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Western Press Review: Chechnya And Kosovo Dominate Commentary Selections

By Don Hill, Brent McCann, and Alexis Papasotiriou

Prague, 24 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Selections from Western press commentary focus on Chechnya and Kosovo.

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Putin looks stronger by the day

Germany's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" commentator Tomas Avenarius illustrates the proverb that even ill winds blow good for someone. He says that the evil wind of the Chechen war is like a fortunate summer breeze for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. As Avenarius puts it in a commentary: "[Putin's] opinion poll ratings are booming and so far his luck has held out on the Chechen front. President Boris Yeltsin has once more held his shaking hand over a crown prince and confirmed him as his preferred successor in the Kremlin. Added to this are fortunate external circumstances. Putin is riding not just on the crest of a popularity wave, but also on a wave of oil dollars.

Avenarius says that Putin looks stronger by the day as a possible successor to Boris Yeltsin as president. In the writer's words: "His emphasis on the need for military strength, his solidarity with the army, his interest in rebuilding the arms industry, all show that Putin defines Russian interests quite differently from the way Europeans or Americans do. They might well find it a lot harder to deal with him than with their aging friend Boris Yeltsin."

LE MONDE: We must leave behind this incoherent dichotomy of all or nothing

In today's Le Monde, outspoken Gaullist Pierre Lellouche, a member of the French National Assembly, asks, "Where is Europe's stand on Chechnya?"

Lellouche notes that in three major conflicts this year, in his words, "The international community's response has been diverse, if not totally incoherent." In Kosovo, NATO intervened with no UN mandate; in East Timor, Australian intervention followed the UN's lead. But in Chechnya, the commentary says, apart from a few verbal condemnations, the international community has been silent.

In the post-Cold War world, Lellouche writes, France and the EU need a political strategy toward Russia that does not close its eyes to internal or external crimes in the name of strategic stability. He puts forth a four-step plan that he says France and the EU should support. The plan calls for suspension of the Russian bombing of civilian areas, creation of a humanitarian zone in Chechnya, opening of negotiations with the participation of European observers, and the housing of Chechen wounded and refugees in EU countries over the winter.

The French deputy concludes with these words: "We must leave behind this incoherent dichotomy of all or nothing -- a just war in Kosovo with massive NATO intervention, or impotence and passivity in Chechnya. It is time to act for the civilian victims of Grozny: we do it for them, and perhaps even more, for the Europe of tomorrow."

TO VIMA: Yeltsin and Clinton play-acted at OSCE summit

The Greek daily "To Vima" carried a commentary yesterday by S. Efstathiadis suggesting that President Boris Yeltsin and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov play-acted complementary roles in meetings last week at the Istanbul summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. In the writer's words: "President Yeltsin used tough language to please the electorate in Russia. In reality, however, his minister [Ivanov] handled Russia's policy on the Chechen issue."

Yeltsin, Efstathiadis observed, made a show of walking out of an OSCE summit, leaving Ivanov to represent Russia with a more moderate stance, agreeing to some OSCE involvement in Chechnya.

Then, as the Greek commentator put it: "[President Clinton] was [placed] in a somewhat difficult position. Had he responded to Yeltsin with the same Cold War-like front, he would have undermined the authority, and the image of the Russian president." Clinton played his part also, Efstathiadis suggested, by pretending, in the words of the commentary, "not to listen to the Russian president's tough language."

INDEPENDENT: The number of Serbs killed in the last five months comes close to that of Albanians murdered by Serbs

Robert Fisk analyzes continuing bloodshed in Kosovo in a news analysis in today's The Independent, London. Writing from Pristina, Fisk says this: "The number of Serbs killed in the five months since the [NATO] war [by some reports] comes close to that of Albanians murdered by Serbs in the five months before NATO began its bombardment in March." The killings were greatest in the months after NATO-led forces occupied Kosovo, Fisk says, but they haven't stopped yet. He says that the NATO leadership will not admit that it is presiding now over a one-sided slaughter. In Fisk's words: "This means [that the murderers of Serbs] have only the largely impotent UN police force to reckon with. No wonder, then, that minority groups continue to flee Kosovo."

U.S. President Bill Clinton's visit to Kosovo this week also generated commentary in The New York Times, the Washington Post and the German newspaper Die Welt.

NEW YORK TIMES: The outlook is disheartening

The New York Times warns, in the words of its editorial: "Precious victory [in Kosovo] must not now be allowed to degenerate into an unstable, unworkable peace." The editorial observes that European donors are lagging in providing promised volunteers and money, and that international institutions are too busy building up what the editorial calls "bureaucratic empires." The editorial concludes that "the outlook is disheartening" unless the West involves the Kosovars themselves in governing the province.

WASHINGTON POST: The UN should involve local leaders in governing Kosovo

The Washington Post praises Clinton in an editorial for calling for Albanian tolerance toward Serbs. The editorial notes that such tolerance would be, in its words, "a tall challenge" for Kosovar Albanians. It says the UN should focus on rebuilding the infrastructure, and calls on Western governments and institutions to quit squabbling over power and get on with financial aid. The Washington Post seconds The New York Times in urging the UN to involve local leaders in governing Kosovo. Otherwise, says the Post, the peacekeepers soon will be perceived as, in the editorial's words, "unfriendly occupiers."

DIE WELT: There have been generous promises but little money

German commentator Boris Kalnoky, writing from Budapest in Die Welt, says that the international community seems so far to have left Kosovo's Albanians and Serbs on their own, financially. There have been generous promises but little money, he says. Kalnoky observes that Clinton spent forty-eight hours in Bulgaria on his European tour, but only eight hours in Kosovo.

FINANCIAL TIMES: A European alternative to NATO would not be equipped to deal with a Kosovo-like crisis

Turning to the European defense initiative discussed in Luxembourg yesterday, an editorial in the Financial Times says that the Western European Union has a European alternative to NATO in mind, but that the proposed design would not equip the new force to deal with a Kosovo-like crisis. The newspaper says that France and Britain want to create, in the words of the editorial, "a European rapid reaction corps." The newspaper says that such a force, as the editorial puts it, "it would be used only for minor peacekeeping or crisis tasks."

GUARDIAN: The Euro army is driving the Americans nuts

From London, The Guardian says that the idea of "the Euro army" is, in a Guardian editorial's words, "driving the Americans nuts." The United States has asked Europe to do more to defend itself. But with the Europeans charging ahead with plans for a rapid-reaction force, the United States is, in the Guardian's words "deeply suspicious about where it all may lead."