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Western Press Review: Chechnya, Mideast Capture Press Attention

Prague, 9 December 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The Western press comments on diplomatic impotence in the Caucasus, diplomatic symbolism between Russia and Belarus, and diplomatic progress in the Mideast.

NEW YORK TIMES: Western help to Russia is not entirely unconditional

The New York Times writes in an editorial of what it calls "global outrage about Russian killing of civilians in Chechnya."

The Times takes note of U.S. President Bill Clinton's remarks at his news conference yesterday that there's no easy way to punish Russia. With its veto in the UN Security Council, Russia could block any U.S.-proposed sanctions and, as Clinton said, it makes little sense to cut aid that helps dismantle nuclear weapons.

However, as the editorial puts it: "The International Monetary Fund has continued to delay a $640-million credit for Russia. Though the IMF insists that its action is based solely on financial grounds, the delay rightly serves notice to Moscow that Western help is not entirely unconditional."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The EU must impose sanctions

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung editorially scolds Western governments for waiting so long before expressing outrage over the Chechnya campaign. The editorial says that the West's reticence translated in Russia to encouragement. As the Sueddeutsche Zeitung put it: "Putin and his generals understood the message to be: 'Fire away and fear no consequences.'" The editorial adds this: "From the beginning it should have been made clear to Russia that it is not only in Yugoslavia that war crimes carry a price. The West cannot answer the terror against civilians in Grozny by military means, as it did in Kosovo. But the EU, at its summit in Helsinki, is prepared to talk about economic sanctions." The editorial concludes that talking will not be sufficient. It says, flatly, that the EU must impose sanctions.

BOSTON GLOBE: The Clinton administration and its allies should clearly warn the Kremlin not to use weapons of mass destruction in Chechnya

The Boston Globe equates the Russian campaign with playing with fire and foresees the possibility of worse ahead. In an editorial, The Globe expresses alarm over a warning last week by Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer. Felgenhauer, former defense analyst for the Red Army newspaper Red Star, wrote last week in the English-language Moscow Times that Russian generals are planning to use high-tech weapons of mass destruction in Chechnya -- vacuum bombs that can burn lurkers out from underground bunkers, and worse.

The Globe editorial takes the threat seriously. As the newspaper puts it: "A resort to weapons of mass destruction would come as the logical culmination of Russia's tactics in Chechnya. It has been clear for some time that Russian political leaders and military officers want to avoid the calamitous tactics of the 1994-96 war in Chechnya. Russian soldiers will not be sent into Grozny to wage urban guerrilla warfare against Chechen fighters."

The editorial concludes: "It is equally clear that the Kremlin's anti-Chechen and anti-terrorist propaganda has prepared the Russian public to accept the most inhumane methods to expunge Chechen banditry and Chechen independence. The Clinton administration and its allies should be no less clear in warning the Kremlin not to use weapons of mass destruction in Chechnya."

NEW YORK TIMES: Cluck-clucking and hand-wringing have no effect

Political columnist William Safire, writing in The New York Times, disputes President Clinton's lament that the U.S. lacks ways to penalize Russia over Chechnya. Safire says also that the Chechnya campaign is broader in its scope than just Chechnya. As Safire puts it: "There is another, longer-range game afoot. That is the old imperialist urge by Moscow to dominate the sources and lines of supply of Caspian Basin and Iranian oil and gas, and thereby to gain a stranglehold on the economic life of its adversaries."

Safire presents this list of sanctions that he says are available: "One: Disinvite the Russians from next week's scheduled meeting of the Group of 8 foreign ministers.

"Two: Dispatch a trade-and-aid delegation to Georgia immediately.

"Three: Describe the suspension of the next IMF loan to Russia for what it is -- retaliation for atrocity, and not for economic inaction that saves Russia's face. But the hallmarks of a genuine union are not present even if they were proclaimed. A Supreme State Council consisting of the leaders of both nations which both presidents will take turns chairing.

"Four: Withdraw our scheduled Export-Import Bank guarantees.

The U.S. commentator continues:

"Five: Point out how Arab oil producers, now paying lip service to their Muslim brethren in Chechnya, are financing Russia's attack with their OPEC-induced shortages and inflated oil prices.

"Six: Begin drawing down oil from our brimming strategic reserve, replenishing the reserve when world prices drop.

"Seven: Move quickly to bring the Baltic states into NATO. Russian imperialism is still alive and growling."

Safire writes this: "Cluck-clucking and hand-wringing have no effect. Mass killing is no game, great or otherwise. Diplomatic and economic pressure can save lives."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The hallmarks of a genuine union are not present

Looking at a different Russian initiative, Tomas Avenarius writes in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that, as he puts it: "The union treaty Russia and Belarus signed [yesterday] is neither chalk nor cheese."

Some Westerners perceive the treaty as a step toward resurrecting the Soviet Union. But, writes Avenarius, it lacks the elements of a real union. In the writer's words: "The hallmarks of a genuine union are not present, even if they were proclaimed."

The commentary says that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka called the signing an historic event." Avenarius adds without comment this: "The Belarusian president, who seems to be keener than the Russians on a rapid translation of the union into action, earlier had criticized the lack of specific terms of the agreement."

WASHINGTON POST: There seems to be a cautious readiness to face change

The Washington Post comments in an editorial on what it calls "the first success of the American negotiators" in the Mideast, that is, the agreement by Syrian President Hafez Assad to resume peace negotiations with Israel. Assad softened his stance after a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. And now it appears that negotiations will resume next week.

The Washington Post editorial says this: "[U.S.] diplomacy, warming the Middle East atmosphere, has apparently brought Israel and Syria back to the bargaining table after a three-year lapse. [The two countries] have never been at peace. They have known war and are practiced in living side by side but apart. It will take a long political leap by the two to reach just to the cold start of a relationship that at best is bound to be wary and restricted for years. On both sides, nonetheless, there seems to be a cautious readiness to face change. The next few weeks should begin to tell."

NEW YORK TIMES: Priority must now go to creating the best atmosphere for peacemaking

The New York Times, often an advocate for Israel, says in an editorial that the Israeli government must declare a freeze on construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. As the editorial puts it: "The pace of Mideast peacemaking quickened this week, improving the chances that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak can meet his ambitious goal of negotiating agreements with the Palestinians and Syria within the next year."

The editorial concludes: "Priority must now go to creating the best atmosphere for peacemaking by declaring a total freeze on settlement construction."