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Western Press Review: Hostage Crisis Fallout And Turkish And U.S. Elections

By Dora Slaba

Prague, 1 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Among the items discussed in the major Western dailies today are the potential fallout of the hostage taking in Moscow, the collapse of Israel's ruling coalition, and the upcoming elections in Turkey and the United States.


An editorial in "The New York Times" discusses the decision of the Russian government to use a dangerous incapacitating gas to knock out the hostage takers at the Moscow theater. The paper notes that effective and less dangerous incapacitators are not available, although "scientists have investigated chemical and biological agents, loud noises, microwaves, high-intensity light, and obnoxious odors."

The editorial urges the U.S. government to continue its efforts to develop an effective incapacitator. "In an age of terrorism, it would surely be desirable to develop a mist that could put people to sleep quickly without harming them permanently. This is an area that Congress needs to explore more fully for homeland defense."


Writing in "The New York Times," Masha Gessen, the Moscow correspondent for "U.S. News and World Report," says young people in Russia and Chechnya have grown up in the shadow of the war that began in 1994. Young Russians have "never thought of Chechens as anything but the enemy; they have simply taken the distant war for granted." Their peers in Chechnya "have always known war, violence, and constant danger." Gessen writes that the 23-year-old leader of the hostage takers, Movsar Baraev, probably thought that he could end the war by his actions. He failed because violence cannot end a war.

Gessen concludes on a pessimistic note. Young people are not likely to understand this "because they do not remember a time when they were not at war with each other. After last week's hostage crisis, each group is less likely than before to see the other as anything but a crazed, dangerous enemy. The possibility of peace is even more remote than before."


Matt Bivens, a fellow of the Nation Institute, contributed a commentary to "The Moscow Times." Bivens says that both Russian troops and Chechen rebels have committed horrible acts. This allows people to "choose from a gruesomely long menu of atrocities in building their side's case -- and to complain indignantly whenever anyone quotes from the other side's list of horrors."

Bivens notes that Putin was forced to make a very tough choice when he gave the order to send in troops and gas, and there was a rationale for the decision. But Putin's subsequent talk of a massive military response is another matter. "He is about to expand on eight years of deliberate, horrific, sustained, and unpunished war crime -- one that has surely manufactured and empowered more terrorists than it has ever destroyed."

Bivens says that one should not equate Chechnya with Al-Qaeda, for the "real problem in Chechnya is not the Arab fighters -- it's Russia's wildly brutal rule." Bivens suggests that the best way to honor all the victims of terror is by seeking peace negotiations.


Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent defense analyst in Moscow, writes in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" about the portrayal of the hostage takers by the local media. He says that the Chechens fired and hurled grenades at the troops, "but not once at the hostages." The hostage takers had the opportunity to detonate their bombs but did not do so, suggesting that they "only threatened carnage, but were in fact under strict orders to refrain from causing serious harm to the hostages."

Felgenhauer says that the fact that the Chechens did not kill their prisoners is not an object of public discussion in Russia. "With civil society so passive -- indeed, so supportive -- it is hardly surprising that the governments sees no reason to be transparent."


"Eurasia View" presents an analysis of how the repercussions of the Moscow hostage crisis are being felt across the Caucasus and Central Asia. Officials in both regions say the Moscow drama "highlights a need for increased vigilance and fresh security measures to combat terrorism and Islamic radicalism in their own countries."

In the Caucasus, both Azerbaijan and Georgia have played direct roles in the ongoing conflict in Chechnya. But whereas Moscow has thanked Azerbaijan for closing the Chechen cultural center in Baku, it continues to exert pressure on Georgia, because of Tbilisi's reluctance to extradite suspect Chechen terrorists. As regards Armenia, the commentary quotes the Mediamax news agency saying that an increase in instability in other areas of the Caucasus "could potentially help reignite the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh."

"Eurasia View" sees potential danger throughout the region, especially in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz analysts in particular portray the dangers dramatically by saying the radical movement, which advocates the overthrow of the regional governments and the establishment of an Islamic caliphate, "is an octopus that has spread its tentacles throughout Kyrgyzstan."


An editorial in the "Wall Street Journal Europe" looks at the elections on 3 November in Turkey, which are forecast to bring a "radical shake-up." But, the paper adds, considering the sad state of Turkey's economy, this is actually "an unsuitable time for political experiments." On the other hand, the paper argues, "political shake-ups are how healthy democracies are revitalized." European voters rejected mainstream parties who failed to tackle political and economic reforms and the paper assumes "Turkish counterparts seem set to do so as well on Sunday."

The paper notes that it is of course difficult to predict the outcome of an election in which 18 parties are competing and which "understandably has both Turks and outsiders nervous." The leader in the polls is Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party, or AKP, which opinion polls place at about 30 percent of the vote. If the AKP does as well as expected, the paper says, the shape of the next government will depend much on who are the runners-up. Second in the polls at the moment is the Republican People's Party, a center-left party that includes Kemal Dervis, the former World Bank official who served as economy minister under the existing government. He is described as "key to maintaining Turkey's reform program."

"The Wall Street Journal" sees an enormous task ahead for the future administration and as the best guarantor of better governance "the harsh accountability being exercised by voters."


Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, writing in the "Financial Times," previews the upcoming elections (5 November) in the United States of the House of Representatives and one third of the Senate.

Ornstein says: "President George W. Bush has been the most political and politically active U.S. president of modern times. He has campaigned virtually non-stop in the past month to help elect a Republican Senate that can operate in tandem with a continuing Republican-run House of Representatives."

The Democrats only need a six-seat gain to recapture the House, but they have, according to most observers, only a 20 percent chance of achieving it. As for the Senate, the Republicans need a net gain of only one seat.

Success, according to the commentator, may not have the desired effect though. "Republicans will require perfect unity, which will create constant tension between moderates and bedrock conservatives." Should the Republicans command an overall majority then Americans will also hold them fully accountable. On the other hand a sagging economy might allow the Democrats to "snatch a narrow victory," which Ornstein thinks might be "the best thing that could happen to the president."