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Western Press Review: Putin, Austria, The EU, And Web 'Hackers'

Prague, 10 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary covers a wide range of topics today. They include evaluations of Acting Russian President Vladimir Putin, Austria's new government, the European Union and Internet "hackers."

WASHINGTON POST: Putin's KGB past is not that far behind him

In the Washington Post, columnist Jim Hoagland likens Vladimir Putin to a diplomatic mirror who shows foreign leaders what they want to see. Hoagland says that the former KGB agent mastered the art of deception while working in the spy realms and that now he is using these skills on the international community. He also says that Western countries know very little about Putin and that his past is shrouded in a cloud of mystery.

Hoagland adds that the West has little choice but to deal with Putin at face value. But he says that Western governments have underestimated "the elements of calculation and manipulation" in Putin's approach.

Hoagland also raises the war in Chechnya and the disappearance of Radio Liberty correspondent Andrei Babitsky as additional proof that Putin's KGB past is not that far behind him. The columnist argues that Westerners should look at Putin's most recent actions before they hail him as what some called a "refreshing change" for Russia.

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Events in Russia are disturbing

The Wall Street Journal Europe also strongly criticizes Western approaches to Putin. In an editorial today, the paper accuses the West of hypocrisy in what the paper says is its heavy-handed denunciation of Austria's new government. The editorial says that, while the West is shaking its finger at Austria, "an ex-KGB heavy has just directed the wholesale destruction of Chechnya." The paper also sees the Babitsky affair as further evidence of human-rights abuses occurring under Putin's command.

The WSJ says that events in Russia are far more disturbing than the new Austrian government, but that there is far less outrage and action on the part of the West. The paper offers some possible explanations of why this is so:

"Maybe expectations are just set so low when it comes to Russia that no one is surprised anymore by patent disregard for human rights and democratic principle. If so then why allow Russia the imprimatur of the Council of Europe or the OSCE? Or is it the sense that disregard for human rights or democracy in Russia won't touch Europe? Tell that to Estonians and Latvians watching in horror. Or maybe it is just that Russia is too big to push around."

LA REPUBBLICA: Anarchists have rocked the entire Internet

The Italian daily La Repubblica says that "the anarchists of the future (hackers) are throwing their invisible and destructive bombs (which) have rocked the entire Internet building." The paper mentions among this week's series of Internet attacks those that hit Yahoo -- the Web's most popular searcher -- the international online library Amazon. com., the auction-house and, finally, CNN news broadcasts.

The paper says the U.S. and the international community are shocked, and calls the hackers' attacks "assassinations" that threaten the global economy. It writes: "Even though the Internet is still in a development stage, it is turning into a nightmare. (The Web) is a serious problem for those who provide it and for those who now have to build new draw-bridges, further battlements and trenches to stop the advance of anarchists against the cathedral of the markets."

LIBERATION: The Internet will be subject to the gravest abuses as well as provide the greatest benefits

An editorial in the Left-of-Center French daily Liberation asks whether the Internet will ever overcome its vulnerability. The editorial says that the Internet, as a new form of communication, is changing consumer habits and is indirectly establishing a new economy. Yet, writes the paper, the question not yet publicly posed is whether the Internet will not invent a new law in market development.

The editorial says: "Whatever the defense measures taken and anti-virus programs installed, the (Internet) system will nevertheless always be vulnerable, human. It will be subject to the gravest abuses as well as provide the greatest benefits."

(RFE/RLs Dora Slaba contributed to this review.)