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Western Press Review: Moscow-Kyiv Row; Trans-Atlantic Tensions On Defense; Iraq Donors Conference

Prague, 23 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A review of analysis and commentary in the media today finds discussion of rising tensions between Moscow and Kyiv over the construction of a dam in the Kerch Strait, trans-Atlantic tensions over the creation of an independent European Union military framework, the Madrid donors conference on financing the reconstruction of Iraq, and Estonia's Westward path toward peace and security, among other issues.


An analysis by "Jane's Intelligence Digest" discusses a growing row between Russian and Ukraine over the construction of a dam in the Kerch Strait, which lies between the two nations.

On 29 September, Russia began unilaterally constructing a dam running from its coast to the strait's tiny uninhabited island of Tuzla, which Ukraine claims as its own. Kyiv has reacted furiously to Moscow's implication that it will soon breach Ukrainian territorial integrity by physically connecting Tuzla to Russian territory. The Kremlin, meanwhile, remains "conspicuously silent."

Speculation abounds as to the motives behind Moscow's bold move, which comes as relations with Kyiv were seen to be improving. the analysis says the construction of the 40-meter-wide dam may "[reflect] the real, unstable state of Russia's relations with Ukraine." For one thing, Russia "has yet to fully accept Ukraine as an independent state with the right to determine its own foreign policy."

Uncertainty predominates in Kyiv also because Ukraine "is directionless under [President Leonid] Kuchma in his last year in office. The major pre-occupation of Kuchma and his oligarchic allies is to secure immunity from prosecution in the event of a victory by pro-Western reformer Viktor Yushchenko, the most popular candidate" thus far ahead of late 2004 (October-November) presidential elections.

As "Jane's Intelligence Digest" puts it, "Short-term adjustments in Ukrainian foreign policy in a pro-Western or pro-Russian direction are meaningless when foreign policy has been personally hijacked by Kuchma to serve his own personal interests."


A "Jane's Foreign Report" addresses the ongoing dispute over security issues between the United States and Europe. Recent moves to create an autonomous EU defense force have given rise to concerns in Washington that the new force will eventually jeopardize -- or even rival -- the NATO alliance.

France, Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg recently suggested the creation of a separate European military headquarters near Brussels, which "Jane's Foreign Report" says would "rival the command structure of NATO." Britain's decision to join its fellow European leaders in these defense efforts startled many observers, as Britain has traditionally been America's staunchest ally on the continent.

London does, however, insist that a new European military structure be minimal, effective, and limited to missions in which NATO is not involved. Downing Street has sought to assuage U.S. concerns by explaining that British involvement in the defense project will allow it to ensure that NATO remains "Europe's top security structure."

But Washington views this development "as the start of a trend, whereby the Europeans will discuss all their security concerns within their own military arrangement, and only when they reach a common position will the discussion move to NATO." This prospect would be unacceptable to Washington.

Britain is now "caught in the uncomfortable position of trying to reassure the U.S. that anything done in Europe is not against their interests, while joining those Europeans whose agenda is precisely to reduce U.S. military influence in Europe."


A commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" looks at the prospects for the donors conference opening today in Madrid, which aims to raise money for rebuilding Iraq.

The German paper says the sum for rebuilding Iraq, estimated at between $36 billion and $70 billion over the next four or five years, "makes one gasp." Moreover, if one takes into account Iraq's total finances, including debt and reparations, the number could total as much as $400 billion. "That in itself is terrifying."

Yet from the outset of the Madrid donors conference it will also be apparent that no one knows how or how long it will take to pay off such massive debt. The paper predicts that, "since it is still not absolutely clear who is to take care of the allocation of funds, there will be no checkbook diplomacy" going on at the conference.

The U.S. is incapable of footing the bill alone and yet "it is going to have to live with the embarrassment that the Madrid conference will not produce much."


Writing in the "Financial Times," columnist Quentin Peel notes that in just over six months, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania will become "part of the new Eastern frontier of the European Union" on the border with Russia.

Some EU members may worry the new states will bring a "Russophobic" perspective to the EU, even as Moscow and the West are drawing nearer diplomatically. But Peel says, "it is perfectly natural" that former Soviet states would be wary.

"The fear of losing their hard-fought independence is very real, even if to an outsider Russia scarcely looks like an imminent threat. It is a fear that drives their foreign and security policies, and their determination to keep America in Europe, bound to the NATO alliance. They do not want to hear any talk of trans-Atlantic divisions."

Moreover, the Baltic nations are under the distinct impression that neither the United States nor the EU is focused "on the security threats coming from Russia itself."

Peel says the EU's new members will demand "a more coherent strategy toward Russia and the EU's other new neighbors in the East, such as Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova. They have a very real interest in all those countries being stable [and] more prosperous."

But the real security interest of the "new Europeans" involves "curbing corruption and building institutions to stop the spread of authoritarian anarchy in countries such as Belarus. That is a job that the EU can and must do more to perform."


An editorial in "The New York Times" says as the world's wealthier nations begin two days of meetings in Madrid on how to finance Iraq's reconstruction, "they should be generous. Even those that opposed military action have a strong interest in making sure that the basic needs of the Iraqi people are met and that a secure and prosperous society emerges from the ruins of Saddam Hussein's tyranny."

But care "must be taken to choose appropriate projects and cost-efficient contractors, using as many Iraqis as possible. These decisions should involve Iraqis and development experts." Moreover, Iraq's foreign debt, estimated at $300 billion, "must be written off so Iraq can start moving away from dependency on aid."

The editorial expresses the hope that up to $10 billion might be raised this week in Madrid. Japan has already pledged $1.5 billion, and if other nations follow suit, $10 billion could be a realistic aim. Combined with the $20 billion pledged by the United States, now awaiting congressional approval, "that could finance most of Iraq's short-term needs."

But the paper says, "Unfortunately, there are no obvious solutions to the pervasive insecurity that keeps aid workers out of those parts of Iraq where they are most needed."


A scheduled visit to Serbia next week by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder prompts a commentary in today's "Frankfurter Rundschau" by Gemma Poerzgen.

"Serbia is trapped in a permanent crisis," says Poerzgen. "Following the lost years under [former President] Slobodan Milosevic, the downfall of his regime in October 2000 ushered in a brief period of change." But government infighting and power plays soon dashed the hopes fueled by reformist Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, who was assassinated in March. Meanwhile, the new powers-that-be soon lost interest in promoting the common good.

Djindjic's killing has distanced Serbia from any hope of stability. "Far more alarming is the perpetuation of the old system." The people have no prospect of finding a leader who would free them from the political blockade built up by those interested only in power.

"Parliament has again become a place of national shame, since the government obviates votes of confidence. The issue has long been who is capable of buying the most votes."

Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic complains about new accusations from The Hague's war crimes tribunal, which he claims is undermining Serbian reform policies. But this is erroneous, Poerzgen says. "Belgrade politicians have long seen to that themselves. The analysis of the Milosevic regime era has never been deep enough. Now the politicians are waking up to see that the crisis at home is prompting a new isolation in foreign policy, as well."

Poerzgen says Schroeder will soon see this unstable situation for himself and realize that Serbia's delayed parliamentary elections cannot be deferred much longer.


A "Le Monde" editorial says the recent success in Iran of combined British-French-German diplomacy has proved these leaders can act together effectively on the international scene.

British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, and Germany's Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer managed to secure Tehran's pledge that it would respect its nuclear nonproliferation commitments and submit to renewed inspections by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency.

But France's leading paper says Tehran's agreement must be welcomed with caution, as ultimately, it is the conservative mullahs who make the decisions in Iran and not Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi. But the Iranian leadership is nevertheless inclined to agree to tougher and surprise inspections of its nuclear sites, as well as to suspending the production of enriched uranium. In return, the European negotiators acknowledged Iran's right to develop a civilian nuclear program, guaranteed them technical aid as well as a supply of fuel, and discussed the transport and storage of nuclear waste in Russian installations.

But the agreement is still tenuous, says the paper. Iran will not only be judged on its pledges but on its will to fulfill its commitments and really give up possession of the means to make a nuclear weapon for conventional security guarantees.

However, says "Le Monde," beyond this caution, it is certain that the visit by Straw, de Villepin, and Fischer succeeded in defusing a crisis between Iran and the international community that threatened to escalate if Iran did not meet its obligations by a 31 October deadline.

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