RUSSIA'S CHECHEN OPERATION; WEST'S 'WEAK' REACTION CONTINUE TO DRAW EDITORIAL FIRE
Source: U.S. Department of State, Office of Research
EUROPE: A wide spectrum of papers--including many in France, Germany, Italy and Spain--admonished the West for its "embarrassed silence" or "only mild protests" on Chechnya. Fearing "a new humanitarian disaster" in the region, a Madrid writer spoke for many in asserting, "None of this seems to matter much to the West.... Whatever happened to the obligation to intervene for humanitarian purposes?" Citing damage from Russian air attacks, a Paris paper contended, "For less than this, Indonesia was accused of torturing the population of East Timor...for similar war-like actions in Kosovo, the West united against Serbia."
ELSEWHERE: Commentary from the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Latin America and Canada mirrored European reaction, with pundits urging Russia to "stop the bloodshed," and chiding the West for its perceived "indifference" to the plight of Chechen refugees.
EDITOR: Katherine L. Starr
EDITOR'S NOTE: This survey is based on 59 reports from 29 countries, October 7- 20. Editorial excerpts are grouped by region; editorials from each country are listed from the most recent date.
BRITAIN: "Playing To The Gallery"
The conservative "Times" editorialized (10/20): "The hostilities (in Chechnya) are doing a tremendous amount of good for one man. Russia's latest prime minister, Vladimir Putin...has since seen his popularity soar. His new grasp on popular affection is entirely due to his tough Chechnya policy. In Russia's increasingly nationalist mood, the severity of Mr. Putin's approach to Chechnya has also clearly tapped a groundswell of popular longing for rule with an 'iron fist', which is increasingly expressed in Russia.... For the moment, Russians identify Mr. Putin, and the harsh patriotism he projects, as their future's brightest hope."
"Russia's Gamble: Ceasefire In Chechnya May Come Too Late"
The liberal "Guardian" asserted (10/7): "The short-term objectives of Russia's military assault on Chechnya are becoming clear.... The aim is containment rather than total control. Russia's longer-term objectives remain perfectly obscure, even, we suspect, to the Russians themselves. Prime Minister Putin, an old KGB hand, is an ambitious fellow. He knows that his wish to succeed Yeltsin would be boosted by a credible claim to have vanquished 'black' Chechen terrorists.... But one man's reckless career plan does not constitute a policy. In truth, Russia is taking an enormous gamble.... It could push Russia's shaky democracy beyond the breaking point."
FRANCE: "The Forgotten War"
Paula Boyer commented in Catholic "La Croix" (10/18): "Western leaders are showing very little indignation at the Chechen tragedy. They have only begun to express surprise at Moscow's obstacles to humanitarian aid.... Can we condone the West's lack of reaction because, with Russian elections in the offing, it fears Russia's destabilization?... This second Chechen war looks very much like the first one, with as much terror and intentions of ethnic cleansing...and the same preoccupation with Russian domestic elections. How much longer will the West keep quiet?"
"Interference In Chechnya?"
Left-of-center "Le Monde" argued in its editorial (10/7): "According to Prime Minister Putin, the war in Chechnya is intended to destroy Islamic terrorist bases.... But Russia has not been bombarding the mountains, but oil and gas installations...and what is left of the city of Grozny.... It is hitting what little is left of the local infrastructure.... Since September, 600 Chechen civilians have allegedly been killed.... For less than this, Indonesia was accused of torturing the population of East Timor and suffered economic sanctions. For similar war-like actions in Kosovo, the West united against Serbia.... The international community should feel a certain obligation toward President Maskhadov, whom it helped elect. But it has not uttered one word in support of a man whose power is being ignored by Moscow.... In reality, Moscow is not waging a war in Chechnya to undermine Bassayev and his men.... The Kremlin has shown no proof of any Islamic involvement in the recent terrorist bombings. Chechnya is being attacked in revenge for Russia's defeat in 1996. It is also a way to distract attention from financial scandals.... These are sinister motives which should push the international community to break its guilty silence."
"Clinton's Embarrassed Silence"
Jean-Jacques Mevel maintained in right-of-center "Le Figaro" (10/7): "It is too early yet to say whether Russia is trapped in another Chechen quagmire.... What is certain is that this new Chechen conflict will be remembered as the confirmation of a diplomatic quagmire between two out-of-breath presidencies: the Kremlin and the White House.... Yeltsin's Chechen adventure is adding to a feeling of embarrassment felt by the Clinton administration. Seen from Washington, what is most surprising is the administration's inability to make a clear statement on the Caucasian crisis.... The recent Russian mishaps are revealing a lame-duck White House.... One week into the Russian incursion into Chechnya, and neither the U.S. president nor his faithful deputy, Secretary Albright has made their position publicly known.... Only Strobe Talbott has spoken out clearly on the U.S. position."
GERMANY: "Russian Questioners"
Right-of-center "Frankfurter Allgemeine" (10/20) carried a front-page lead editorial by Markus Wehner: "Russia feels misunderstood by the West these days. The otherwise divided political spectrum in Russia is for once in complete agreement: They have a young government leader who is prepared to act, not just talk, and the country's leadership even has the support of the population--but the West just won't stop criticizing Russia. Instead of supporting the country in its fight against terrorism, Berlin, Paris, and Washington launch a political campaign to counter Russia's military one in Chechnya. At least, that's how politicians in Moscow, see it, along with the majority of Russians.... Can you blame Russia for launching an 'anti-terrorist war,' which is how the war currently underway in Chechnya is called? Is the West not wearing blinkers which prevent it from seeing the truth about the real situation in Chechnya? Many of the questions which are asked today in Russia are legitimate. But Moscow must carry a major portion of the responsibility for the skepticism that marks the West's position regarding the military operation in Chechnya.... Russia must negotiate with Chechnya from a position of strength, a position that it has already achieved.... Putin must now push through negotiations.... If he manages that, then the Russian leadership will free itself of the suspicion that they have been playing a game in Chechnya whose purpose has been anything but the fight against terrorism."
"The West Pays And Keeps Silent"
Thomas Urban wrote in centrist "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" of Munich (10/19): "There is no doubt that the massive bombing and shooting of civilian targets in Chechnya and the obvious effort to starve the population of the capital, Grozny, contradict all the norms of European civilization. The West has protested, but only mildly. EU foreign ministers and the White House encourage the two sides to conduct a dialogue, something that Moscow, however, does not want. The West finds it difficult to protest too loudly, since Moscow can argue that it is only doing what NATO did earlier this year in Yugoslavia, i.e., fighting terrorism.... Governments from Berlin to Washington have two ways to put pressure on Moscow: They can stop financial aid or they can attack human rights violations. But the will to stop the flow of money is obviously not there. Even during the first war against Chechnya in 1995, the West routinely transferred billions of dollars and practically paid for the military operations--a capital political mistake and a crude moral violation. And now the IMF announces that financial assistance will continue.... The mention of human rights violations has traditionally fallen on deaf ears in Moscow, and the subject is taboo for the Western governments.... Today, so the argument goes, criticism from the outside could endanger democratic reforms, as if these hadn't long since been reversed."
"Why Is NATO Silent About Chechnya?"
Mass-circulation "Bild" of Hamburg carried this piece by diplomatic correspondent Mainhardt Graf Nayhauss (10/19): "Strange things are happening. NATO keeps silent about the Russian attack on Chechnya....
"NATO's military leadership does not want to spoil the currently good relationship with the Russian military by putting out a statement on Chechnya, preferring to leave the protests to politicians and diplomats.... As regrettable as it is, great power interests take precedence over human rights in this case."
Right-of-center "Frankfurter Allgemeine" front-paged this editorial (10/8): "Yeltsin once said that the first campaign...against Chechnya was his greatest political mistake. But now, he again leaves it to the military and his notorious state security bodies to use force to resolve a problem that can only be settled politically. And this in view of the fact that the first...freely elected Chechen president asked for negotiations with Yeltsin.... But his government leader is all the more militant, not wanting to entertain anything about talks with the Chechen president, instead presenting pro-Russian Caucasian collaborators. Any further misery that develops from events in Chechnya--this is something that will be Europe, the EU and the OSCE's business."
Moscow correspondent Matthias Brueggmann filed the following editorial for business "Handelsblatt" of Duesseldorf (10/8): "Chechnya is no longer an internal Russian affair. First, the world should no longer look away when the Russian central power uses bombs to force a region to subordinate to Moscow, and when the alleged prosecution of terrorists is turning into a destruction of a whole people. Second, Chechnya has become an international affair long ago when the OSCE accepted the mediation in the previous war in the Caucasus.... The EU should not let up in its efforts to influence Moscow. If there is no international mediation, the Kremlin will again be confronted with a hopeless, belligerent situation. This is why Moscow would be well-advised to consider the EU offer as a contribution to its self-protection.... The EU should make clear to the Russians that it will not give its approval to new Russian IMF loans as long as these loans could be misused to finance the Chechen war."
ITALY: "Silence On Chechnya"
Boris Biancheri commented in centrist, influential "La Stampa" (10/9): "A strange silence surrounds Chechnya. Not many reports in the media...very little is seen on TV...but what strikes most forcefully is the lack of statements by government leaders who are usually very quick to warn and judge. No remarks are coming from Washington, New York or Brussels. Indeed, in the Caucusas a war is underway.... There are some reasons for [the lack of foreign reaction]. During the last decade the West directly or through the IMF has been trying to support Russia.... Let's admit...that...investigating committees and military interventions for humanitarian reasons are made and carried out where and when this is materially possible and politically opportune.... This is not the case with Chechnya."
Alberto Negri commented in leading business "Il Sole 24-Ore" (10/9): "Thousands of
Chechen people escaping and hundreds of civilians killed do not find any support in the high levels of international policy. Why? With public opinion shocked by terrorism, Moscow has been able to present this war as a fight against barbarians.... Escalation (to ward off) the Islamic danger is now the main tool of Moscow's propaganda.
"Chechnya? Nobody Cares"
Renato Farina commented in conservative newspaper syndicate "La Nazione/Il Resto del Carlino/Il Giorno" (10/8): "Everybody has been silent....
"Instead of sending a peacekeeping force, we are content with a very polite appeal to Yeltsin not to exaggerate with 'a disproportionate use of force against the civilian population.'... The Russians are damn wrong in Chechnya. Not only because they drop bombs on villages and buses carrying refugees.... But because theirs is mere revenge. Chechnya is part of Russia, therefore the Russians cannot talk of an aggression against a foreign country against which they have to defend themselves. Chechnya, which wants independence, is accused of providing shelter to Muslim guerrillas.... That's probably right, but why bomb Grozny?"
"So Far Only Victims Are Innocent Civilians"
Left-leaning, influential "La Repubblica" filed from Grozny (10/8): "Russian generals and government leaders repeat daily that the main objective of the military intervention in Chechnya is to 'annihilate' the Islamic guerrillas who are hiding into the mountains at the border with Dagestan, but, so far, the only victims of the bombings have been dozens, perhaps hundreds, of innocent civilians."
BELGIUM: "A Diversion Maneuver"
Pol Mathil opined in independent "Le Soir" (10/20): "The justice and interior ministers of the G-8 are meeting in Moscow to discuss the fight against international crime. This was at least what they believed. Until the end of Russian prime minister's opening speech.... By basing his speech on the necessity to severely fight terrorism, he tried at the same time to justify Russia's intervention in Chechnya and to neutralize the Western participants.... The West is very well aware that the operation in Chechnya is also a diversion maneuver, aimed at assuring Vladimir Putin's place in the Kremlin after Boris Yeltsin."
BULGARIA: "Putin Inching Closer And Closer To The Kremlin"
Influential weekly "Kapital" asserted (10/16): "Putin's popularity in Russia is growing not in terms of days but hours, in the last several weeks. If the military operation in Chechnya didn't exist, it would have had to be been invented, so Putin could get a chance to fulfill the only relevant order from Yeltsin: to win the presidential elections next June. Putin's harsh statements, which contribute to his image of an uncompromising and decisive politician, who doesn't shy way from responsibility, are also a key factor in his growing popularity. The military intervention in Chechnya, the state of the economy and the vague political views of the prime minister will influence the voters' choice."
CROATIA: "Moscow Learned The Chechen Lesson"
Military analyst Fran Visnar commented in government-controlled "Vjesnik" (10/19): "Moscow carefully studied all lessons from the 1994-96 Chechen war, and made certain improvements in the chain of command and in tactics. This time, Russian forces completely surprised the Chechens.... In fact, the Russians are entirely copying the Americans: They are allowing the Chechen terrorists no time-outs, and their backers must pay the full price for supporting them. Moscow is using NATO's Kosovo model. By bombing Serbia, the Americans pushed through the arrival of KFOR ground troops to Kosovo.... Russia will take advantage of that precedent both militarily and politically.... The so-far weak reaction from the United States, the West and NATO to Russia's military intrusion in Chechnya proves that Moscow's estimations regarding the Kosovo precedent were not completely unfounded."
DENMARK: "Epitaph For The Russian Empire"
Center-left "Aktuelt" opined (10/20): "As was the case with East Timor, the situation in Chechnya proves the worldwide need for more democracy and more organizations like NATO....
"[With] Chechnya...the local oppressor, Russia, is not only the most powerful nation in the region but also a UN superpower, that can veto UNSC decisions thereby preventing humanitarian intervention. The Chechen people pay the price."
HUNGARY: "Kosovo Good, Chechnya Bad?"
Washington correspondent Gabor Lambert asked in pro-government "Magyar Nemzet" (10/7): "What's the difference between the Chechens and the Kosovars? Nothing, only the PR of the latter is better. In addition, in Kosovo's case, U.S politics is already willing to accept ethnic realities, even if Western Europe is aware of their dangers. Russia, however, is different. There is a Euro-Atlantic consensus that Russia must not fall apart, and chaos--beyond a certain point--is impermissible. What counts as the basis of a responsible international action elsewhere is considered an internal affair in Russia's case."
THE NETHERLANDS: "Realpolitik Prevails"
Influential, independent "NRC Handelsblad" opined (10/11): "The Kosovo crisis has made it difficult for the West to use double standards. The Chechens seem to be facing the same threat the Albanians in Kosovo faced. At the same time, the West has an interest in a central Russian power in the [oil-rich] Caucasus.... This is the reason why one has heard little comment from the West. It looks like realpolitik prevails. However, given the former war, which resulted in a military defeat for Russia and a further fragmentation of Chechnya, realism alone will not be sufficient. The EU member states have requested unrestricted access for humanitarian organizations. Russia cannot refuse. Should Russia deny such access then one must think of appropriate action, such as freezing Russian credits."
NORWAY: "Dangerous Adventure In Caucasus"
Social democratic "Dagsavisen" commented (10/7): "Russia's prime minister has promised to crush the Chechen guerrillas, which he refers to as criminals and terrorists. Putin's tough line is popular among the Russians.... So far Putin has only succeeded in uniting the Chechens against a common external enemy.... There is barely any hope for the war to be over soon so that the people can return home safely. International involvement is necessary."
POLAND: "Putin's Game"
Slawomir Popowski wrote in centrist "Rzeczpospolita" (10/18): "Russians yearn for a strongman, for a 'tough but just hand.' Putin...meets precisely this requirement. When Yeltsin nominated Putin last August as prime minister and his successor, Putin's 'presidential' rating did not exceed two percent. Today more than 14 percent of Russians are ready to vote for him.... To a large extent, Putin owes this success to his policy toward Chechnya. Whereas it is still not known who is really responsible for the terrorist attacks in Russia, no one doubts that the current war in Chechnya...is in fact a war for the Kremlin. If Putin is the winner, he can feel secure about his chances for presidency."
SPAIN: "Laying Siege To Grozny"
Liberal "El Pais" observed (10/19): "Russian troops have arrived at the outskirts of Grozny and are preparing themselves for what could be a drawn-out siege.... Whatever the true objective may be, the Chechen population is suffering the consequences...leading to a new humanitarian disaster with 160,000 refugees fleeing to neighboring territories. None of this seems to matter much to the West and less still, of course, to the Russians.... What ever happened to the obligation to intervene for humanitarian purposes?"
"Moscow's Inability To Learn"
Conservative "ABC" opined (10/7): "Russia is not winning any points with the international community with its disorganized fight against fundamentalism. Afghanistan was once the great melting pot where fundamentalism was based and Yeltsin is creating another fundamentalist flash point.... To such fundamentalists, the rest of the world is a war zone and we all could be the victims. Someone should tell this to Yeltsin--either the UN, the IMF, NATO or the EU."
TURKEY: "The Chechnya Morass"
Zafer Atay wrote in economics/politics "Dunya" (10/8): "Russia is facing a serious dilemma on Chechnya. If Chechnya is to be kept as part of the Russian Federation at any cost, then Russia will have to deal with a bloody war again. If Chechnya is left to go, then Russia is likely to lose a strategically and economically important country situated on Caspian oil routes.... Despite some reports about Yeltsin benefiting from the current situation, and in spite of the fact that Yeltsin's scandals have been forgotten with the help of Chechnya crisis, in the long run, this crisis will be a political trap for Yeltsin.... If the Chechen resistance is not eliminated, Russian opposition to Yeltsin will grow louder."
EGYPT: "Russia Should Stop Bloodshed"
Pro-government "Al Ahram" ran this piece (10/14): "Russia...should take the Chechen issue from the battlefield to the negotiating table. This is to stop the bloodshed of innocent Chechens.... Showing tolerance and the ability to find peace will strengthen solidarity...in Russia. But bombs and shelling will only add more tension in that region."
SYRIA: "Losing Bets"
Saleh Saleh commented in government-owned "Al-Bath" (10/11): "The Russian war in Chechnya will be long.... Russians did not learn the lesson from their previous experience with the Chechens.... They did not achieve any objectives or goals.... The negotiating table is the only solution for ending the crisis."
CHINA: "Russian Troops Will Not Attack Chechnya With An Iron Hand"
Wang xuejian said in the "Beijing Morning Post" ("Beijing Chenbao", 10/19): "Subjected to the intense military and political pressure imposed by Russia, the sitting president of Chechnya is likely to step down. It is predicted that Russia will shore up a pro-government autonomous regime in Chechnya in a bid to finally resolve the Chechnya issue within the Russian federation."
"Russia Tries To Live Through Turbulence"
Liu Gang said in official Communist Party "People's Daily" ("Renmin Ribao", 10/15): "Despite the considerable impact from the current economic situation as well as the election, the decisive factor shaping Russian policy will be the developments in Chechnya. If the Russian forces are successful, that surely will have a positive influence on the election, while ushering in the stability crucial for economic reconstruction. Otherwise, the current government is likely to be dismissed, which will further complicate Russia's political situation."
INDONESIA: "Will NATO's Reaction On Chechnya Be Same As Kosovo?"
Leading, independent "Kompas" maintained (10/9): "Although the Chechnya crisis is similar to Kosovo's, rest assured that NATO will not use military power against Russia. By any standard, Russia is not Yugoslavia.... The difference in responses toward Russia and Yugoslavia demonstrates that there is still discrimination based upon the size and strength of militaries and economies.... One presumes that EU and NATO pressure on Russia will be very measured, unlike the way in which NATO continuously corners Yugoslavia."
JAPAN: "Russia Must Not Escalate Chechen Conflict"
An editorial in liberal "Asahi" observed (10/19): "So far, the military operation against Chechnya, undertaken by Putin, appears to be successful partly because the Chechens have offered little strong resistance. Because of lawlessness in Chechnya, the United States has not openly or strongly criticized the military operation, which Russia calls an anti-terrorist measure. Russian troops' advancing into Grozny or the mountainous region in southern Chechnya would not only intensify fighting and claim more lives but also draw out the conflict into...an all-out war. Russia, dependent on IMF loans, can hardly afford to wage such a war. Such loans must by no means be used for military operations against Chechnya. Yeltsin must redouble his efforts to resolve the crisis politically."
SOUTH KOREA: "Russia's Presidential Election: A Changed Landscape"
Hwang Sung-jib observed in conservative "Chosun Ilbo" (10/19): "Russians are enjoying the success of their country's recent raid against Chechnya, and this has led to high popularity ratings for the prime minister.... It is no secret that Russians are nostalgic for a strong and charismatic leader. While Putin's stern image is said to be unsuited for a president, his image as a 'terminator,' nevertheless, seems to be finally having an effect on Russian voters."
PAKISTAN: "Russia's Caucasus Adventure"
The Karachi-based, independent, national "Dawn" opined (10/7): "The simmering conflict in Chechnya has taken a serious turn which could suck the entire Caucasian region into a full-fledged war.... Worse still, the war in Chechnya could be a blow to the besieged Russian presidency under attack from the nationalist hard-liners on the right. In fact, the military move in Chechnya is being widely seen as a last-ditch attempt by the rulers in Moscow to boost their flagging public standing on the eve of the parliamentary elections...and the presidential polls.... How Yeltsin hopes to turn this war into a victory before the elections is not at all clear."
SRI LANKA: "The International Scene: Chechnya"
Vernon L.B. Mendis wrote in the government-owned and controlled weekly "Sunday Observer" (10/10): "Russia's own objectives are not clear as to whether [its campaign] will be confined to the destruction...of the terrorists or be extended to Chechnya itself as retaliation for the past. It is significant that Russia has ruled out any foreign intervention in the way of international troops or observers."
BURKINA FASO: ''Chechnya: Silence, Indifference And Guilt"
Independent "Le Pays" carried this piece (10/19): "Will there be a double standard concerning assistance for populations in danger? What is the difference between East Timor, Kosovo or Bosnia and Chechnya?... We cannot delude ourselves.... With the shadow of the Osama bin Laden groups...the number one enemy of the United States...hanging over this region, Moscow can count on Washington's benevolence."
ARGENTINA: "The Kremlin's Defense"
Leon Bastidas, on special assignment in Moscow for leading "Clarin", wrote (10/20): "Russia accused Chechnya of having organized the bloody terrorist assaults against Russia last month.... By blaming Chechnya for those criminal assaults, the Russian government referred to the current war against the rebel Northern Caucasian republic as an operation to eliminate 'a focus of international terrorism.' And that was the Kremlin's defense to the West."
CANADA: "Yeltsin's Unholy War And U.S. Support"
Contributing Foreign Editor Eric Margolis commented in the conservative "Ottawa Sun" (10/11): "The Clinton administration has had many low moments, but this week it plumbed new depths as the White House gave Moscow a green light to launch Russia's second war...against the tiny...republic of Chechnya.... In Moscow, standing next to her beaming Russian hosts, Madeleine Albright proclaimed 'We are opposed to terrorism'--meaning Islamic rebels. She said nothing about Russia's blatant violation of its 1996 treaty that granted Chechnya de facto independence. She made no protest over Moscow's egregious violation of the 1990 CFE Treaty.... Now, Clinton and Gore are at it again, bringing the deepest dishonor on America by supporting Russia's barbarism in the Caucasus and actually funding Moscow's crimes against humanity with American tax dollars. Well, comes the response, nuclear-armed Russia is not feeble Indonesia and can't be ordered about. Why not? Without weekly delivery of planeloads of U.S. $100 bills, the Yeltsin regime would collapse."
BOLIVIA: "Russia And The NATO Lesson"
Cochabamba's centrist "Los Tiempos" (10/10) carried a commentary by Ramiro Velasco: "This time the Belgrade lesson is being applied: massive air attacks and an exact imitation of the language used by NATO.... However, one thing can be predicted: Clinton and the European nation leaders will continue to keep cautiously silent until the end, without caring that the consequences will be worse than in Yugoslavia. The Kremlin, in effect has carte blanche and Yeltsin...takes advantage of it."
ECUADOR: "Military Adventures"
Quito's leading, centrist "El Comercio" opined (10/8): "What is moving Russia to initiate again an adventure that left such bad memories? There are doubts about Chechnya's responsibility in the latest attacks and even more doubts about the true motivation for putting the Russian army in motion and trying to bend Chechnya.... The possibility of a political card being played due to the proximity of a presidential election...is one.... An increasing number of opinions point to a promotion of...Putin.... What hurts the international community and deserves general censure is the serious situation of thousands of people forced into exodus."