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Western Press Review: Russia, U.S. Politics, Iraq

Prague, 13 July 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary focuses on a mix of issues today, including Russia, U.S. politics and Iraq.


Commentator Jim Hoagland, in the Washington Post, writes about Chechnya and its continuing influence on Russia's relations with Western powers: "The worsening Chechen conflict casts a large shadow over President Vladimir Putin's hopes to garner political laurels and economic help from the world's most affluent industrial democracies at his first Group of Eight summit in Okinawa later this month."

Hoagland says Putin will once again plead for international solidarity against what he terms Islamic extremism in Chechnya. "But Western responses will range from tepid to chilly," Hoagland notes. "The coldest shoulder will come from France's President Jacques Chirac, who has let Moscow know that he will not have time for bilateral talks with Putin while in Japan."

He adds: "The snub is also a sign of total failure for Putin's strategy to isolate France -- Russia's most outspoken critic on Chechnya."

Hoagland also says the U.S. may be more restrained on Chechnya than it has been in the past. He cites comments by U.S. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, who he says has dealt with Putin more extensively than any other U.S. official. "Behind Berger's words," Hoagland says, "seems to lie a sense of a Russian leader whose years as a KGB officer are at war with his more recent existence as an official in democratically elected municipal and national governments."

The commentator adds: "Depersonalizing the Kremlin-White House relationship is welcome, even late in the day for the Clinton team. The trick for Clinton at Okinawa and beyond will be to deny Putin real economic aid while dangling future help if and when Putin commits clearly to peace and democratic rule throughout Russia."


Britain's Financial Times also focuses on Russia, this time on Putin's continuing attacks, by means of the tax police, against the business tycoons known as oligarchs. The paper writes: "If Mr. Putin is acting firmly and effectively to turn Russia into a law-based state, that is much to be welcomed. But his actions will be judged by whether all the business barons are treated in the same way, and strictly according to the law. There is a danger that this exercise could prove to be simply a new phase in the struggle for control of the post-Soviet economy."

The Financial Times concludes: "These are very early days to judge the actions and the power of Mr. Putin. Many different forces, including his former employers, the KGB, are vying for his ear. The actions of the tax police could be the beginning of a clean-up campaign. They could also herald a new and destabilizing struggle to reallocate Russia's riches under a new regime."


Staying with Russia, Denmark's Information turns to the launch of the unmanned Zvezda space module from the Baikonur space center earlier this week, saying this "marks the beginning of a new phase of the international space adventure." The paper notes that the launch increases the prestige of Russia's ailing space program: "Russia sees its own part as being of particular significance: in spite of the economic downturn, it likes to think of itself as a superpower that indulges in space research. The launching of Zvezda, which cost Russia some $320 million, does President Vladimir Putin in the eyes of his own voters."

But Information says that to some extent, this is a delusion, writing: "Still, what Russia has done is make-believe. A large contribution to the Zvezda construction costs was made by Pizza Hut, the fast-food chain."


A commentary in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung agrees that Russia does not have the funds to sponsor the space project. Martin Urban writes: "The other 15 nations taking part in the endeavor had to wait two years before the Russians could finally fulfill their part, thanks to large international donations" But even when it is built, the money will be wasted, Urban writes.

He says that according to current estimates, the International Space Station will cost $58 billion. In his words: "Seen from the viewpoint of pure research, the money is being thrown out the window. So far, the combined knowledge of scientists all over the world has come up with no better idea than to study the human circulatory system in space, or to try to grow perfect crystals in a weightless environment."

A group of European scientists, he notes, has urged that the money could be better spent on other research. "Certainly," Urban writes, "there is immeasurably much to discover in the universe. But experience teaches that research with unmanned satellites is the most effective method."


The Times of London focus on Afghanistan, which is in the news again after the country's ruling Taliban militia issued an edict barring Afghan women from working for the UN or international relief agencies and ordering the expulsion of an American aid worker. That edict soon appears likely be rescinded, after a flurry of international protests.

In an editorial titled "Gender Apartheid," the Times writes: "Afghanistan's Taliban rulers continue to oppress women. There are an estimated 28,000 war widows in Kabul -- the victims of a 20-year civil war that has killed thousands of male fighters, reduced much of the capital to rubble, and scattered a deadly crop of mines across Afghanistan's sparse arable land. For the past four years, they have been doubly victimized: having lost the husbands who brought them an income, shelter, and dignity in a tribal society, they have, since the start of Taliban rule, been held under virtual house arrest, forbidden to work, travel, appear in public or leave their homes unchaperoned or unveiled."

The Times calls on the Muslim world to denounce and isolate Afghanistan's rulers, as the UN and Western countries already have: "The UN and the West have already ostracized the Taliban for its sheltering of Osama bin Laden, encouragement of heroin smuggling, and human rights abuses; it is now time for fellow Muslim countries to denounce unambiguously this disgraceful treatment of women, as cruel as it is contrary to Islam."


The U.S.'s Christian Science Monitor mixes U.S. politics, Iraq, and Yugoslavia. The newspaper, in an editorial titled "The Toughest Rogues," calls on the media to question U.S. presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush on what their policies toward the current leaders of Iraq and Yugoslavia are likely to be.

The newspaper writes that, too often, the media settle for superficial answers from the two men, answers that are more false bravado than substance. As the paper notes: "It may be politically gratifying to sound off about ways to deal with [Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic] by engineering their removal. In practice, it's likely to be a long, demanding process. Staying the course with Saddam and Milosevic will require the next president to respond forcibly to any Serbian or Iraqi threat against neighbors. He'll also have to employ creative diplomacy to sustain alliances against these dictators. And he'll have to aid opposition forces without undermining their credibility. This is a delicate challenge, " the Monitor concludes. "The candidates should be pressed for their thoughts. And beware easy 'get-rid-of-the-bums' answers."


In Norway, Aftenposten gives low marks to the international community in dealing with Saddam Hussein. Analyst Per Christiansen writes in the paper's editorial today: "The Iraqi situation, where an insidious felon uses the pretext of national sovereignty to put himself above the principles of law, looks as though it has left the international community with neither the means nor the will to act to stop him. As a result of the world's impotence, furthermore, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is in full swing to develop nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons."


Britain's Guardian daily carries a controversial commentary, written by George Monbiot, assailing the pope for his stand against homosexuality. Monbiot argues against the pope's thesis that homosexual acts are "unnatural," pointing out that scientific research has documented instances of homosexuality in over 400 animal species. He writes: "The world's wildlife, in other words, is depraved. But we would be hard put to call it unnatural. Self-enforced celibacy, by contrast, is all but unknown among other animal species. If any sexual behavior is out of tune with the natural world, it is surely that of the priesthood."

Monbiot takes the Vatican to task for forgetting its compassion and instead perpetuating the dark side, as he sees it, of its checkered historical record: "Though brave priests and bishops have sought to resist its excesses, for centuries the Vatican has picked on the victims of existing prejudice and persecution. It is no longer allowed to burn heretics and witches at the stake, so now it preys instead upon homosexuals and pregnant women, exposing gays to violent abuse, campaigning against the use of condoms, and seeking to prevent even the rape victims of Kosovo from taking the morning-after pill."

(Anthony Georgieff and Susan Caskie contributed to this report.)