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Western Press Review: Human Rights In Chechnya, Stalin's Legacy, And A Last Stand In Baghdad?

Prague, 5 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Discussion in the Western media today addresses the Council of Europe's latest push for trying human rights abuses in Chechnya, some support from Arab leaders for regime change in Baghdad, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's likely "last stand," and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's East-West dilemma, among other issues. We also take a look at the legacy of former Soviet leader Josef Stalin on the 50th anniversary of his death.


In the "Financial Times," correspondent Andrew Jack takes a look at a resolution adopted yesterday by the Council of Europe, an international human rights body, in which the council said it would consider establishing a war crimes tribunal to try human rights abuses committed in Russia's breakaway republic of Chechnya if Russian authorities did not increase efforts to prosecute such crimes. Jack says this move is "an intensification of criticism of Russia's failure to act against abuses in Chechnya, at a time when much of the international community has been taking a softer line with Moscow in the context of the coalition against terrorism."

Jack says the resolution, which was overwhelmingly adopted by the Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee of the council's parliamentary assembly, strongly criticized the failure of the Russian and Chechen authorities to bring the perpetrators of gross human rights abuses to justice over the past decade. It also said the Council of Europe and its member states had "failed dismally" to rectify the situation.

The committee said calls beginning in 1994 for Russian and other regional authorities to deal with severe human rights abuses, war crimes, and violations of international humanitarian law had been "to little avail." The few investigations that were conducted rarely led to convictions and Russian government bodies have done little more than catalogue the complaints they have received.


An editorial in the "Wall Street Journal's" European edition says last weekend's Arab League summit in Egypt received a "large proposal from the small United Arab Emirates." The U.A.E. proposed a resolution calling for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to go into exile to spare his country from a potential U.S.-led military action aimed at his overthrow. The resolution received the backing of only three other Arab League members -- Bahrain, Qatar, and Kuwait -- but the "Journal" says the proposal was significant as the first time Arab rulers "have publicly endorsed regime change in Baghdad."

"For these four small Persian Gulf states to say it's time for the Iraqi dictator to go is an act of courage," the paper says. They have risked facing reprisals from Baghdad if the United States does not eventually affect a regime change. Thus their public stance "is also an act of faith in America's resolve."

The "Journal" says the same is true of the United States' Western European allies, including the prime ministers of Britain, Italy, and Spain. These and other leaders "have taken a big political risk in supporting the U.S. in the face of widespread media and domestic opposition." The "WSJ" says this "makes it all the more urgent" for the U.S. administration to act in Iraq, with or without UN Security Council approval. "The failure to do so would be a breach of faith with friends from London to Abu Dhabi."


In "The New York Times," staff writer Michael Gordon says Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's plan has been to "offer just enough cooperation" with UN inspectors "to cause gridlock in the United Nations Security Council and to fortify popular opposition to a war in nations like Turkey" and elsewhere. But Gordon says the Iraqi leader probably also understands that this strategy is not enough to stave off an attack indefinitely.

Baghdad's recent redeployment of the Adnan Republican Guard division from its base near Mosul in the north to central Iraq, closer to Baghdad, may indicate Saddam Hussein is not planning to concentrate on defending Iraq's borders. Gordon cites some military experts as saying this may mean Hussein "plans to make his stand in Baghdad," in a dramatic move "intended to portray his government as a victim holding out against the advancing Americans."

This "is as much a political strategy as a military one," Gordon writes. The "political calculation" is that Iraq's government can use a siege of Baghdad "to stir up opposition on the Arab street and in European capitals" to the U.S. administration's plans for "regime change." Gordon says, "Baghdad's residents, in effect, would be pawns in the game. Their plight would be exploited to elicit the world's sympathy."

"The war has not begun," writes Gordon. " But the struggle to shape Iraqi and international perceptions about the likely battle of Baghdad is already under way."


A "Jane's Foreign Report" says in a recent visit to Moscow (22-23 February), Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma -- along with presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia, Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazarbaev, and Alyaksandr Lukashenka of Belarus -- signed an agreement to establish a "common economic space." But Ukraine's participation in such an agreement "seems to involve conflicts with the country's economic interests." "Jane's" says that according to a source at a Geneva meeting on Ukrainian entry into the World Trade Organization last week, there were discussions as to whether Ukrainian entry was "now appropriate at all."

Membership in a common Ukrainian-Belarusian-Russian-Kazakh economic region would complicate Ukraine's stated aspirations of drawing closer to the West and eventually joining the European Union. Ukrainian officials have stated that the agreement signed in Moscow would not be an obstacle to the Ukraine's goal of joining the EU. But "Jane's" says Ukrainian politicians "seem confused." Some observers have suggested the proposed "common economic space" is designed to bring Ukraine closer to Russia in an attempt by the Kremlin to counter NATO and EU enlargement. Kuchma "seems to be aiming to keep both EU and Russian options open," writes "Jane's." But eventually Kuchma, "or whoever succeeds him, may be forced to choose."


An item published in today's "International Herald Tribune" says the United States is in a diplomatic bind with North Korea, while "the need to begin direct negotiations [is] increasingly urgent."

"There is no way to ignore North Korea's nuclear programs, and almost any military response would endanger hundreds of thousands of lives." The paper suggests negotiations are the only viable solution, but disagreement over what form they should take is holding up diplomatic progress. North Korea wants "unconditional negotiations, but the only subject the [U.S.] administration is willing to talk about is ending the North's nuclear programs." Pyongyang also wants direct, one-on-one discussions, while Washington wants an international forum that includes South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia.

The paper says, "Meanwhile, the North has restarted its plutonium-producing reactor" and begun processes that could start producing weapons-grade material. "It's time to stop quibbling and start talking," says the editorial. Direct talks between Washington and Pyongyang "should begin swiftly." Other regional powers can help pressure North Korea to halt its nuclear programs while talks move forward. But the economic aid and security guarantees sought by Pyongyang should be "firmly linked to a permanent and verifiable end to all of its nuclear weapons, long-range missiles and exports of dangerous weapons."


A "Le Monde" editorial says the controversy over Iraq is eclipsing the crisis in North Korea, which the French daily says is perhaps even more dangerous. An encounter between a U.S. spy plane and North Korean fighter jets on 2 March underscores the urgency of the situation on the Korean peninsula. The paper says, "Rightly or wrongly, North Korea believes itself to be Washington's next target after Iraq [and it] is determined to show that it is not intimidated by the United States."

Across the demilitarized zone to the south, Seoul is urging calm and calling for dialogue, but "Le Monde" says it feels at the mercy of decisions made in Washington. The new South Korean president, Roh Moo-hyun, has warned of the "horrible consequences" that could accompany the failure of diplomacy in the region. Washington maintains that it seeks a diplomatic solution to the crisis but has thus far made few moves to move negotiations forward. The United States rejects the idea of bilateral talks with Pyongyang and, for the moment, multilateral discussions do not seem likely.

"Le Monde" says dialogue is the only option, considering the risk to millions of people in Seoul of a possible counterattack from North Korea that might accompany a military confrontation between the U.S. and Pyongyang.


A dual feature on the 50th anniversary of Soviet leader Josef Stalin's death is published today in "The Washington Post." Journalist Masha Lipman writes from Moscow stating, "Fifty years ago today Russia was delivered from the long nightmare of Joseph Stalin," whom she describes as a man "who murdered his compatriots by the millions, who for three decades immersed his country in bloody terror."

The fifth of March 1953 brought "the end of a reign under which every man and woman knew that he or she could at any time of the day or night be arrested, tortured and killed or sent to a concentration camp." Living in a state of constant fear, she says Soviet citizens "worshiped their ruler. They sacrificed neighbors, wives, husbands, mothers and fathers to Stalin. Denouncing your colleagues and relatives to the authorities in the hope of extending your own life a little longer became routine practice," Lipman says.

While Stalin's police state has been dismantled, she says "his crushing legacy endures." The "Deep mutual mistrust between the state and the people; the constant desire on the part of the state to expand its control; the people's efforts both to deceive the state and rely on it -- all these historical Russian ills spread and worsened under Stalin." And today, Russia's "stalled development -- economic, technological and social -- is part of the tragic aftermath of his rule."


Also in "The Washington Post," columnist Anne Applebaum notes that for the 18 million people Josef Stalin sent to concentration camps; the six or seven million who died in his "artificial famine"; the millions more executed on his orders and buried in mass graves or who died in exile, there is no national monument to commemorate them, "only a few scattered local memorials."

Applebaum says questions from that era are re-emerging as the West once again encounters "an ideological enemy [in] the form of radical Islam." If the West "truly remembered why the Cold War was fought and how it was won, [we] would know that it is unacceptable to alter our liberal democracy in order to fight the war on terrorism either at home or abroad." She recalls that some have argued the use of torture in interrogating Khalid Sheik Mohammed, a top Al-Qaeda leader recently arrested in Pakistan, would be acceptable as long as it did not take place on U.S. soil.

But Applebaum says the history of the Cold War, if "properly understood," should provide an unequivocal answer to this argument. The West "fought Stalin's system because it was inhuman, not just because it was powerful." On the 50th anniversary of Stalin's death, she says "it is worth remembering" that militant Islam "will also come to a swifter end if we abide by our own rules of decency [and] apply them to others as well."


Nina Khrushchevova discusses the 50th anniversary of former Soviet leader Josef Stalin's death in "Die Welt." Khrushchevova says her father, former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, a staunch Communist himself, had the courage to denounce Stalin in 1956. Khrushchevova emphasizes the need to set history right and not pretend that "a large section of history never happened."

It will never be easy to write a history of Russia that will meet with agreement from all Russians, she says, since they are at loggerheads with various concepts of national identity. Russians have always been split between the defenders of a Slavonic cult and those with a Western orientation when looking at their past. From 1989 to 1990, which saw the downfall of the Communist system and the "glasnost" breakthrough, the "Russians were avid for the facts," says Khrushchevova. But there were also those who regarded the demise of the political system not only as an end to the unique history of what they knew, but also the end of their country and their sense of national identity.

Khrushchevova says that "rival concepts of national identity" make a shared sense of history impossible. And thus far, she says, "Russia has been a country where moderate ideas are not widespread. Russia is pulled between pervasive discussion and absolute silence with regard to Stalin."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this press review)