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Western Press Review: Germany's International Role, Chechnya, And Afghanistan

Prague, 25 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today and over the weekend looks at Germany's international military role, the Russian campaign in the breakaway republic of Chechnya, and religious controversy in Russia between the Vatican and the Orthodox Church. Other analysis focuses on Afghanistan and the lingering difficulties for stabilizing the country, as well as trans-Atlantic relations.


Writing in Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Guenter Bannas discusses the role of information and debate in determining Germany's increasing international presence. He says the German government's public relations role is contradictory. He notes that the deployment of German troops to Kuwait was at first meant to be kept secret. The public was eventually told that they were merely deployed for "disaster prevention" purposes.

Bannas says the debates currently arising among German political parties on what role the country should be playing internationally "ensure that the German military's operations abroad remain the object of political debate with public participation. They will also ensure that the parliamentary approval required for such operations does not degenerate into a constitutional illusion," he says.

Bannas also speaks of some of the possible benefits of increasing German presence: "The deployment of German units to Afghanistan, Kuwait, and the Horn of Africa not only fulfills the promise of 'unlimited solidarity' with the United States. An additional benefit is that the German government is better informed about the situation in the region than if it only received information from other intelligence services -- even allied ones."


In "Die Welt," Ansgar Graw discusses the unclear mission of the Germans serving in and around Afghanistan. Graw describes the mission as a "secret war." He says that while peacetime brings less "nonsense and untruth, [a] lie is the first weapon of warfare and even silence can lead to deception."

For months now, Graw says, the Germans have been committed to action in Afghanistan and neighboring countries -- they are chasing Al-Qaeda terrorists, searching for Osama bin Laden, and fighting alongside Britain and the United States. Graw says that while nobody expects full disclosure about the fighting, "it is a grave mistake not to provide information about the principles of the operation."

The public sees this lack of information as deceitful, he says -- as "a failed attempt to conceal the truth." Graw suggests the underlying reasons for this are political conflicts within Germany. But he concludes that anyone who has made an all-out solidarity commitment must stand by its soldiers and "be immune to lies."


In "The Washington Post," Fred Hiatt says that the recent "facing up to evil" rhetoric of the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush oddly does not extend to Chechnya. Hiatt describes Russia as "waging a war of increasing cruelty and criminality against a beleaguered ethnic minority." But, he says, the signals from the U.S. administration on this issue are "mixed."

The U.S. administration's policy is one of non-intervention, Hiatt observes, as long as Russian and Chechen officials are talking. But he says this policy is strange, "because the Russians and Chechens aren't talking. The two sides held one brief airport meeting last November. There have been no talks since."

"Instead, in the past two months Russian forces have accelerated their 'sweeps' through Chechen villages and the looting, arbitrary detentions, torture, executions, and disappearances associated with those sweeps." Hiatt also remarks that in Russia today, "no television or radio station any longer dares to cover such news. Such is the success of Putin's campaign to acquire or intimidate Russia's broadcast media."


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Geraldine Fagan looks at the relationship between the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church, in light of the recent controversy between the church and the Vatican. The Vatican's recent decision to upgrade its four apostolic administrations in Russia to full dioceses "outraged" the Orthodox Church. Church officials described the move as an attempt to convert Russians to the Catholic faith.

But Fagan says the Kremlin "is growing ever more aloof" from the Russian Orthodox Church. She observes that throughout the past decade, "the topmost Moscow Patriarchate hierarchs have continued faithfully to serve Kremlin interests as in the Soviet period. They could reliably be co-opted to support the government campaign in Chechnya, for instance, while condemning NATO bombing of Serbia. In return -- as in centuries past -- the church has been granted certain favors."

But she says if Russian President Vladimir Putin "is really going to insist upon the constitutional separation of church and state in Russia and stop pandering to the whims and historical grievances of the Moscow Patriarchate, he must come out more strongly in support of the Catholic Church's legal right to carry out its activities in accordance with its own hierarchical and institutional structure."

"The Kremlin must take the lead if the Russian people are ever genuinely able to choose, change, and possess religious convictions in accordance with their own consciences."


An analysis by "The New York Times" correspondent Steven Erlanger, reprinted in the "International Herald Tribune," discusses trans-Atlantic relations and the perceived rift growing between the U.S. and Europe. Erlanger says Europe's "unconditional solidarity" with the U.S. administration, declared so quickly in the wake of the 11 September attacks, has faded "almost as suddenly." He says European nations are "seething over what they see as a renewed American impulse to disregard them and go it alone, as the Bush administration considers expanding its war on terrorism to Iraq."

Erlanger says Europeans originally thought that "Washington's work to build a vast international coalition against terrorism meant a new willingness to work more closely with allies." Now, he says, "behind [Europe's] heated accusations of unilateralism, arrogance, bad manners, and oversimplification lie cultural and ideological differences made wider by the Afghan war and more vivid by the prospect of a new war in Iraq."

Erlanger suggests that there is a fundamental difference in world view between the U.S. and Europe. The Bush administration wants to "change the world," he says; "Europe, preoccupied with its own growing pains in a deepening and expanding union, wants to continue to manage it." He writes, "European officials now sense that they must shout in order to be heard in a warlike, messianic Washington, and even then, wonder if [what they say] matters."


In a contribution to Britain's "Financial Times," Anatol Lieven of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace discusses the international community's commitment to Afghanistan. Lieven notes that the current interim government in Afghanistan is not a product "of an indigenous Afghan process but of the international negotiations in Bonn. Hamid Karzai is its chief by the will of the West and by far his most important source of strength is Western backing -- and, above all, the promise of Western aid."

Lieven says that maintaining internal stability and equilibrium between all the ethnic partitions in Afghanistan will require the international community to show "an unprecedented level of concentrated attention and coordination, over a period not of months, but years. This will require the conscious, intelligent, and even ruthless use of international aid as a political tool," he adds.

Lieven continues: "It will also require a determination to keep international peacekeepers in Afghanistan for as long as we are prepared to keep them in the Balkans -- in other words, not until some fairytale 'free and fair' elections, but as long as the country is still threatened by renewed civil war. [If] the West is to live up to its commitments in Afghanistan and elsewhere, it must begin to bridge the gap between the rhetoric of world messianism and the attention span -- and courage -- of a hen."


An editorial in "The Washington Post" today looks at the role of the Western military in Afghanistan, and says that the current strategy of U.S. forces working with Afghan militia commanders is proving "increasingly problematic." The editorial says that increasingly, U.S. support for warlords "is serving to undermine the efforts of [the] Afghan government to establish its political authority. In the eastern city of Jalalabad, [the] chosen U.S. warlord effectively controls the area, neutralizing the more senior -- and more civilized -- governor appointed by interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai."

The "Post" says there is "an increasingly lopsided quality to U.S. Afghan operations; military objectives and military relationships seem to dominate all else, despite the growing importance of building a stable regime that can control the country after Western forces depart."

The paper goes on to say that the expansion of the international peacekeeping force now restricted to Kabul, along with the placing of U.S. military advisers in zones of potential conflict, "is the right direction: The Bush administration needs to shift the weight of relationships whenever possible from local Afghan commanders to Mr. Karzai's allies and appointees. Civilian aid projects, which are starting slowly, should be accelerated," it adds.

The "Post" concludes: "If the deployment of foreign peacekeepers could tip the balance of power in some cities from warlords to civilians or the government's representatives, the peacekeepers should be dispatched -- and given U.S. military backing if needed."


In a contribution to the "Los Angeles Times," former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Peter Tomsen also discusses the current U.S. strategy in the country. He says that some in Washington believe that Western aid should continue to flow to Afghan warlords. They warn that a strong centralized Afghan government may be impossible, and "destined to be brought down by factionalism and tribalism." They thus reason that it is preferable to continue assistance to local warlords at the same time as offering support to the government of interim leader Hamid Karzai. This approach, Tomsen says, is "doomed to backfire." He notes that the West worked with warlords to defeat the Taliban, but "now we must encourage the central government with our bounty," he says.

Tomsen says while many warlords currently express support for the Karzai administration, "this is likely to change as the interim regime consolidates its strength." Ultimately, the warlords "seek only to amass personal power and line their pockets," writes Tomsen. He says the real responsibility for reining them in should be on the Afghan interim regime. "But this will not be easy," he remarks.

Tomsen says warlords and their fighters are largely unskilled and do not have many options available to them in terms of employment in a modernizing Afghanistan. He suggests the most efficient way "to break up the warlords' militias may well be to conscript their soldiers [into] the new [Afghan] national forces."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)