Prague, 13 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics addressed by press commentary in today's major dailies are Russia's involvement in post-election unrest in Georgia; seeking political self-reliance for Kosovo; a Security Council role in Mideast peace; and yesterday's fatal bomb blast in Al-Nasiriyah, Iraq, which killed at least 19 Italian occupation troops and nine Iraqi civilians.
JANE'S INTELLIGENCE DIGEST:
An analysis by "Jane's Intelligence Digest" says Georgia's 2 November parliamentary elections were "a disaster waiting to happen." While final results have not yet been announced, the large gap between pre-election opinion polls and preliminary results has prompted many observers to accuse President Eduard Shevardnadze and his For A New Georgia party of manipulating the vote.
Interim returns indicate Shevardnadze's party enjoys the support of more than 20 percent of the population, while early surveys placed this closer to the 7-percent mark. Supporters of the opposition continued to rally last night outside Georgia's Parliament building, some calling for Shevardnadze's resignation.
"Jane's" says the "escalating destabilization" in Georgia is "playing into the hands of the Kremlin hard-liners who have their own agenda for subversion" in the country. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his close circle of former KGB supporters "have been developing a strategy to oust Shevardnadze over the past two years."
Some of the Georgian president's policies -- particularly growing military cooperation with the United States -- have caused concern in Moscow. Thus, the Kremlin has moved to create a Georgian "government-in-waiting" based in Moscow and led by exiled Lieutenant General Igor Giorgadze, a former KGB colonel and chairman of Georgia's State Security Service.
"Popular disillusionment with the government, fuelled by economic difficulties, [is] also encouraging mass demonstrations against the president and his administration." But Russian agents are actively working to foment unrest. The overthrow of Shevardnadze and the resulting disorder may enable Moscow to finally install Giorgadze in Tbilisi.
As protests continue, Georgia risks descending into civil war -- an outcome "Jane's" warns will only benefit the Kremlin's hard-liners.
WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
Morton Abramowitz of the International Crisis Group says more self-rule should be handed over to the government in Kosovo, which has remained a UN protectorate since 1999.
Writing in the "Wall Street Journal Europe," he says the UN mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) "has presided over three successful elections and established a provisional government and representative assembly." It has been "indispensable" in helping the province get back on its feet. "But the international community has been exceedingly slow in encouraging and better providing the wherewithal for the people of Kosovo to run their own show."
Late last month, Kosovo and Serbia-Montenegro began their first negotiations on key regional matters, carefully sidestepping the contentious issue of Kosovo's final status. But Serbia, despite its many problems, "has a government with real powers and Kosovo does not," Abramowitz says. "What kind of negotiations does this constitute for Kosovo when the final power is with the UN mission?" he asks.
Kosovo will continue to need "financial help, the ability to procure foreign technical assistance, and some international monitoring for the next few years." But Abramowitz says, "If Kosovo is to prosper, if it is to negotiate seriously with Serbia as one day it must, it should have its own strong governmental institutions." Within the next year, there "is no reason why [Kosovars] should not be able to assume most or all the powers held by the UN mission, which could then monitor and advise."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
Much of the commentary in the German press reacts to yesterday's bomb attack on an Italian military police base in the southern Iraqi town of Al-Nasiriyah, which killed at least 19 Italians and nine Iraqis.
An editorial in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" says the attack indicates a "growing escalation of guerrilla warfare" in the country. The Italian soldiers in Al-Nasiriyah never felt entirely safe, but they are nevertheless safer than their American allies.
The Italian sector was considered the most peaceful in the Shi'a south, which was heretofore isolated from "the monstrous attacks in the Sunni triangle." However, says the commentary, "even the Shia, who were brutally suppressed under Saddam Hussein's regime, are waiting with growing impatience for when the American 'liberators' will leave their country."
From the point of view of the Iraqi resistance, says the "FAZ," "the aim is to sabotage the rebuilding of Iraq and their terrorist logic prompts attacks against all international aid organizations, as well as the UN."
The goal is to compel the occupiers to rely on ever more repressive methods "and thus to force a political, as well as military, defeat of Washington's 'Operation Iraqi Freedom.'"
On the same subject, a commentary in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" looks at yesterday's attack from the point of view of the Italians, who are now increasingly calling for their troops to come home.
Most vociferous are the Italian communists, who regard the rebuilding of Iraq as an example of U.S. imperialism, which they say is now merely employing different methods. However, the commentary notes those with more moderate views are also demanding a re-examination of the reasons for dispatching Italian forces to Iraq.
Soon, parliament is due to vote on an extension of the Italian presence in Iraq for another six months. There is no doubt that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's political opposition will now launch an active campaign against the proposal to send 3,000 police and soldiers to Iraq.
"The dead in Nasiriyah constitute yet another not-to-be-underestimated obstacle for [Berlusconi's] already shaky coalition," the commentary concludes.
THE INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
In the "International Herald Tribune," former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo BenAmi says both the Israelis and the Palestinians have proved their inability to come to a mutually negotiated settlement.
The "fragmented" Palestinian political structure is "in a state of volcanic turmoil." Israel's "tragic predicament lies in the incapacity of the [political] right to make peace with the Palestinians and in the left being unelectable, especially as long as the intifada [continues] to undermine the moral legitimacy of the peace camp."
Israel also struggles with broad coalitions between widely disparate parties "that neutralize one another and systematically block the possibility of assuming historic decisions." The weaknesses in both political systems make them each "likely to disintegrate when faced with the agonizing dilemmas of peace."
BenAmi says the Palestinians and Israelis "need to be saved from themselves. The international community cannot afford letting the collective suicide of these two societies feed rage and despair throughout the region." He suggests a new UN Security Council resolution "could serve as an internationally legitimized peace outline that would leave no safety exit to the parties." It would need to go beyond the "road map" to set down "a set of precise principles upon which the peace agreement should reside," such as the commitment to two states, a withdrawal from Palestinian territories, dismantling outlying Israeli settlements, and a Jerusalem that hosts the capitals of both states.
But it would also take "a robust American commitment to forge an international alliance that would coax the parties into accepting" a resolution.
THE FINANCIAL TIMES:
An editorial in the London-based "Financial Times" discusses the fraud and tax evasion charges brought against Mikhail Khodorkovskii, former head of Russia's Yukos oil giant.
The "FT" says there is "nothing wrong with the principle of investigating Mr. Khodorkovsky," as the massive privatizations of the 1990s from which he made his fortune did involve widespread dubious dealings. But Russian President Vladimir Putin "is also making a political example of Mr. Khodorkovsky, whom he sees as a rival. This is an abuse of power. It is also a sign of the authoritarianism spreading across Russia."
Putin's actions "raise profound questions about his commitment to the rule of law, human rights and democracy." If these issues don't concern him, the paper says there is another that should -- the impact of the Khodorkovskii prosecution on the Russian economy. "[The] biggest economic impact of the investigation could be on the approach of state officials to business in general. Entrepreneurs across Russia fear bureaucrats could now launch probes of their own against other companies, big and small."
A resurgence in bureaucratic obstacles to business and increased pressure on companies operating in Russia may not hamper the dealings of major foreign investors such as oil companies. "The real threat hangs over companies that are too small to protect themselves." And without these, "Russia cannot develop its full potential. It will remain, as it is today, a country with rich natural resources but a poor people."
And Putin's "vision of transforming his country will wither and die."
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
A "New York Times" editorial says the abrupt emergency meeting this week between top Iraq administrator L. Paul Bremer and administration officials in Washington "signals a new level of alarm among American policy makers."
President George W. Bush and his officials are now calling for a speedier transfer of power to U.S.-appointed Iraqi officials and a shortened timetable for holding elections. "There is some merit in these suggestions," the paper says, noting that its editorial page has "long called for a quicker transfer of real power to Iraqis, as have most of America's allies."
But it is "troubling" that the speeded-up plan risks "short-circuiting the time necessary to draw up a workable constitution and conduct fair elections in a country as torn and troubled as Iraq." The new thinking "suggests that the Bush administration is in such a rush to bring American troops home that it has lost interest in laying the foundations for a stable democracy."
The "NYT" instead suggests "[transferring] political authority to a newly created United Nations administration. Constitutional development and election supervision are areas where the UN has built-in legitimacy and experience."
"[There] are no very attractive options in Iraq," the paper says. But "a rushed American withdrawal without an orderly handoff to the UN would leave Iraq open to just the kind of mixture of misgovernment and terrorism that the White House waged this war to prevent."
"Liberation" columnist Patrick Sabatier says while no decision has yet been made, the debate is now raging in Washington over how to effect a strategic retreat in Iraq. While no one will discuss an outright U.S. "retreat," the idea is being considered under its codename -- the "Iraqization" of power in Iraq.
The White House's priority is simple -- to reduce the number of body bags returning to the United States and the daily stream of television images showing new attacks and suicide bombs. The mounting opposition to the "Iraqi adventure" among American public opinion polls threatens to jeopardize the 2004 re-election bid of President George W. Bush. In order to withdraw U.S. troops and end America's role as Iraq's occupier, Bush must confer the responsibility for confronting the now-daily acts of terrorism to the Iraqis themselves.
But there is a danger in speeding up this transfer of power in that it bestows authority without real legitimacy. Iraq's best hope lies in the fact that most Iraqis want neither a return to the old regime nor civil war. The real question is now whether it is already too late to set up an Iraqi government in Baghdad. But Sabatier says such a government could not rule successfully without an international force to back it or without a minimum of legitimacy, which only the UN can confer.
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)