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Western Press Review: Russian Influence In Moldova, The IMF's Shortcomings, And Political Openness In Iraq

Prague, 19 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today takes a look at Russia's continuing influence over Moldova, the shortcomings of the International Monetary Fund's economic policies, the upcoming multilateral meeting in Peking on North Korea's nuclear program, and remembering Afghanistan's ongoing travails, among other issues.


A "Wall Street Journal Europe" editorial today looks at some of the issues involved in the debate over Moldova, which after the EU's projected expansion in May 2004 will be on the EU's easternmost border. Moldova, which is riven by ethnic strife, remains a stronghold of Russian influence in the region. And Moscow has long resisted any suggestion that Western troops might get involved as peacekeepers.

At issue, the paper says, are the EU's "willingness and ability to conduct peacekeeping operations on its periphery; Russia's attempts to maintain a strategic military presence, and political influence, in areas of the former Soviet Union and the propensity [of] diplomacy in the U.S. to acquiesce to this Russian meddling."

The paper cites Vladimir Socor of the Institute for Advanced Strategic & Political Studies, who warns the plan put forth by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Russia, and Ukraine for a federalized Moldova "is a recipe for instability which gives an international imprimatur to Russian military meddling there." Russia has pushed for the plan, which places Moldova "under the 'guarantees' of Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE."

The "Journal" says Russian rule in Moldova's Transdniester region has been "undemocratic," and its influence has been "illiberal and oppressive." The OSCE's "apparent desire to see some kind of a deal done has perhaps blinded officials there to the price of the agreement they are brokering."

The "Journal" suggests the EU should step in. Otherwise, "Europe may soon find that this future border state [has] once again become a Russian satellite."


Writing in the British daily "Guardian," George Monbiot says the International Monetary Fund (IMF) "has made the same 'mistake' so many times that only one explanation appears to remain: it is an engineering disaster."

He discusses the experience of postcommunist Hungary, which needed foreign capital to help repay its enormous debt. Budapest could have applied for debt relief, but the IMF instead suggested a series of other policies.

In 1990, the IMF told Hungary that its biggest problem was inflation. Demand was growing faster than supply, leading to rising prices. "The best way of reducing demand, the IMF maintained, was to restrict the amount of money the banks could lend." But "far from curing inflation, this treatment caused it," Monbiot says. "Between 1993 and 1996, prices rose by 130 percent." And 30 percent of the workforce, or 1.5 million people, lost their jobs. And all these policies were "carried out, as all IMF programs are, in conditions of total secrecy and institutional deceit."

Monbiot says then, in 1996, the IMF suddenly changed its policy prescriptions. Banks resumed issuing credit and the recession "came to an immediate end." Industrial production rose 45 percent over four years and gross domestic product by 21 percent.

Thus it is clear, Monbiot says: "You apply the IMF's medicine and the economy collapses. You stop, and the economy recovers." From Thailand to Indonesia, Russia, and Argentina, "the IMF's financial liberalization and forced restrictions led to economic crisis, which was relieved only as those restrictions were lifted."


Writing in "The Washington Times," Mideast analyst Amir Taheri says most Iraqis still do not know what is going on within the new Iraqi Governing Council. "The new leadership's passion for secrecy is partly understandable," he says. "Most of the new leaders spent years in clandestinity, either in Iraq or abroad." Today, they claim "that a policy of openness may reveal their internecine feuds and confuse a public trained to expect unanimity from its leaders."

But Taheri says: "There is no need for secrecy in Iraq today. The new leadership should have confidence in the people and keep them informed at all stages of developing a new constitution. The existence of some creative tension within the Governing Council is not only natural but also welcome. The future of Iraq is about diversity, pluralism, power-sharing, debate and compromise. Real danger will arise when the Governing Council starts to think and talk like a pre-programmed robot."

One reason cited for not being more open about the constitutional debate is that an open discussion may anger some religious clerics. Grand Ayatollah Ali-Muhammad Sistani, a prominent Shi'a cleric, "has indicated his opposition to any constitution written by an un-elected organ." And Sistani's view "should certainly be taken into account. But it should not be treated as anything more than an opinion," Taheri says. Iraq is not ruled by mullahs as is Iran, "and the views of clerics on political issues, while welcome and worthy of attention, do not automatically overrule other views."


A commentary in today's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" comments on North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's maneuvers in advance of a 27 August meeting in Beijing on Pyongyang's nuclear program.

North Korea canceled plans to send athletes to South Korea for this month's World University Games, even calling it a "dangerous place" to visit after demonstrations broke out in South Korea. Then there was also an incident at sea, when a South Korean patrol boat was sunk in a naval battle with North Korea.

The "FAZ" says these "are targeted provocations to increase tensions ahead of the Peking meeting." On the other hand, the commentary says "economically, Pyongyang cannot afford to cancel the meeting." Besides, it says, Beijing has invested far too much prestige in preparing the talks -- North Korea is thus obliged to come to the conference table. But this still determines little as to the course of the talks, or whether North Korea is prepared to make any concessions.


The lead editorial in the British "Guardian" remarks that Afghanistan was the first frontline in the U.S.-led war on terror. Ousting the Taliban was hailed "as a great triumph," the paper says. But in reality, "the results have been dismal and are obscured only by the relative lack of concern shown by the international media, for whom the current, second, war [in Iraq] is a more compelling subject."

Last week once again there was "a flurry of interest" in Afghanistan, when NATO took control of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in its first-ever mission outside Europe. However, events since then "have merely underlined the chronic insecurity outside the capital [Kabul]." "Within days, more than 60 people were killed as a result of Taliban attacks and factional fighting throughout the country, and 22 died in another attack" on 17 August.

"The Guardian" says Afghanistan "is caught in a catch-22 where disarming the local militias and personal armies will only be possible if proper security in a climate free from armed violence has already been established." And the only way to do so is "to vastly expand the strength and mandate of the peacekeepers -- yet no one is calling officially for more troops."

The paper calls it "an irony, though not an unexpected one," that the Afghan war -- "which received substantial international support" -- now receives much less attention and funding than the Iraq war, which did not have the overwhelming support of the international community.


The last image Reuters cameraman Mazen Dana filmed was the view of a U.S. tank advancing toward him and firing, writes Marie-Laure Colson in France's "Liberation." Dana was filming outside Iraq's Abou Gharib prison when he was shot by U.S. troops, who reportedly mistook his camera for a shoulder-held rocket-propelled grenade launcher. Dana was a veteran journalist who had been wounded before while working in Hebron in the West Bank.

There was nothing particularly extraordinary about these circumstances, says Colson. Other journalists were killed or wounded on 8 April, when an American tank fired on Baghdad's Palestine Hotel, where a number of foreign correspondents -- including another Reuters cameraman -- were known to be staying. The circumstances of that incident remain unclear, Colson says, even while Reuters management and media advocacy groups demand an investigation.

The extreme nervousness of U.S. troops, to which Dana's death has widely been attributed, is also resulting in accidental deaths for Iraqi civilians, Colson says. The daily attacks on occupation soldiers, and the numerous acts of sabotage on water and oil pipelines, all give rise to a feeling of general tension and a growing suspicion that Anglo-American troops are not in control of the situation.


Peter Muench in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" comments on the death of Reuters cameraman Dana, who was shot and killed by U.S. soldiers on 17 August while videotaping near a U.S.-run prison on the outskirts of Baghdad. This is officially described as "a regrettable accident." But Muench says the accident "was the result of the high tensions affecting U.S. troops in Iraq, which caused them to imagine the camera was a rocket-propelled grenade launcher." Of course, he adds, the truth about the incident should eventually come to light as a result of an investigation -- but it will not bring Dana, awarded a Freedom of the Press Prize in 2001 and a father of four, back to life. Moreover, Muench says, "people will continue to die in Iraq."

Muench cites several examples of sabotage, death, and confusion in Iraq and says the resistance forces are unpredictable. Officials blame the most recent series of attacks on various groups -- whether supporters of deposed leader Saddam Hussein, militant Islamists, or foreign terrorists. Muench says "this is a broad spectrum" of fighters, and adds that "this liberated country is turning into a hostile one." Under the circumstances, U.S. soldiers cannot afford to be hesitant in their struggle to survive. And so a cameraman -- who only wanted to shoot a few images of the chaos prevailing in Iraq -- had to die.

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