Prague, 28 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and analysis in the Western media today take a look at the resumption yesterday of UN weapons inspections in Iraq, the rising authoritarianism of Russia's "dark side," and Russian-Georgian relations, among other issues.
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
A "New York Times" editorial today says if there is still "a realistic chance of peacefully disarming Iraq and avoiding military action, two crucial conditions must be met." First, UN weapons inspections "must be intrusive enough to ferret out the hidden details of Saddam Hussein's unconventional weapons programs." Secondly, Baghdad "must be fully cooperative in disclosing all elements of its suspicious biological, chemical and nuclear programs."
The paper says although Iraq has promised to cooperate with renewed inspections, Baghdad's "implausible claim" that it has no unconventional weapons suggests that President Hussein "may have different plans." Iraq again requested special treatment of presidential palaces, but that request "had been rightly rejected by the most recent Security Council resolution." Chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix insisted on the right to have access to all sites, without exception.
But the editorial concludes, if Iraq "continues to deny the existence of programs that American and other intelligence agencies have good reason to believe exist, the council will soon have to decide whether it is worth proceeding with further inspections. "
In the international edition of "Newsweek" magazine, Christian Caryl says there is an "accelerating return to authoritarianism" in Russia that was underscored by the late October hostage-taking crisis in a Moscow theater.
A controversial rescue operation by Russian Special Forces resulted in the deaths of some 129 hostages. Caryl remarks that such a tragic outcome might normally bring disciplinary measures for the organization that planned the rescue, the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB. But this was not the case, Caryl writes. "Instead, the aftermath of the crisis has seen a tightening of controls on the press, an intensification of the war in Chechnya -- and a corresponding slackening of checks on the power of [Russia's] secret services." Some suspect the old, Soviet-era "apparatus of security and repression, [is] emerging once again."
Caryl says that ironically, this "revival of Soviet-era political mores" draws support from U.S. President George W. Bush. Caryl says this support is "payback for a shrewd game" played by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been careful to support Bush in his war against terrorism. It was thus no surprise that Bush refrained from criticizing Putin on Chechnya, or on the heavy-handed rescue operation. But the question remains, Caryl says: "[What] price is Washington willing to pay for friendship, in terms of Russian practices that compromise democracy?"
Regional daily "Eurasia View" carries a joint commentary today by Irakly Areshidze of John Hopkins University's Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Irakly Chkhenkely of the Tbilisi-based Partnership for Social Initiatives. The authors say recent statements by two senior Georgian ambassadors have indicated that Georgia remains concerned over Russia's "aggressive" foreign policy.
Issues of concern include Russia's visa policy for Georgians, the issuance of Russian passports for residents of Georgia's semi-autonomous Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions, the frequent Russian flyovers across Georgian airspace and Russian President Vladimir Putin's approval of cross-border operations by his troops to pursue Chechen rebels in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge.
Russian policies continue to adversely affect its relationships with Georgia. Some have argued that Georgia "has become a divisive issue in the nascent friendship between Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush. Undeniably, Georgia presents a unique test case for President Putin's true intentions," say the authors. "As Russia's president shows signs of flirting with authoritarian rule, Georgia has been unwilling to present itself as a victim of Russian aggressiveness. Before credibly blaming Russia for all its foreign and security problems, Georgia must organize its internal positions. If it does, it may present the Bush Administration with a perfect opportunity to test Russia's commitment to national sovereignty."
THE WASHINGTON POST:
In "The Washington Post," Jim Hoagland says the United Nations' search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq will be a less important determining factor for whether the U.S. launches a war with Iraq than two other pressing issues. One is the behavior of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the other is the joint determination of U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair to, as Hoagland puts it, "end the Iraqi leader's tyranny."
"The likely result of these imperfect, limited inspections is ambiguity," writes Hoagland. "Bush will have to decide on the basis of imperfect evidence whether Iraq really poses the urgent and massive threat the president has spent a year describing."
Hoagland says the "political and diplomatic costs of going to war dominate public discussion [in the U.S.]" But he urges us to "imagine the costs involved in the opposite situation, of an American president failing to deal with a serious threat to world peace because he has been boxed in by UN inspections that are seen to be ineffective or rigged."
Hoagland asks: Having "identified and articulated" what is at stake in an Iraq campaign, "can Bush and Blair leave the decision about Iraq's fate solely in the hands of [UN chief weapons inspector] Hans Blix, a studious, by-the-book Swedish treaty lawyer who failed to detect Saddam Hussein's nuclear program the first time around?"
JANE'S INTELLIGENCE DIGEST:
A report by "Jane's Intelligence Digest" says sources indicate that the Russian Federation "is engaged in a massive stepping-up of espionage activities in Europe and North America." The Sluzhba Vneshnei Razvedka (SVR), Russia's civilian intelligence service, "is said to have received a direct order from Russian President Vladimir Putin to radically increase foreign intelligence-gathering activities," and to "intensify recruitment drives within Russian emigre communities in Europe, North America and elsewhere."
"Jane's" says the SVR and the Federal Security Service "often use coercive methods" to recruit Russian emigres abroad. "These include threats to fabricate prosecution cases against potential targets, who may be accused of committing various crimes in Russia prior to emigrating to the countries in which attempts are being made to recruit them."
A few well-publicized cases "illustrate the point that the Russian government is prepared to seek the extradition of its nationals living in foreign countries if they are not willing to co-operate with the Kremlin's intelligence or counter-intelligence services." The Putin administration has already launched extradition proceedings against exiled media magnate Boris Berezovskii, former owner of the ORT and Channel 6 television stations and an outspoken critic of Putin's government. "Jane's" says SVR operations "have also been substantially stepped up in other European countries, particularly in former Warsaw Pact countries that Russia continues to regard as being within its sphere of influence."
An editorial in France's daily "Le Monde" asks, "What does Vladimir Putin want?" The answer is simple, the paper says, if one looks at his statements: economic development, restoring the authority of the state, and a modern Russia -- although not necessarily a democratic one.
Putin might claim he has intentions to tackle corruption and organized crime, says the paper, but he remains a prisoner of those who took control of Russia's natural resources in the unfettered privatizations of the early 1990s. Eliminating their competitors through both legal and criminal means, these groups and individuals built colossal fortunes by monopolizing raw materials and energy resources for export. They resist Russia's attempts at passing laws requiring a minimum of transparency in accordance with international standards.
In spite of official statements supporting reforms, the paper says the interests of these oligarchs are joined with those within the bureaucracy that base their own power in the "opaqueness and contradictions of legislation." This explains why most of the reformist measures proposed by the government have turned out to be illusory.
Powerless against the oligarchs, "Le Monde" says Putin instead rests his authority on the security services, secret and otherwise, which have agents in all the government's power sectors.