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Western Press Review: Ukrainian Reform; Russia's Stalling Economic Progress; The 'Excesses' Of The War On Terror

Prague, 21 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Analysis in the press today takes a look at the "excesses" of the U.S.-led war on terror, the end of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference in Bangkok, and encouraging signs of reform in Ukraine, even as Russian economic progress stalls.


Assistant national editor Jeffrey Kuhner of "The Washington Times" says in the upcoming year, "the fate of Ukraine hangs in the balance."

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine has been plagued by "a failing economy, a corrupt leadership and isolation from the West. It now faces the prospect of fighting for its very survival as an independent state." President Leonid Kuchma has been taking significant steps to reintegrate Ukraine with Russia. Russian companies have already bought up many of Ukraine's strategic assets, particularly in the energy and chemical industries. Essentially, Kuchma is "transforming his nation into a Russian economic vassal." His ultimate goal appears to be for Kyiv "to rejoin a Great Russian Imperium."

Kuchma is "deeply unpopular" among the Ukrainian populace, says Kuhner. When voters go to the polls next year, former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko may well "sweep to power." The author describes Yushchenko as a "pragmatic reformer, who wants to preserve Ukraine's national sovereignty and distinct cultural identity." He vows to institute "sweeping market reforms, the rule of law," a free press, and to eventually seek EU and NATO membership for Ukraine.

Kuhner calls on the United States to "do everything it can" to support Ukraine's reformist forces. "This resource-rich nation of roughly 55 million is of immense geopolitical importance to the United States," he says. "An electoral victory by the democratic opposition would provide the impetus for spreading economic development and liberal governance throughout Eurasia." There will soon be a "golden opportunity to bring Ukraine back into its rightful place among the European community of nations."


In a joint contribution to "The Moscow Times," political analyst Alexander Bim and securities analyst Kim Iskyan say Russia's reforms are stalling under President Vladimir Putin. His administration initially implemented reforms in the tax, pension, land, judicial, and labor sectors that helped "lay the groundwork for sustainable macroeconomic growth." But the "Putin reform era appears to be over," as his "well-documented authoritarian streak has steadily broadened."

The increasing influence of the "siloviki" -- a pro-Kremlin and former KGB faction within the security services -- marks a trend toward "increasing the state's control over the economy and society at large." In contrast, the path toward liberal reform "[takes] power out of the hands of the government [in] favor of independent economic actors."

Many of the reforms that remain to be tackled in Russia will require direct confrontation with vested interests. Those reforms that have proved too challenging -- such as "serious" administrative reorganization or restructuring the Gazprom gas monopoly and the energy sector -- have been "conveniently ignored" or "allowed to sink in the bureaucratic muck."

The authors say, "Often, those charged with carrying out the reforms have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo." Without "fundamental structural reforms," Russia's long-term economic growth is in jeopardy. "The PR-savvy Putin will continue to make the right reform noises when necessary -- particularly when foreign investors [are] within earshot." But a second Putin term would probably bring "increased state intervention, punctuated by periodic attacks on big business [with] sporadic and half-hearted attempts at reform."


A commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" looks at the two-day meeting (20-21 October) of the 21 leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, where Pacific Rim leaders issued a call for the revival of world trade talks.

The German daily says although APEC is essentially concerned with economic issues, "the official language has become political."

Global terrorism became the chief item on the agenda in Bangkok, which was not to the liking of some Asian countries, particularly those suspected of having large populations of militant extremists on their soil. The commentary says: "Perhaps one could take issue with the manner in which the U.S. forced the terrorism question onto the agenda. But who can dispute that the danger of terrorism is influencing the economy?" It continues: "There is no point in tenaciously holding on to the illusions of the past. One should not try to suppress these topics, but should instead search for a viable solution."


Writing in "The Boston Globe," columnist H.D.S. Greenway says the United States is at risk of making some of the same mistakes in the war on terrorism as it did during the Cold War. When the standoff with the Soviet Union was at its height, "infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy ranted, raved and ruined many a career in the name of anti-Communism." Hundreds of U.S. citizens -- particularly those working in Hollywood, the arts, or academia -- were blacklisted because they had been branded communist sympathizers, often with little or no evidence.

American actions overseas also reflected a virulent anticommunist philosophy. The U.S. government orchestrated "regime change" in Iran, Chile, Guatemala, and elsewhere out of fear communists would exert influence on -- or take over -- those governments. And yet, the United States "overlooked the most appalling faults in foreign leaders as long as they were in America's camp." Greenway says looking back on this era today, "we Americans [ask,] How could we have allowed these wrongs to be carried out in our name?"

And yet, at the U.S. military's detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prisoners are languishing without trial indefinitely. In America itself, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft "seems bent on closing down civil liberties on a broad spectrum."

Of course the 11 September 2001 attacks "changed America's sense of security," Greenway says. "But there are indications that the United States is yielding to the fear of terrorism as it once did with Communism and making huge mistakes that we will look back on one day [with] amazement." Fear, he says, "is a powerful motivator for repressive and cruel behavior."


Writing in France's "Liberation," Patrick Sabatier says nuclear proliferation is likely a greater global threat than international terrorism, although it receives less attention. Over 30 countries are believed to have the ability to acquire nuclear weapons, he says. India and Pakistan have already "forced the door" to this exclusive club open, and they may soon be joined by North Korea. Israel has long been thought to be an unofficial member.

Globalization is partially responsible for the spread of nuclear technologies. Iraq's Saddam Hussein showed that a country can continue to develop a nuclear-weapons program while claiming to observe its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Sabatier asks, so how to end nuclear proliferation? Some advocate the forced destruction of suspected installations. Others, more reasonably, suggest strengthening the nonproliferation treaty by authorizing unexpected inspections. But until this happens, the author says the best means of dissuading countries from pursuing a nuclear program is through political pressure from the great powers. Meetings today in Tehran between Iranian and British, French, and German foreign ministers offer some hope that an agreement can be reached on Iran's nuclear program, particularly if the United States, the EU, and Russia are all clear on their objectives and act in concert. Sabatier says Iran must give up its uranium-enrichment program and allow surprise inspections by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency in exchange for the civilian development aid that it claims it needs.

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