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Western Press Review: Borodin, Osama Bin Laden, Other Topics

Prague, 23 January 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary concentrates today on the three big world powers: Russia, the United States, and the European Union.


The Wall Street Journal Europe re-examines Russian President Vladmir Putin's promise of what he calls a "dictatorship of the law" in the light of former Kremlin aide Pavel Borodin's recent detention in New York. The newspaper says in an editorial: "Vladimir Putin spoke famously about creating a 'dictatorship of the law,' but as every Russian knows, the law in Russia is applied with a great deal of selectivity and high-level interpretation." The editorial says further: "So it is perhaps not surprising to hear Russian politicians and commentators suggest that the arrest of Kremlin insider Pavel Borodin in New York last week was some sort of a U.S. political plot rather than a plain-vanilla legal matter."

The newspaper goes on: "Even a cursory look at the Borodin case betrays the absurdity of that proposition. The Swiss prosecutor's office has wanted for some time to nab Mr. Borodin for questioning in connection with its investigation of a Swiss company called Mabatex, which received a lucrative contract from the Russian property office in the 1990s for Kremlin renovations."

The editorial cites examples of U.S. judicial independence, including the ability of a special prosecutor to force President Bill Clinton into a public admission of perjury. It concludes: "The day when the same independence can be shown in the Russian judiciary appears, sadly, to be a long way off. If it ever arrives, we'll know that Russia has taken a vital step toward normalcy."


The London-based Financial Times says in an editorial that Russia under Vladimir Putin's leadership has promised many and laudable economic reforms, but has delivered few. And, says the newspaper, what reforms he has produced have been rendered invisible behind the smoke of Russia's threats to default on Soviet-era debt. The editorial notes that the Kremlin has been discussing ending currency exchange controls.

That's a good idea, says the editorial. But it adds: "To liberalize capital flows without putting any measures in place to mitigate the risks would be to court disaster. The country's institutional framework would have to be made more robust. The central bank, for instance, should be given an inflation target. And as the financial sector grows, effective regulation must be put into place."

The editorial adds: "Even a grand gesture such as removing exchange controls will not improve investor confidence so long as doubts remain about the government's willingness to honor its debts. Progress in one area is not a substitute for good behavior in another." The newspaper sums up: "Removing exchange controls in Russia would be a bold step. If presented as part of a new policy direction, it would be a desirable signal to investors of the government's intention to integrate the country into the world economy."


Britain's Times daily says that Russia finds the European Union a confusing entity. That's not surprising, says the newspaper, since Europeans also tend to be confused about the EU. But, the paper writes in an editorial, it is dangerous to let Russia remain mystified by the EU while it grows increasingly threatened by NATO expansion. The editorial says a good place to start a process of reassurance is "Kaliningrad, the former Koenigsberg, capital of East Prussia, which since 1945 has been the highly sensitive headquarters of the Russian Baltic Fleet."

The editorial goes on: "Closed to foreigners in Soviet days because of its importance as Moscow's warm-water base, it still houses around 18,000 Russian servicemen and the rotting remnants of a once-mighty fleet. It is supplied via a corridor across Lithuania -- access that Russia understandably wants the EU to guarantee. It seeks special status for Kaliningrad -- and, to underscore its anxiety about encirclement, has re-deployed nuclear missiles there. The EU is entitled to demand that Russia clean up crime there as the price of a deal. But a deal there must be."


German commentator Michael Stuermer writes from Berlin in Die Welt today that new President George Bush's campaign pledge to press for a U.S. NMD -- or National Missile Defense -- guarantees trans-Atlantic debate need not poison relations.

Stuermer writes: "In Europe there is much skeptical talk of the political costs far and away outweighing the slim benefits it brings. In Moscow and Beijing, meanwhile, hackles are well and truly up -- although differences are not as unbridgeable as joint Sino-Russian press communiqus might otherwise suggest."

The commentary goes on: "Europeans will sooner or later have to accept that NMD is coming. The U.S. Senate called on the administration, by 97 votes to three, to construct the system as soon as technology permits."

Stuermer also writes: "Europe's worries of becoming detached from the world's one superpower are ill-founded. If invulnerable itself, America could come down all the heavier on anything or anyone threatening its most important allies. In point of fact," he notes, "Russia has indicated its interest and readiness to compromise via several channels." The commentary concludes: "Europeans should assume that the NMD project will kick off in earnest this year. They must keep their nerve and ascertain if the NATO alliance would stand the test of Europe leaving the Americans alone."


The Boston Globe finds cause for skepticism in what an editorial calls President George Bush's "pledge to intervene less in conflicts not involving U.S. vital interests."

The paper's editorial says: "There is one area in which the security prescriptions of Bush and his advisers herald no dramatic improvement over the Clinton policies. That is the challenge from international terrorism targeted at American soldiers, sailors, and civilians."

The editorial continues: "If [alleged Saudi terrorist Osama] bin Laden disappeared tomorrow, the threat of terrorism from his fellow travelers and from state sponsors such as Iraq and Iran would be as grave as it is today. The primary danger is that tomorrow's terrorists will have access to weapons of mass destruction. And there will be no magic bullet to prevent this nightmare."

The Boston Globe also says: "The new Bush administration will have to devote considerable energy, thought, and resources to the continuous, unglamorous work of monitoring, infiltrating, and thwarting terrorist cells, networks and regimes in many different countries."


Writing from Belgrade today in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Bernard Kueppers says that the pace of Yugoslavia's reforms have not yet quite matched the speed with which the world community has adopted the new Yugoslavia of President Vojislav Kostunica.

Kueppers writes: "The upcoming visit of the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal [for the former Yugoslavia] in The Hague, Carla Del Ponte, promises to pose yet another test for the new men in power [in Belgrade]. Del Ponte is insisting that the electoral-ousted and toppled Slobodan Milosevic be extradited to The Hague. Partially in the light of her visit, but even before that discussion, skepticism was growing about whether the ruling Democratic Opposition of Serbia was truly capable of a new beginning after 13 years of Milosevic."

The commentary says: "Kostunica himself provided the basis for this painful disillusionment by giving unclear reasons for receiving Milosevic -- who is concerned about his own safety -- on the one hand and not being willing now to find time to meet Del Ponte on the other."

Kueppers writes: "The dominant view is that Milosevic himself inflicted the most damage on the Serb people and must first be brought to trial in Belgrade -- even if the charge of illegal acquisition of property is a trivial one."