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Western Press Review: Putin, Missile Defense, And Turkish-Greek Relations

Prague, 21 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Western newspapers comment on a mixed bag of subjects today. Topics include acting Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. efforts to test a missile defense system, the improvement of Turkish-Greek relations, and the Syrian-Israeli peace talks.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Russia's idea of reintegration is imperialism in disguise

In today's International Herald Tribune, Max Jakobson considers the role of acting President Vladimir Putin as defender of the Russian empire. Jakobson, who is a former Finnish ambassador to the United Nations, says that Russia still thinks of itself as an empire. He says that despite the break-up of the Soviet Union, most Russians he has met still believe that the former Soviet republics will eventually be reunited into the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Jakobson says that the Russian idea of "reintegration" is not comparable to the integration taking place in Western Europe. Instead, he says, it is a form of Russian imperialism in disguise. The writer faults Putin for calling for more military spending to counter a possible threat from the West. Such old-style thinking, Jakobson says, shows that Russia is holding firm to notions of a Russian empire and turning its back on integration with the West.

WASHINGTON POST: Russia is now beginning a painstaking trek to economic improvement

In a commentary contributed to the Washington Post, Russian journalist Masha Lipman writes that the "colorless figure" of Vladimir Putin is symbolic of a transition in Russia from "big upheavals to tedious slogging."

Lipman, who is deputy editor of "Itogi" magazine, says that Russia is now beginning a "long, unexciting, painstaking trek to economic improvement." Lipman believes that Putin, with his unremarkable past and reputation as meticulous and a hard worker, is just the man to push Russia down the road of economic reform.

Lipman writes that to propel the reform process, Putin must repair relations with the West. Isolation, he says, would be deadly not only for the economy, but for Putin's own future as well.

NEW YORK TIMES: Clinton should defer his decision on building a missile defense system

The New York Times today says that the failure this week of a prototype missile interceptor to hit its test target makes it "glaringly clear" that the United States has not come close to perfecting a missile defense system.

The editorial says that U.S. President Bill Clinton should defer his decision on building the system until testing shows that the missile defense would be reliable. The Times says that Clinton also can use this time to weigh the effects of a U.S. missile defense system on arms control treaties. Russia opposes the proposed U.S. system, saying the system would violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. But the Times says that opposition is inherited from Boris Yeltsin, and may not reflect the views of acting President Vladimir Putin. "There is no harm," the editorial says, "in giving Mr. Putin more time to change his mind."

In the words of the editorial: "Until reliable missile defense can be mounted without wrecking arms control, Washington should continue to meet threats from North Korea and Iran the same way it met threats from Russia during the Cold War -- through America's capacity for devastating retaliation."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Some trifle could ruin the new relationship

In today's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, commentator Wolfgang Koydl examines the chain of events that have brought Turkey and Greece closer together in the past year.

Koydl says the main impetus for what he calls the "cautious rapprochement" between the two neighbors were the earthquakes in both countries in 1999. Koydl writes that the eagerness in both countries to help the homeless turned hostile peoples into good neighbors: "The Turks learned that the world does not consist only of enemies; the Greeks that the alleged Turkish barbarians were equally vulnerable and as ready to help."

Earthquake goodwill continued, Koydl says, when the European Union granted Turkey the status of a candidate for membership. He says the decision was greeted with "jubilation" in Greece and that "since then, the optimism knows no bounds."

But Koydl ends his commentary with a note of caution against the international community's excessive confidence that Turkey and Greece will never revert to their hostile stand-off. He says that Greeks and Turks are "so emotional" that even "some trifle" could ruin the new relationship.

JERUSALEM POST: Syrians must fundamentally change their attitude towards Israelis

In today's Jerusalem Post, Gerald M. Steinberg calls for the "human side" in Syrian-Israeli peace talks.

Steinberg writes that for decades Israeli viewed Syria as the "most hostile and implacable" of its Arab neighbors. But now, if relations are to improve, writes Steinberg, the two sides must go beyond settling issues such as borders, water and security.

The writer says that Syrians must fundamentally change their attitude towards Israelis. This includes an end to the "propaganda and crude anti-Semitism" in the official media.

Steinberg also calls for the return of Israeli soldiers missing in action. He writes that "Jewish tradition and common humanity require that every effort be made to return the captured soldiers."

(Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)