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Western Press Review: Moscow's Hostages, Reform In Iran, And Human Trafficking

Prague, 24 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and analysis in the Western media today look at the evolving hostage situation at a Moscow theater, finalizing the funding of EU enlargement, Sino-U.S. relations ahead of tomorrow's presidential summit in Texas, reform in Iran, and human trafficking in Europe.


A "Stratfor" (Strategic Forecasting) commentary today discusses the ongoing hostage situation at a Moscow theater, where a group of some 40 armed people thought to be Chechen militants have taken hundreds hostage.

"Stratfor" says this evolving situation "marks the largest hostage taking since hostilities between Russians and Chechens erupted anew in August 1998," and will probably be directly responsible for intensifying the fighting in Chechnya. It might also lead to "a cross-border raid into Georgia, which the Kremlin accuses of harboring Chechen militants and providing them a base from which to attack Russian targets."

But "Stratfor" says Georgia is now more strategically aligned with Washington than with Moscow, and it remains to be seen "whether Washington allows Russia to retaliate." Nevertheless, Moscow and Washington's "shared exposure to militant attacks likely will foster even further cooperation between Russia and the United States on some issues."

"Stratfor" goes on to cite sources within the Russian Foreign Ministry as saying the situation in the theater has already begun to reshape Moscow's diplomatic strategy.


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" discusses financing the expansion of the European Union, as EU leaders meet in Brussels today to discuss just that. The daily says it is "a strange sight" to see EU ministers "arguing over who'll pick up the tab" for enlarging the EU, as enlargement "will eventually pay for itself through increased trade, growth, and investment in a wider Europe."

But in the short term, the paper says, the EU "will need to shift resources to the new, poorer members for new roads and other development needs -- just as happened when Spain, Portugal, and Greece joined the union." However, it says, these costs are "modest." The editorial cites figures from the Center for Economic Policy Research indicating the total amount that must be transferred to candidate countries is 19.5 billion euros, "or one-quarter of a percentage point of the current EU GDP," if the current level of redistribution is maintained.

The paper concludes, "Compared with the 40 billion euros the EU shells out each year to subsidize its prosperous farmers, that's a small price to pay to reunify Europe."


An editorial in "The Boston Globe" discusses the scheduled meeting tomorrow between China's outgoing President Jiang Zemin and U.S. President George W. Bush. The paper says these two leaders "have a lot to talk about."

"If Bush were wise," the paper says, "he would not merely instruct Jiang to tell China's erstwhile allies in North Korea to meet all U.S. demands concerning their nuclear and missile programs.... [He] would also ask Jiang to explain Pyongyang's behavior."

Jiang would "likely say that, despite their truculent tone, the North Korean leaders are trying to entice Washington into a true dialogue that can lead to a peace treaty with America." Jiang could then advise Washington to negotiate with Pyongyang in exchange for abandoning its enriched-uranium program.

The paper says, "Nothing could do more to foster stability in East Asia than for Bush to understand and respond to the unorthodox plea for dialogue coming from North Korea."

"The Boston Globe" goes on to discuss South Asia's second flash point, Taiwan. Ideally, it says, Bush would tell Jiang that Beijing must renounce using threats of force against Taiwan. Jiang, who is scheduled to retire as president on 8 November, should "agree to advise his successors to damp down their threats against Taiwan and generally to cool their super-patriotic rhetoric."


In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute says the U.S. should support Iran's attempts at reform. He says the Bush administration is correct in saying that Americans "should actively help the brave Iranians who are leading demonstrations against the regime," which Ledeen adds is "the world's major sponsor of terrorism."

With U.S. support, he says the chances for reform "are excellent," because "a new generation has come of age in Iran -- two-thirds of the population is under 25 -- and young Iranians despise the mullahs and love America. Huge crowds turned out in support of the U.S. on 11 September 2001 and again last month, despite warnings from the regime and a mounting tempo of executions, arrests, and censorship."

But Ledeen says U.S. policy on Iran has been hindered in the past by "dithering" and attempts at appeasement. "It would be proper for us to help the freedom seekers in Iran even if we were not under assault from a terror network." But thus far, he says, the U.S. administration "has shied away from giving even the modest support the U.S. has provided freedom fighters in Central and Eastern Europe in the Cold War, in Yugoslavia against [Slobodan] Milosevic, and in the Philippines against [Imelda] Marcos."


In "The Washington Times," Herman Pirchner and Ilan Berman of the American Foreign Policy Council consider the prospect of an expanded "Greater Russia." They say that last year, a "remarkable new law went into effect in Russia [with] little fanfare or public opposition." The legislation "officially codifies the procedures for peacefully expanding Russia's borders," and is "no less than a blueprint for enlarging the Russian Federation."

The dissolution of the Soviet Union did not end the yearnings of some for a greater Slavic state, say the authors. The concept of a "Greater Russia" continues to appeal to "nationalists of all stripes," and "much of the territory of the former Soviet Union [remains] deeply oriented toward Russia." Populations in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Belarus, and the South Ossetian and Abkhaz autonomous areas of Georgia all hold hopes of reuniting in some fashion with Moscow.

Pirchner and Berman remark that an expansion based on Russian ethnicity could "swell Russia's population by more than 20 million, while the corresponding rise in Russian nationalism would likely encourage further territorial ambitions." But such an expanded Russia "might never become a reality," they say, adding, "Economic limitations, the difficulty of domestic consensus, and divergent foreign policy priorities all remain political constraints to the concept of a 'Greater Russia.'" However, "the legal basis for just such a move has now been laid by Moscow."


In Britain's "The Guardian," John Casey of Gonville and Caius College at Cambridge looks at Iraq's bloody and fractious political history, and says its past is what makes democratic rule in the country so unlikely now. The current "American and British line that one of the aims of war with Iraq would be the establishment of democracy" lacks a certain frankness, he says.

Iraq "is a tribal society and has no traditions of freedom." It is made up "of disparate ethnic and religious groups, and without a strong central government it would fly apart." If President Saddam Hussein were overthrown, there "could easily be another bloodbath. The Kurds in the north would love to break away and foment nationalism among their fellow Kurds in Turkey, Syria, and Iran." He says, "Real democracy in Iraq would bring social revolution, and the overthrow of the ruling Sunni elite."

But there is a real nostalgia in Iraq for its past kings, Casey says. The yearning "for some sort of traditional rule may sound quixotic, but in Iraq it could just work. The Hashemites could bring a parliamentary system to Iraq comparable to that of Jordan, and could rule the Kurds and Shias with a lighter hand." Iraq would still be authoritarian, "but it would be neither a naked military dictatorship nor a mere puppet state."


A report by "Jane's Intelligence Review" says that in the Balkan region, the trafficking of women for prostitution is now a larger business than the heroin trade. "Jane's" describes trafficking as "a huge criminal business whose roots are bound up with the chronic economic, social, and political problems of the transitional states of Central and Eastern Europe." Some 500,000 women are illegally trafficked each year.

Often, women are approached or will answer ads for work as au pairs, waitresses, or dancers in Western countries for relatively high wages. The woman will then be asked "to hand over her passport in order for a visa to be stamped, at which point she is already largely in the power of the traffickers." Confiscating passports has a secondary purpose, says the report -- "to deny women legitimate identity and to conceal their true nationality." Traffickers "then convince women that they have no legal status or right to work," and "are therefore liable to go to jail if they come into contact with police."

The report says while "many customs and border guards throughout the region assist traffickers, border and immigration policy [can] have an impact on the trade." When Hungary tightened immigration policies for Moldovans, the number of Moldovan women trafficked through Hungary fell almost to zero. "Jane's" says this may suggest "that a common visa regime among EU applicant states could significantly hinder trafficking."


In France's daily "Liberation," Didier Francois says the ongoing hostage situation in a Moscow theater "is a first in the long bloody history of Russian-Chechen conflicts." Although similar incidents have occurred frequently in the Caucasus, never has so audacious an operation been attempted by Chechen separatists in the Russian capital. Since the launch of the second war in Chechnya on 1 October 1999, the only other major hostage situation occurred in July of this year, when around 30 people were held near Mineralne Vody by people demanding the release of Chechen prisoners.

But Francois notes that during the last conflict, from 1994 to 1996, several hostage situations took place on Russian territory. On 14 June 1995, close to 200 Chechen fighters attacked Budennovsk air base, where planes bombing Chechnya originated their missions. The Chechens eventually took refuge in a hospital with nearly 1,500 local residents as hostages. Russian forces led a massive assault of the hospital complex, causing close to 150 deaths among the hostages, but "without managing to rout the commando group." Following negotiations and after obtaining a cease-fire in all of Chechnya, the fighters left the city.