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Western Press Review: From Moscow To Microsoft

Prague, 8 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today touches on a variety of subjects. Our selection focuses on Russia's relations with the West, a cabinet crisis in Israel that threatens the Middle East peace process, and yesterday's decision by a U.S. judge to break up Microsoft, one of the world's largest companies -- a provisional but nonetheless important ruling.


"No more help for Russia, please," pleads former Russian Finance Minister Boris Fedorov, in a commentary in today's Wall Street Journal Europe. He writes from Moscow: "For the last 10 years, the debate about Western assistance to Russia has revolved, superficially, around the question 'to give or not to give.' Despite all evidence to the contrary," he goes on, "the answer is always 'to give' because this is seen as helping Russia. Thus for a decade, Russia is regularly dispensed a drug which never cures but keeps the patient in a vegetative state. And the drug habit is growing."

According to Fedorov, the results of such indiscriminate economic aid to Russia are what he calls "dismal." He says: "More Russians are anti-Western today than a decade ago. Russia is economically weaker than 10 years ago after all the IMF-sponsored reforms." In addition, he argues, "We have more corruption and poverty than under communism, and too many citizens want to return to a time they see as having offered them a better life."

Fedorov then offers some recommendations to the West: "First," he says, "do not grant Russia concessions, but rather apply the rules as you would to any country. Western capital should flow to the private sector, not to the government. Only this will help to change the country, create jobs and increase efficiency. Second, money should be spent where it brings genuine return and where it will generate the kind of good-will that makes reform and democracy self-sustaining." He concludes: "Imagine what might have been if that $20 billion in IMF money had been spent on providing full-time education for 200,000 Russian students in the West. My guess is that we would be living in a different country today."


Two news analyses discuss differences between Washington and Moscow on various missile defense schemes. In the British daily Guardian, Ian Traynor and Richard Norton-Taylor say that "Russian President Vladimir Putin is poised to broaden his campaign to isolate the U.S. over its divisive missile shield scheme with a flurry of moves in the next week aimed at enlisting European public opinion in the battle against America's National Missile Defense project. For the first time in more than a year," they note, "Russia's defense minister, Igor Sergeyev, travels to Brussels today (Thursday) for talks with NATO leaders, a relationship that the Russians severed last year in protest at the war in Yugoslavia. [He] is expected to put some flesh on the bones of Mr. Putin's [recent] calls for joint development of anti-missile defenses by the US, NATO, and Russia, although the Russian proposals appear vague -- more political and diplomatic than military."

The analysis continues: "After clashing with President Bill Clinton over the 'son of Star Wars' scheme [NMD] at a Moscow summit at the weekend, Mr. Putin promptly went to Rome where he called for joint expansion of missile defense to cover all of Europe and Russia as well as America. On his first official trip to Berlin next week Mr. Putin is expected to step up the propaganda war against NMD, seeking to exploit European differences with the Americans on the issue."

The analysts conclude: "[The U.S.'s] NATO allies -- including senior officials in Britain's Ministry of Defense -- remain deeply skeptical about [Washington's] plan for a national missile shield. They believe the U.S. is exaggerating the threat from so-called rogue states and that the project, far from adding to world security, would be destabilizing. But," they add, "European diplomats now believe Mr. Clinton will leave a decision on whether, or how, to go ahead with the project to his successor."


In an analysis for the Los Angeles Times, columnist Jim Mann compares current U.S. relations with China and with Russia. He writes: "If you want to see a questionable double standard at work, look at the widely disparate American attitudes toward Russia's new president, Vladimir Putin, and Chinese President Jiang Zemin." "In the U.S. these days," he goes on, "and particularly among foreign policy elites, Putin is darkly portrayed as the vintage apparatchik, the mysterious ex-KGB man who threatens Russian liberties. Meanwhile, Jiang is often depicted as a closet reformer."

Mann says that Putin is judged inadequate when he "is evaluated by the standards of Western democracies, as he should be. Yet with Jiang," the commentator argues, "the underlying assumption seems to be that Asians don't care so much about freedom and democracy -- even though the recent history of the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and Indonesia shows that this stereotype isn't true." He recalls: "Earlier this year, Clinton was asked at a press conference whether he still believes that Jiang is the right leader at the right time for China. Clinton said yes, 'given the available alternatives.' Those words," Mann says, "say volumes about America's limited expectations, hopes and horizons for political change in China."

He sums up: "With Jiang, Washington often tends to conclude that no matter how bad things seem in China, they could always be worse. We don't measure Putin by such an extravagantly lenient yardstick."


Turning to Israel's current cabinet crisis, the New York Times today says it "was the last thing Prime Minister Ehud Barak needed days ahead of a potentially decisive new round of peace talks with the Palestinians. But," the paper continues, "that is exactly what he got Wednesday (yesterday) when three member parties of his governing coalition joined the opposition in a preliminary vote for new elections. Three more votes must be held before the bill becomes law," it adds. "Regrettably, Barak must now divert attention from peacemaking to repairing his coalition."

The editorial goes on: "The most damaging defection came from the Sephardic religious party, Shas. Without the party's 17 votes, the coalition would lose its majority. Shas's argument with Barak is not over peacemaking, but over its demand for additional government money for its private school system." The editorial says further: "Barak rightly decided when he formed his government last year that he needed support from the broadest possible cross-section of Israelis to sustain the compromises necessary for peace."

"That assessment," the editorial argues, "remains just as true today. [Retaining Shas in the coalition] is virtually essential. Shas, meanwhile," the paper concludes, "should be asked, as the price of any further concessions, to pledge that from now on it will subordinate its pursuit of parochial causes to the wider Israeli interest in negotiating peace."


In a commentary for Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Thorsten Schmitz takes a very different view of the matter. He writes from Jerusalem that Shas's role in triggering the government crisis "again shows the futility of governing with religious parties [in Israel]." In the past, he adds, "almost all Israeli governments have been blackmailed by unworldly religious deputies."

Schmitz goes on to say: "As important as the peace process is -- and as obligated as Barak is to find a deal with the Palestinians -- he must for a moment pause [to deal with domestic problems]." But the commentator notes that domestic politics is not, in his words, "Barak's strong point." The prime minister, he says, "has the naive belief that everything will be all right if only a treaty with the Palestinians can be tied up. This has left both him and his country in a mess. And that, in turn, will bring in its wake a delay in the peace [process] timetable -- [creating] a very delicate situation."


Britain's Financial Times writes today in an editorial: "The instability of Israeli politics risks undermining both the Middle East peace process and the economic modernization of Israel. Ehud Barak's defeat [yesterday] in the Israeli parliament is bad news on both fronts. The Knesset vote to dissolve parliament and hold early elections leaves Mr. Barak's government weakened. But he is right not to call an early election."

The editorial continues: "In his weakened state, Mr. Barak can continue to negotiate with the Palestinians, but can only make limited concessions on the land transfers needed to conclude a deal by the September 13 deadline." It argues further: "Shas carries much of the responsibility for this mess. [But Barak] also carries responsibility. Sensibly, he set up a broad-based coalition 11 months ago to build consensus on peace. But the secretive style of a former military planner then made consensus elusive. This may have helped execute the [recent Israeli] pull-out from south Lebanon, but more generally, Mr. Barak's reluctance to include coalition partners in other policymaking areas has bred mistrust."

The Financial Times concludes: "For that, he is now paying the price. Like a general in a tight battle, Mr. Barak's options are limited. He should, despite this, press ahead with peace talks. To stop now would only persuade the Palestinians that Israel's combustible politics renders it incapable of making peace."


Several papers today comment on yesterday's decision by a federal judge to split up the giant U.S.-based computer company Microsoft, which the U.S. government has argued violates anti-trust (anti-monopoly) laws. The New York Times approves of the decision in an editorial, calling it "stern justice for Microsoft." The paper writes: "Judge Thomas Jackson's order to split Microsoft into two independent companies -- one selling [the software] Windows, the other selling applications like Word and Excel -- is the proper remedy for repeated violations of the anti-trust laws."

The editorial then argues: "The government, with the judge's blessing, will [now] try to take Microsoft's appeal [of the ruling] directly to the Supreme Court as the law allows for important anti-trust cases. That would bypass the normal practice of having an appeals court first analyze the complicated technological and legal issues raised by this case so as to provide a fuller record before the Supreme Court is asked to render a final judgment. But this is a case," the New York Times writes, "where an expedited appeal to the Supreme Court, [is] justified."


The Washington Post does not agree either that Judge Jackson's "stern" decision was justified or that the appeal should go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. The paper says this in arguing its case: "We agree that Microsoft broke the law but worry nonetheless that the judge's remedy is too drastic. Microsoft has serious questions to raise on appeal; the question now is who should hear them. Should the case go directly to the Supreme Court, as the Justice Department prefers, or should it go to [lower courts first]?" the editorial then asks.

It answers: "As much as the normal route might gum up (delay) this already [very slow case, a lower court] is the better answer. A breakup of Microsoft is such an extreme punishment, and its potential effect on the economy so great, that haste would be unwise."