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Western Press Review: Russia's Problems Sustain West's Attention

Prague, 10 April 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today focuses on Russia. More specifically, it treats the ongoing battle for NTV, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's no-nonsense approach to today's talks with President Vladimir Putin in Saint Petersburg, and both European and American doubts about whether the new U.S. policy toward its former Cold War adversary is too hard-line. Other comments look at looming cash troubles in the euro zone, the global danger of small-arms trade, and the Netherlands' support for a controversial euthanasia bill.


An editorial in the Britain's "Times" daily says the battle for control of Russia's independent NTV network is about more than a free press. The paper writes: "For Mr. Putin much is at stake. NTV was owned by Media-MOST, one of the two Yeltsin-era media groupings controlled by two notorious 'oligarchs' whose tentacles reached deep into the Kremlin. Mr. Putin's election last March was largely financed and orchestrated by one, Boris Berezovsky. The other, Vladimir Gusinsky, Media-MOST's owner, remained partisanly hostile. Curbing the widely hated oligarchs became a post-election priority."

The editorial goes on: "The forced sale of Media-MOST and the immediate decision by Gazprom, the state-owned gas monopoly doubling as Kremlin bully-boy, to remove the NTV management and its most outspoken journalist (Yevgeny Kiselyov) have brought the issue to a head and thousands to the streets. Mr. Putin can hardly now pretend to Gerhard Schroeder, the visiting German chancellor, that he has no influence in the matter."


In a signed editorial for the French daily "Liberation," Jacques Amalric notes Russian officials say that "NTV is the victim of its own debts -- and therefore of the free market -- and that an appeal to the Supreme Court is still possible. Believe all that as you will. [The] TV network will pay for its debts with its independence and the 'dissidence' of its founder, oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky." Amalric continues: "A dubious judiciary system several months ago allowed Putin to get rid of his adversary (Gusinsky). But now NTV must be muzzled to 'normalize' all of Russian TV before [the authorities] take on that part of the written press guilty of impertinence." He concludes: "Thus closes the brief period opened in [Boris] Yeltsin's first term in office during which Russia enjoyed a relative freedom of the press, including the right to inform and criticize."


Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger comments in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung": "[Chancellor Schroeder] and his host, Mr. Putin, have a lot to talk about: The many facets of European security, the situation in the Balkans, the sore point of Russia's debts, and art looted during World War Two. Considering the plentitude of issues on which Berlin and Moscow do not always see eye to eye, there was no need for the additional conflict over the fate of the [NTV. But] the matter is one that Mr. Schroeder cannot avoid." The commentator adds: "One thing is certain: Only a securely democratic Russia with a healthy economy will be able to take its proper place in Europe. A Russia that does not meet its responsibilities -- for example, the repayment of debts -- and chooses to make trouble instead will remain an object of annoyance and mistrust. That is something that can be discussed quite frankly."


"Boston Globe" commentator H.D.S. Greenway writes from Paris: "Europe is more than usually upset with the United States these days. [Even] before the air collision in the South China Sea exacerbated tensions, Europe saw the seeds being sown for a new arms race with China. [And] although few would want to defend Russia's sale of strategic materials to Iran, Russia is nevertheless next door, and Europeans cannot believe that abusive rhetoric is going to improve the situation." Europeans, Greenway continues, "are also dismayed at the Bush administration's zeal in wanting a missile defense shield that would upset Russia and China even though there is no technology to deploy it. [But] nothing reduced the Europeans to fury as did Bush's backing away from the Kyoto treaty to reduce global warming."

He concludes: "Taken individually, there are arguments to be made on both sides of the issues that divide Europe and America. But the American case has been so badly presented, bordering on the arrogant and the bellicose, that Washington is unnecessarily making enemies."


Former U.S. presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan asks in the "Washington Post": "Why are we antagonizing Russia? [Since] Russia called off the Cold War," he writes, "we have broken our word and moved NATO to its borders, smashed its old Serb ally, and now collude with Azerbaijan and Georgia to cut Russia out of the Caspian oil trade. Bush aides talk of bringing Baltic states into NATO and forging new military bonds with ex-Soviet republics. How," Buchanan then asks, "would [the U.S.] react if a Russia, victorious in the Cold War, invited Cuba into the Warsaw Pact, handed a war guarantee to Panama, and cut us out of the oil trade with Mexico?"

The commentary continues: "Russia is a dying nation. [By] 2025, Iran will have as many people [as Russia.] Russians are today outnumbered by Chinese 9 to 1. In the 1990s the quarrels that exploded into wars within and between nations were ideological, territorial, religious, and tribal. With Bolshevism dead, no such quarrel exists between America and Russia. If there is any vital U.S. interest, it is that Russia not be dismembered by the warriors of Islam or by a China which, by 2025, will have [1.5 billion] people."


An editorial in the "New York Times" looks at the growing international problem of small-arms trade. The paper says: "From Colombia and Afghanistan to the Balkans, Sri Lanka and the multiple war zones of Africa, the most prolific killers in the last decade have relied not on complex high-tech weapons systems but on cheap and portable small arms. Low-tech weapons like assault rifles, machine guns, pistols, and hand grenades have been responsible for as much as 90 percent of the world's conflict-related killing in the decade since the end of the Cold War." The editorial goes on to applaud a UN initiative to draft international standards for curtailing the trade, and says: "Unless the world's major weapons producers take more responsibility for controlling the international market in small arms, the most vulnerable nations will continue to be ravaged by this deadly trade."


Britain's "Financial Times" looks ahead to next January's switch to euro notes and coins for the 12 countries in the euro-zone. The paper says in an editorial: "Much preparatory work is under way and on time. [But] banks intend to continue to impose high charges for cross-border electronic payments and for withdrawing euros from cash dispensers in other countries. [The] result will be that consumers will shop abroad less and will be more inclined to use cash withdrawn at home. This would be contrary to many of the aims of the single currency." It adds: "[The European Commission] should insist that any charges are transparent so that they become an area for competition between banks. If the charges do not fall, banks must expect European competition authorities to consider price regulation."


Writing in the conservative "Washington Times," analyst Amos Perlmutter comments on the Middle East crisis. He says: "So long as [Palestinian leader] Yasser Arafat is in charge, any attempts at negotiation will fail. His present strategy is clear: escalate the violence. With the help of biased pro-Palestinian coverage by CNN, he can spread his propaganda throughout the world, claiming that he and his people are the victims of an oppressive Israel when in fact Mr. Arafat is the perpetrator. More than any other Middle East leader, including Saddam Hussein, Yasser Arafat is responsible for the loss of thousands of Palestinian, Jordanian, Lebanese, Israeli, American, and Jewish lives around the world."

Perlmutter asks: "Why do Arab regimes, especially the moderates, support Mr. Arafat? The answer is their fear of the mob that Arafat instigates in their own countries. [Arab] intellectuals and independent thinkers consider personal survival to be the chief concern of Arab leaders. Under such circumstances, it is hard to imagine peace in the Middle East."


An editorial in today's "Daily Telegraph" casts a critical eye on the Netherlands' probable passing today of a bill legalizing euthanasia. The paper says: "Doctors have many rights, but in civilized countries they have not had the right to kill their patients. [It] has taken the Dutch just three decades to reverse nearly two and a half millennia of medical progress. Now, even children as young as 12 will, with parental consent, have the legal right to demand euthanasia." The paper adds: "[Dutch] courts have [even] held that physically healthy patients suffering from depression may request lethal injections. The dead cannot change their minds. However many legal safeguards there are, some families will pressurize sick or elderly relations, who already fear becoming a burden. Voluntary euthanasia is largely a myth."


The daily "Independent" takes a more supportive view of the issue, saying Britain should follow the Dutch example. The paper writes: "To the Church, [euthanasia] is anathema on exactly the same grounds as abortion -- that both violate the sanctity of life, which is God's alone to give and to take away. But, just like abortion, the plain fact is that in every country where medicine is practiced, [euthanasia] has existed for centuries."

The editorial continues: "Few people, we suspect, would dispute the right of a terminally ill person, in excruciating, continuous pain, to choose to end his or her life. The Vatican has assailed the Dutch measure as an affront to human dignity, but there is little obvious dignity in refusing to hasten an inevitable, agonizing death against a patient's wishes." It concludes: "[No] precautions will satisfy those opposed to euthanasia on religious or ethical grounds. These reasons can only be respected. But the Netherlands has taken a brave step toward dealing with a practical dilemma that, given the ceaseless advance of medicine, will only grow more common."