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Western Press Review: The Caspian Pipeline, Armenian Elections, And The Milosevic Trial

Prague, 27 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Issues addressed by editorials and analyses in the Western press today include the commencement on 18 September of construction on the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which will bring oil from the Caspian Sea to Western markets; Russia's pursuits in the Caucasus; emerging political challengers in Armenia's upcoming elections; the trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague; and the situation in the Middle East, following the Israeli army's siege this week of the Palestinian Authority's headquarters in Ramallah.


An article in Britain's weekly "The Economist" says the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government are, ironically, ensuring Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat remains in power.

Israel's decision to mount an offensive on Arafat's Ramallah headquarters this week "interrupted an unprecedented revolt by younger parliamentarians" against Arafat. The magazine says the timing of the Israeli action was "plainly counterproductive" and "predictable: Instead of challenging Arafat to give up his executive powers, Palestinians marched in his defense.

"The Palestinians do not wish to follow Israeli-American instructions by unseating [Arafat]," the magazine says. "But they do want radical reform" -- including a "more competent administration and a separation of powers" between the umbrella group that theoretically covers all Palestinians -- the Palestine Liberation Organization -- and Arafat's Palestinian Authority. Many Palestinians also want Arafat to appoint a prime minister to run the West Bank and Gaza. "The Economist" says the candidate "acceptable to most" is Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen.

For now, says "The Economist," neither Israel nor America seems willing to allow elections that could benefit Arafat. But it says this is "a mistake, and blatantly undemocratic." New elections would probably re-elect Arafat, but might also bring in a new generation of parliamentarians that better reflect the interests of ordinary Palestinians.


In "Eurasia View," Yerevan-based writer Haroutiun Khachatrian says that given the many candidates emerging to challenge incumbent President Robert Kocharian in Armenian elections, the country's political future is far from certain.

On 20 October, Armenians head to local polls, followed by the presidential election on 19 February. Khachatrian says the presidential election's outcome promises to "greatly influence, if not determine" parliamentary elections on 25 May, in which Armenians "will elect new local governments, vote on a new presidential term and elect a new parliament."

Two main challengers have emerged to challenge Kocharian in February: former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, who resigned in 1998 after a stand-off with the military, and former ambassador to Britain and Prime Minister Armen Sargisyan, who may run on the Armenian National Movement ticket.

Another potential challenge to Kocharian comes from the Union of 16, or Popular-Patriotic Union (PPU) -- a coalition of 16 opposition parties formed in September that has vowed to topple what it calls Kocharian's "corrupt" regime.

But author Khachatrian says with so many egos and agendas involved, the Union of 16 may simply fail to coalesce into a viable opposition force by February. He cites some analysts as saying the coalition might be wise to present several candidates in the first round of voting, "and then support whoever faces Kocharian in a runoff."


Klaus Bachmann, writing in today's "Frankfurter Rundschau," discusses the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which has now entered the Bosnia and Croatia phase in its trial of former Yugoslav President Milosevic. The prosecutors opened their case yesterday in The Hague, arguing that Milosevic masterminded a plan to eliminate non-Serb inhabitants from the region with the aim of creating a Greater Serbia.

Bachmann fears that chief UN prosecutor Carla de Ponte is likely to run into legal difficulties. There must be evidence that Milosevic had the authority to prevent the mass murders after the fall of Srebrenica, although he had no official authority in Bosnia. The prosecution depends on witnesses from the region, who are far and few between, and who will have to risk those seeking revenge in their homeland.

"Without the support from Yugoslav authorities," the paper says, "Carla del Ponte's evidence is likely to evaporate."

Moreover, those in Yugoslavia who oppose The Hague trial, led by President Vojislav Kostunica, would welcome a humiliation of the tribunal. Even the United States, originally in favor of the tribunal, is now keeping its distance. It supports the idea of high-ranking officials bearing witness only on condition they give evidence behind closed doors. But such evidence, Bachmann points out, does not help the tribunal's credibility.

"The tribunal has for some time remained in the shadow of Western policies," he writes, "and Carla del Ponte's appeals for support are now sounding rather helpless."


On 18 September, the presidents of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey, U.S. officials, and the managers of some of the world's leading oil companies gathered near the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, to preside over the beginning construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline. The much-anticipated pipeline will bring oil reserves from the Caspian Sea to European markets. These international energy partners will launch a similar export pipeline in October for Caspian natural gas.

In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," regional analyst Vladimir Socor of the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies says bringing Caspian energy to European markets "is the most important development in international energy economics and politics in the last 30 years." As the Middle East becomes increasingly volatile, Caspian energy "can make a critical difference -- both in terms of pricing and in diversification of energy supplies -- to [the] Euro-Atlantic world."

Russia and Iran, two leading regional energy exporters, seek to limit this new East-West energy corridor by opposing the pipelines. Georgia also promises to be a major westbound export route for Caspian Basin energy. Socor says this may be one reason why Moscow "seeks to fan chaos in that country, to intervene militarily there and to topple [President Eduard] Shevardnadze in the name of 'anti-terrorism.'"

But Socor says ultimately, the pipelines "could cement the Caspian producer countries' independence, anchoring them irreversibly to the Western consumer countries."


An editorial in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" discusses NATO expansion in light of the 24-25 September meeting in Warsaw, at which NATO defense ministers discussed modernizing alliance forces to focus on threats from terrorism and "rogue states."

The participation of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov was significant, says the paper. Russia no longer vehemently opposes NATO enlargement. In fact, Russia now enjoys a privileged position as a U.S. ally and so does not oppose the potential admission of seven new NATO members -- Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia -- at the alliance's November summit in Prague.

It is questionable whether these seven disparate members are capable of speedily integrating into NATO so that the alliance is not weakened but strengthened. This expansion is only one facet of the new NATO, which the paper says will become "a hybrid of an alliance and security organization."

In the paper's opinion, the NATO of the past has become obsolete. And if Europe does not soon upgrade its military capabilities, it will become -- at best -- nothing more than a military "reserve pool" and a political instrument.


A "Financial Times" editorial says, "Russia is taking advantage of the international war against terrorism to pursue its own bloody interests in the Caucasus."

In fierce fighting yesterday, Moscow claims to have killed 40 Chechen separatist fighters, while losing 14 of its own men. The paper says while the details remain sketchy, "nothing can disguise Moscow's grim determination to keep on with its long-running campaign" to pacify the breakaway province. Russia has also begun to pressure neighboring Georgia, warning Tbilisi to crack down on Chechen fighters that may have slipped over the border to use Georgian territory as a base of operations. If Georgia cannot handle these fighters, Moscow has made clear it will send its troops to take care of them.

But this is a "doubly dangerous" tactic, says the "Financial Times." "Military force alone cannot end the Chechen war," it says, "while further interference in Georgia risks spreading the fighting. Moscow must accept that only negotiated settlements can bring peace."

Russia "has the right to defend its territorial integrity," the paper writes. "But by brutally applying excessive force it has alienated the Chechens and provoked justifiable international criticism."


In the French daily "Liberation," Arnaud De Raulin of the University of Artois looks at recent unrest in the Cote d'Ivoire of Africa. He says that country is merely the latest in a series of French-speaking African nations -- including Rwanda, Congo, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire) -- that have seen economic, political, and social collapse in recent years, due to the ill-effects of globalization, identity and security crises, the disengagement of major powers, or failed democratization.

De Raulin says that France has, of late, acted toward Francophonic Africa with indifference. Yet it is "absolutely necessary" that Cote d'Ivoire avoids descending into civil war, he says. "France can play a decisive role in the resolution of this conflict, given its still-significant political and economic weight in the country." France must not shirk its responsibility at this crucial moment in Cote d'Ivoire's history, he adds. French involvement should be followed by the work of international organizations, such as the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States. De Raulin says these organizations should work to find a political solution to the conflict and stave off insurrection. What begins in Cote d'Ivoire, he warns, threatens to affect the geopolitical balance of the entire region.

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