Russia and the United States apart. The situation in Broessler's words: "[Other] points of contention [begin] with NATO extension eastward, followed by the Kosovo war, and the corruption accusations against Russian politicians, as well as American plans for the reduction of strategic weapons. [Upcoming presidential] elections in both countries have not contributed to easing the relations."

Broessler says that topical problems don't cover the field. As he puts it: "America has become strongly involved in Russia. Now the disappointment of the Russians concerning market economy reform is also a disappointment with the lauded land of capitalism. The 'strategic partnership' is also suffering from a lack of common strategic interests. This is clearly evinced in Central Asia, where Russia and America have competed for a long time over oil and gas. These features are often concealed."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Russia has recognized that the war in Chechnya is not merely a matter of internal policy

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung's Horst Bacia writes in a commentary that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has moved Russia to soften its stance, perhaps, just a little bit. Bacia writes this: "Russia is fighting in Chechnya for control of the Caucasus, of a region it has traditionally held as its sphere of influence, [a region] which, it feels, is coming under Western threat because of the strategic importance of the oil and gas in the Caspian Sea basin. Only the possible failure of the OSCE summit seemingly moved Moscow in the end to recognize the vaguely described humanitarian and political role of the OSCE. The value of this willingness to concede will be demonstrated when negotiations take place with the OSCE inspection commission in the region. As yet, they are just words in the final summit resolution. Nevertheless, Russia has recognized that the war in Chechnya is not merely a matter of internal policy."

Two pieces of commentary from the Greek press on Sunday assessed Clinton's visit to Greece last week. They refer only in passing to the passionate protests against the U.S. president, and concentrate instead on the effects of his diplomacy.

ELEFTHEROTYPIA: Turkey has to respond honestly and frankly

Eleftherotypia said in an editorial that there weren't many effects to assess. What counts in the visit is, in the editorial's words, "the outcome [in terms of] what Greece and Turkey do, whose dtente and cooperation owe more to the earthquakes in both countries than to Bill Clinton." The editorial then says this: "Both the Greek president and the prime minister, stating Greece's positions, said that there is only one clear way to achieve a Greek-Turkish rapprochement: To respect and apply international law on all issues, in the Greek-Turkish dispute, and the Cyprus issue."

The editorial continues: "Greece has taken a clear stance, and Turkey has to respond equally honestly and frankly. Ankara needs to do no more than to accept the guiding principles of the international community, principles that govern good relations between all nations."

KATHIMERINI: No great optimism is justified

Commentator Costas Iordanidis voiced a similar view in Kathimerini, in these words: "Clinton gave his support to Turkey's application to become a candidate for European Union accession. Yet the news is that he connected Turkey's prospects for EU accession with the need for a normalization of Greece and Turkey's often turbulent relations, for a settlement on the Cyprus issue, and for human rights to be respected in Turkey. The fact that Clinton asked Turkey's political leaders to make a gesture of good will to Greece before the EU summit in Helsinki next month, for which he did not secure Ankara's agreement, does not justify any great optimism about the efficacy of his suggestions."

WASHINGTON POST: These overseas heroes make no claims of heroism

On an entirely different topic, The Washington Post today hails some world press heroes, including Kosovo's Baton Haxhiu. Haxhiu is the Kosovar Albanian editor who, when driven out of Kosovo, started a newspaper for refugees urging them to be ready to return. When he finally returned, he found himself criticized, even threatened, for refusing to pander to ethnic hatred. The Committee to Protect Journalists will honor Haxhiu this week along with four other journalists. The other honorees are Jesus Joel Diaz Hernandez, in jail in Cuba for starting an independent news agency; Maria Cristina Caballero, a reporter and editor who has fled death threats in Colombia; and Jugnu Mohsin and Najam Sethi, the wife and husband team that publishes and edits the Friday Times in Pakistan.

The Post says this, in its editorial's words: "What is striking about these overseas heroes is that they make no claims of heroism, although they take unimaginable risks to pursue their work. 'The situation is getting worse for everyone, and what's going on with journalists is a symptom,' says Ms. Caballero. But if brave people such as Ms. Caballero are killed or hounded into silence, then the rest of the world will know little of the danger facing all Colombians. That is why journalist heroes such as these five deserve recognition."