News

January 14, 2000

RUSSIA: PUTIN WAGES WAR ON TWO FRONTS--WAR AND CORRUPTION

News from Russia over the past week--notably Acting President Putin's "government reshuffle," and reports of mounting Russian casualties on the Chechen battlefront after last weekend's "spectacular" rebel counteroffensive--elicited comment from Russia-watchers from around the globe. Many underscored that a Putin presidential victory depends on his winning two wars: in Chechnya and against domestic corruption. Referring to Mr. Putin's firing and demotion of some Yeltsin holdovers in the Kremlin, a Brussels paper held that the fact that "on the military front, things do not look good" made "an offensive on the other front, that of corruption, even more indispensable." "Putin knows only to well that betting on Chechnya alone will not guarantee success in the election," seconded a Moscow writer. The Kremlin moves were generally viewed as another effort by Mr. Putin, after the ouster of his predecessor's daughter, to "clean house" of the Yeltsin "family" legacy. Some argued, however, that they amounted to no more than a "cosmetic purge" and, that, at least until the March poll, "Putin must maintain the uneasy coalition" of his backers, who include "oligarchs and Yeltsin family friends." While "Putin can be certain that he will get the support of his compatriots" for these changes, a Frankfurt daily saw it as questionable "whether this will also be true for his war management in Chechnya." Indeed, several papers wondered if the acting president can "survive the Chechen war," or whether he will be forced to "change course on Chechnya" in light of recent setbacks. While a few judged that Moscow might be compelled to "opt for a political solution," others held instead that it might "intensify its offensive." Even Moscow media, heretofore supportive of the war, began to sound the alarm, drawing parallels to the "mistakes made" in the 1994-96 war and warning that the country faces a no-win "guerrilla war." Additional highlights follow:

'PUTIN THE GREAT UNKNOWN': Questions persisted on whether Vladimir Putin is indeed the right man for the top Kremlin post. Reflecting the general tenor of coverage, a London weekly posed the question asked by many: Is he a "man of steel or Russia's reformer"? Most--citing Mr. Putin's KGB past and his prosecution of the war in Chechnya--saw more cause for concern than hope. A lesser number agreed with Moscow's centrist Nezavismaya Gazeta that "Russia needs a president like Putin," who it characterized as "an enlightened Chekist."

THE WAR AS SEEN FROM MOSCOW: As criticism of the Chechen campaign emerged in Moscow's media, some agreed with reformist Izvestiya's contention that "the campaign is making less sense now, " since "things have been going so badly for the federal troops... that it is impossible to pursue successfully the 'special operation.'" Arguing that Mr. Putin "can't ride the same hobbyhorse forever," reformist Vedemosti held, "Now that the war has made him into a powerful political figure, Vladimir Putin may have to play the peacemaker." Others, by contrast, continued to assert that "our army in Chechnya can fight and win," as did nationalist opposition Zavtra, which further warned that "Russian generals there, committed to the sacred cause, will challenge any political heavyweight" who maintains otherwise.

MUSLIM VOICES ON CHECHNYA: Papers from the Middle East, Pakistan and Turkey criticized both Russia for its "annihilation of a Muslim nation" and the international community, and particularly the U.S., for "standing idly by" and offering only "minimal condemnation"--in contrast, some argued, to Kosovo and East Timor.

EDITOR: Katherine L. Starr

EDITOR'S NOTE: This survey is based on 77 reports from 34 countries, January 4-14. Editorial excerpts are grouped by region; editorials from each country are listed from the most recent date.

EUROPE

RUSSIA: "World War In Chechnya"

Afanasy Sborov wrote in reformist, business-oriented Kommersant Daily (1/14): "The war in the Caucasus, no longer an 'antiterrorist operation,' has gone beyond the scale of a local war with separatists to acquire the proportion of a global event. The world community, especially the West dreads the idea of either side winning. A victory for the federal forces would strengthen Russia's defense and security agencies and military industrial complex. In that case...Putin, whose popularity rests almost entirely on the Chechnya war, would become a hostage of the army command, which might mar Russia's relations with the West even more, to the point of a new Cold War. Oddly, that might be a blessing to the Russian administration. Now that the war seems past its peak of popularity, Moscow could end it on its own terms and count on active support from the West at that."

"You Can't Win In A Guerrilla War"

According to Viktor Sirko of reformist, youth-oriented Moskovskii Komsomolets (1/14): "'Cleansing' may take forever--there is no winning in a guerrilla war. But Vladimir Putin is desperate for victory, at least for a successful storm of Grozny, if not a total surrender."

"Enlightenment"

Yelizaveta Domnysheva noted in reformist daily Noviye Izvestiya (1/13): "The moment Yeltsin left the Kremlin, the premier's position grew stronger and 'enlightenment' swept the nation. High-ranking officials...express their desire to serve the cause and see Putin elected."

"Political Weathercocks"

Reformist Segodnya (1/13) front-paged this comment by Nalatia Kalashnikova and Aleksei Makarkin: "We have seen the emergence of a group of professional politicians. They are real pros, choosing the time to pledge allegiance to a power party and to abandon it as a new one appears."

"Likemindedness"

Andrei Kolesnikov said in reformist, business-oriented Vedomosti (1/13): "What is going on might be called a project to introduce likemindedness in Russia. Those of the leaders who have not yet reached agreement with Putin and the Kremlin are in a deep political stupor. There has hardly been a time in the past decade when support for a leader was so total. With serious politicians rushing to make public their support for Putin, something must be wrong with the system. A democracy based on the fear of a man with the Cheka past is not exactly what we should strive for."

"Guerrilla War"

Bakhtiyar Akhmedkhanov said in reformist weekly Obshchaya Gazeta (1/13): "Our rulers suspended the military offensive in Grozny for 'humanitarian reasons.' That didn't work. As predicted by analysts, we face a guerrilla war in which we can bog down for years, if not decades."

"Same Mistakes"

Vladimir Yanchenkov lamented in centrist trade union Trud (1/13): "In Chechnya today, we, regrettably, are making some of the mistakes we made in 1994-1996."

"Clinton Concerned For Chechens"

Nationalist opposition Sovetskaya Rossiya (1/13) ran this piece by A. Illarionov on page one: "About a month ago President Clinton stated that Russia will pay a high price for its action (in Chechnya). The American pervert and murderer of Serbian children made those threats. But that did not stop him from offering us new credit. He is afraid that the Russian army, becoming strong again, will not allow anything like NATO's action against Yugoslavia to happen again. So he gave the money for further 'democratic reforms' so pseudo-patriots could ruin our army. Clinton is concerned for the 'Chechen comrades,' too, because they pillage Russia and don't let it pump Caspian oil and, generally, it is good to know that your enemy is permanently at war."

"Putin Had Better Watch Out"

Editor-in-chief Viktor Linnik of neo-communist Slovo (1/12-13) cautioned: "To be certain of success in the election is the worst mistake Putin and his team could make in the coming weeks. He may fall victim to the 'victory syndrome.'... Another danger [for Putin] is the many types ever ready to smother him in their 'political embraces' and show him how they love him and how much he owes them for that."

"You Can't Ride On Same Hobbyhorse Forever"

Reformist Vedomosti (1/12) cited Dmitry Trenin of Moscow's Carnegie Center in a commentary by Mikhail Kozyrev and Anatoly Khodorovsky: "Now that war has made him into a powerful political figure, Vladimir Putin may have to play the peacemaker. He can't ride on the same hobbyhorse forever. The public is beginning to tire. He can also use his will and other qualities, so dear to the Russian voter, to carry out peace initiatives."

"Not a Happy Choice"

Semyon Novoprudsky commented on the cabinet reshuffles in reformist Izvestiya (1/12): "The choice was not exactly happy. Obviously, the acting president, wishing to demonstrate that he is his own master, is getting rid of those whom the broad public identifies as the entourage of Russia's first president.... With Putin, the Russian government has a good chance to become not harsh, penal or merciful, sybaritic or 'personally frugal,' but instead really effective."

"In Harmony With Public"

According to Mikhail Shchipanov in official government Rossiyskaya Gazeta (1/11): "Like no one else, Putin has managed to win public sympathies in a country which has a long history of mistrust of government.... The secret of Putin's popularity is mostly that his thoughts are concordant with what Russians...say in their kitchens as they watch TV news programs."

"Russia Needs Strong Government"

Vladimir Poshatayev said in official parliamentary Parlamentskaya Gazeta (1/11): "You can't agree more with the acting president that with a weak government, not even the best of economic and social policies will work properly as you try to implement them. Russia needs a strong government. What is meant is not a return to a command economy. The idea, as suggested by Putin, is that the government should coordinate the interests of economic and social forces inside the country, ensuring control and freedom as necessary."

"Stagnation In The Offing"

Semyon Novoprudsky of reformist Izvestiya wrote for reformist business-oriented Vedomosti (1/11): "If Vladimir Putin wins the presidential election, an era of transition in Russia will end to give way to an era of stagnation. We are in for a new period of stagnation or stability, whichever you like best. The irony is that this stability may hold in it some elements of the Soviet system.... Trying to build a strong, in the Russian sense of the word, or cruel state is a tempting way for Russia's young acting president to have a place in history. [But] to have a place in history, he will have to resist that temptation."

"War May Not Be Over By Time Of Election"

Georgy Bovt said on page one of reformist Izvestiya (1/11): "Before March 26 Vladimir Putin must show that he can act and roll with the punches at least as well as Yeltsin. A real test for a politician comes not when he wins easily, but when he has to adjust to bad fortune. The war in Chechnya may not be over by the time of the presidential election. Putin should not be deluded by his high...popularity rating today. The Russian electorate has a peculiar habit of tiring quickly of their idols' high popularity ratings."

"Changes In Cabinet Cause No Sensation"

Natalia Kalashnikova commented on page one of reformist Segodnya (1/11): "Yesterday's changes in the Cabinet and the Kremlin caused no sensation. The big names that have been demoted or transferred to 'other jobs' have not upset the balance of forces. Putin knows only too well that betting on Chechnya alone will not guarantee success in the election."

"Campaign Makes Less Sense Now"

Yevgeny Krutikov, commenting on new appointments in the federal army command in Chechnya, wrote on page one of reformist Izvestiya (1/10): "The changes have nothing to do with how the fighting is going. For all the mistakes that have indeed been made, replacing (Vladimir) Shamanov (the commander of the Western Group) and (Gennady) Troshev (the commander of the Eastern Group) with lesser known figures is a strictly political move. As the Chechnya campaign continues, the country's political leadership will not allow the rise of a whole galaxy of generals whose ideas of the army's role and place do not always coincide with the norms of the democratic Constitution.... Things have been so bad for the federal troops in Chechnya in recent weeks [that] it is impossible to pursue successfully the 'special operation.' The campaign is making less sense now from the propaganda standpoint. Moscow's harsh policy is becoming less attractive to voters--the focus shifting to Chechnya's postwar future, protection for the peaceful population and the scale of destruction. The federal government may soon switch from escalating the fighting to rescuing the surviving population."

"What Is The War About?"

Yevgeny Krutikov stated in another article in reformist Izvestiya (1/10): "You can't really say what this war is about, until you know Chechnya's future status inside Russia. Bringing peace to Chechnya and making it better than it was before the war is all that can justify further fighting."

"Army Can Fight And Win"

Nikolai Anisin said in nationalist opposition Zavtra (1/10): "Three years ago we saw a confused army and generals who obediently submitted to a flyswatter (Aleksandr Lebed). Now our army in Chechnya can fight and win, and Russian generals there, committed to the sacred cause, will challenge any political heavyweight."

"Dictatorship"

Nationalist opposition Sovetskaya Rossiya charged in a page-on commentary by Vasily Safronchuk (1/5): "History shows that when class antagonisms flare up, the upper bourgeoisie tramples down the norms of democracy to establish dictatorship. This is what the Russian criminal bourgeoisie did by using Yeltsin to install Putin as head of state."

"An Enlightened Chekist"

Editor-in-chief Vitaly Tretyakov of centrist Nezavismaya Gazeta wrote (1/6): "Demanding that Putin end the Chechen operation is like demanding that he jump head first from the Kremlin wall. Russia must win the Chechen war.... Even if the Maskhadov regime had been a lot more civilized...Russia would have had to do so before starting talks on Chechnya's political status.... Does Russia need a president like Putin? The answer is obvious. Yes. In the reign of political responsibility, with no political parties and with the elites dividing their own country as you would divide colonies, and with the media and some people who call themselves politicians openly supporting their country's enemies, there had to appear an 'enlightened Chekist.' So he did. Putin is a natural and acceptable limit of authoritarianism for Russia, if it is to remain independent and democratic. However, the things that can't be done are building up Putin's personality cult, gagging his opponents, restricting freedom of speech, and holding an election without a choice of candidates."

BRITAIN: "What Will Putin Do?"

The independent weekly Economist filed from Moscow (1/14): "His aims are fuzzy, his methods mysterious. Mr. Putin may just be biding his time until his election as full president. Afterwards, if he wins and if he wants, he should be able to clean house more vigorously. Until then, he must maintain the uneasy coalition of interests that backs him: the security services, the armed forces, some oligarchs, and the Yeltsin family friends. But polling day still seems a long way off. The war in Chechnya may be going adrift, and so is the economy. Vladimir Putin has a tough two months ahead."

"Caucasian Cloud Over Putin"

The conservative Daily Telegraph editorialized (1/10): "The war which made you could yet undo you. That is the warning delivered to Vladimir Putin by the current confusion over Chechnya. At a crucial stage in the battle for the rebellious Caucasian republic, Moscow has apparently been forced to rethink its tactics.... The war, having gone well for Mr. Putin, now threatens to become a liability. With presidential elections 11 weeks away, Chechen guerrillas rather than political rivals in Moscow are proving his most serious opposition."

"Putin The Great Unknown: Man Of Steel Or Russia's Reformer?"

The independent weekly Economist ran this lead editorial (1/7): "Russia needs a strong leader, able to get laws passed and obeyed, and institutions built, rebuilt or cleansed of corruption. Vladimir Putin seems a strong, determined man, supported since parliamentary elections...by a fairly robust majority in the Duma.... The trouble is that the few facts that are available reveal little about his political inclinations or his ideas about policy.... He has made sure to offer reassuring noises to all the appropriate constituencies: to sound democratic to democrats, reform-minded to reformers, tough to tough-guys, reasonably Western to reasonable Westerners. But it is not what he says that matters. It is what he does. And most of the significant things that he has done, both in his short career as a political leader and in his longer career as a spy, have been scary.... Outsiders and Russians alike should keep an open mind, certainly. But for the moment, the sobering truth is that the facts--such as they are, given that he is a former spymaster--lean more towards doubt than benefit."

FRANCE: "War And The Time Factor"

Bruno Frappat opined in Catholic La Croix (1/12): "Putin's strategy is quite clear.... He wants a military victory to prepare an electoral victory.... The problem for Putin is that the ten weeks to go before the election leave enough time for the Chechens to resist the Russian army."

"Russian Uncertainties"

Paula Boyer judged in Catholic La Croix (1/11): "Vladimir Putin, whose prospect of a military victory in Chechnya has been one of his main political arguments, needs to be careful. For the time being, he continues to refuse the option of a political solution in Chechnya. But the acknowledgement yesterday by the military of the worst Russian losses since the beginning of the war cannot be ignored. It could be the beginning of a campaign to prepare Russian public opinion for a negotiated solution."

"A Spectacular Offensive"

Emmanuel Faux told listeners on privately-run Europe One radio (1/10): "This weekend's counter-offensive is the most spectacular since the start of the ground offensive.... For Russia, this is a bitter moment and a warning signal.... The Russians have begun to send in reinforcements, a clear sign of their debacle. Putin has probably begun to understand that there is one war the Chechens are far from losing: the war of nerves."

"The Picture Which Explains Putin's Program"

Piotr Smolar front-paged this comment from Moscow in right-of-center Le Figaro (1/6) next to a picture showing Putin surrounded by Russian soldiers in Chechnya: "The campaign of the interim czar, Vladimir Putin, will be buoyed by the military campaign of Russian forces in Chechnya. Pictures of war will be the best electoral posters.... Acting President Putin may consider with confidence the possibility of succeeding himself. Unless the Chechen war machine sinks or turns against him."

"A Workable Scenario--Unless War Contradicts It"

Jean Pierre Thibaudat filed from Moscow for left-of-center Liberation (1/6): "Putin's popularity resides in his image of strong man, who by beating up the Chechen bandits is giving Russia its strength and pride.... The scenario may well work, unless the issue of the war contradicts it."

GERMANY: "Russia's Success Is No Question Of Character"

Stephan Kaufmann maintained left-of-center Berliner Zeitung (1/14): "In a brief period of time, Vladimir Putin achieved quite a lot not only in Russia but mainly in the international press. The interim president is now being called a new beacon of hope for Russia.... This euphoria, however, is surprising, since Putin, since taking office, has not done more than to bomb Chechnya, fire Yeltsin's daughter and promise all kinds of things.... He has not presented an economic program, but is using phrases of a 'socially-oriented market economy' and 'of a strong role of the state.'... But even if we insinuate that he is of good will, Putin lacks all the means to lead the country back to its old power. Russia is emitting a currency which nobody wants.... The banking system is insolvent.... The country is broke.... Russia does not have one thing every modern society has as a basis: a binding penal code, a legal system.... Putin's will for reform thus reaches its limits."

"The Chechens Have No Friends"

Centrist Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich commented (1/14): "For Israelis and Arabs, for Serbs, Albanians and Bosnians, one thing is true: Washington is located on the path to peace.... This is why the Chechen foreign minister, Ilyas Akmadov, has now come to the United States.... What the Chechens now need is...political support. But this is something, they do not get in Washington. The State Department made clear that the United States would by no means act as a mediator in the Caucasian conflict.... The Chechens have no friends. The United States nor the Europeans or even the Islamic worlds is willing to enter into a conflict with the new leader in the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin. The only efficient ally would be the Russian public. Since an increasing number of Russian soldiers returns in coffins from the Caucasus, the Russians could come to the conclusion that the price for the war is bigger than the hatred for Chechens. Only such a view could force Putin, who wants to be elected, to enter into talks."

"Russia's Religious War"

Juergen Gottschlich asserted in Berlin's left-of-center Die Tageszeitung (1/13): "For many Muslims, the great restraint of the European leaders towards the Russian warfare and the understanding which Bill Clinton has shown for Yeltsin is turning the West into an accomplice of the Russians in the Chechen war. The moral claim which the West used to justify its activities in Kosovo will now determine the degree of Western credibility--at least from a Muslim point of view.... After this [second] war, the zealots will feel confirmed in their views. This is also true for broad currents in Azerbaijan, Central Asia and Turkey. The many bombs that are dropped on the Chechen people will bring closer...to a 'clash of civilizations.'"

"The Doer In The Kremlin"

Werner Adam front-paged this editorial in right-of-center Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (1/11): "Vladimir Putin continues to present himself to the Russian voters as a man of deeds.... He has initiated a purge which seems to be directed mainly against the influential and politically arrogant finance oligarchs.... Evidence of this is that Putin has now fired not only the Kremlin treasurer, but has also degraded some officials considered members of the Yeltsin 'family.'... Putin can be certain that he will get the support of his compatriots. It has become questionable, however, whether this will also be true for his war management in Chechnya. The resistance which the Russian forces are meeting near Grozny is now making a military victory a thing of the distant future and awakens memories of the humiliating defeat of the Russians in Afghanistan and in the first Chechen war. Nevertheless, it is hard to imagine that Putin will miss his goal [of becoming president].... The selection of presidential candidates speaks for it, as well as the tendency of many Russians to side with the allegedly stronger party."

"Will Putin Change Course On Chechnya?"

Centrist Suedwest Presse of Ulm argued (1/11): "A guerrilla war has begun in Chechnya--and thus possibly the beginning of the end of the Russian forces. The pattern is the same as in the first war between 1994-96.... Unlike what Russian propaganda wants to make us believe, the Russian losses...have been very high.... Will Putin now change course in Chechnya? This is possible but not likely, since Putin owes his high popularity to this successful propaganda and the war [in Chechnya]."

"Russia's New Face"

Markus Wehner penned the following editorial on the front page of right-of-center Frankfurter Allgemeine (1/10): "In addition to a tough face, Vladimir Putin also has a soft face, a liberal face, as some people think. This makes him unpredictable and this makes some people shudder.

"Putin is certainly an anti-communist, and he will not bring back planned economy and a one-party rule to Russia. But all indications are that he, after the failure of the young reformers, pins his hopes on an authoritarian modernization of Russia. It is true that Putin is also talking about a civil society, but the increase in influence of the military and security services in politics speaks a different language. It is not yet clear what will be Russia's path under Putin, but there are indications that the president will turn into...a velvet dictator of the empire.... For a long time, [Russia] thought it would almost be like the West and only a few steps away from the rule of law and market economy, of a democratic and civil society.... The country has enormously changed, and it bid farewell to communism...but it is still far from a civil society. Today, the young Russian democracy shows its true face: the face of KGB officer Putin."

"Putin Needs The Triumph Of The Russian Flag"

Tomas Avenarius opined in centrist Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich (1/7): "Until the presidential elections...[Putin] must at least win the war in the Caucasus. His political success and his popularity are based only on the Chechen war. If he is unable to end the war quickly and triumphantly, the election victory, which seems to be certain right now, could become more difficult. The Russian flag over Grozny: This would be the picture that should result in the percentage figures which Putin needs for the presidential elections. This is why we must assume that the army will intensify its offensive against the rebels in the weeks to come."

ITALY: "Military Setbacks Risk Becoming Boomerang For Putin"

Conservative syndicte La Nazione/Il Resto del Carlino/Il Giorno filed from Moscow (1/14): "The military setbacks suffered by the Russian troops in Chechnya risk turning into a dangerous political boomerang for Acting President Putin."

"Time Running Short For Putin"

Renzo Cianfanelli filed from Moscow in centrist, top-circulation Corriere della Sera (1/12): "At the domestic level...for Putin [there is] the need to rapidly end the war, keeping the campaign in Chechnya...from becoming a war of attrition--capable of demolishing not only his popularity, but also his efforts regarding economic recovery.... Indeed, time is running very short for Putin."

"Putin's Politically Astute Moves"

Renzo Cianfanelli filed from Moscow in centrist, top-circulation Corriere della Sera (1/11): "Demonstrating a very politically astute sophistication...the 'shadow man'...announced an important government reshuffle...and the firing of...Treasury Minister Borodin.... Finance Minister and new Deputy Prime Minister Kasyanov...is well-known and respected in the West.... The meaning of these changes...can be seen in the light of the priority given to economic problems and cooperation with the West."

"Cleaning House"

Maurizio Ricci commented from Moscow in left-leaning, influential La Repubblica (1/11): "By getting rid of Borodin, Putin makes us understand that he wants to directly take care of the relations with the Russian political and economic elite.... Putin is looking at the IMF, whose loans will also be of crucial importance in the forthcoming months. And the new deputy premier...is current Finance Minister Kasyanov. A technocrat, aged 42, who speaks very fluent English and has good contacts in the West.... The Borodin firing can be interpreted along the same lines...cleaning house of the figures of dubious reputation can help please the IMF."

"Moscow Suffering Defeats"

Anna Zafesova filed from Moscow in centrist, influential La Stampa (1/10): "The truce proclaimed by the Russians for the Orthodox Christmas and the end of the Muslim Ramadan lasted less than two days, and new violence exploded yesterday. The attacks by the Russian artillery against Grozny resumed Sunday, and in the rest of the rebel republic, Moscow's troops are suffering defeats everywhere, sensationally losing the towns they had conquered."

"Putin's 'Honeymoon'"

Renzo Cianfanelli filed from Moscow in centrist, top-circulation Corriere della Sera (1/7): "Putin has to use his 'honeymoon' with the voters.... But the problem, indeed, the drama, is that the conflict in Chechnya...is already a war of attrition.... If the war continues, Putin, or whoever will be the next president, will pay its political price."

BELGIUM: "Chechen Nightmare"

Freddy De Pauw commented in independent Catholic De Standaard (1/13): "A few days ago, Moscow still seemed to be assured that it would achieve a victory. Today, there is fear that what happened in 1994-1996 may happen again.... Moscow is facing a choice. As in 1996, it could opt for a 'political solution'...or it could choose to opt for even more means and fiercer actions.... The problem is that Putin owes his popularity to the initially successful advance in Chechnya...but the Russian public is gradually knowing how many casualties there are already. More dead soldiers would turn the war unpopular quickly. The alternative is a 'political solution.'... In that case, Putin may lose face.... Putin's main advantage is the absence of real competition in the struggle for the Kremlin...but much depends on what happens in the field in Chechnya. If it turns into a nightmare, his popularity may dwindle as rapidly as it rose--and the struggle for the Kremlin will be open again."

"Putin's Two Battles: War And Corruption"

Pol Mathil maintained in independent Le Soir (1/11): "To win the March 26 ballot, Mr. Putin must take up two major challenges: winning the war in Chechnya, and starting, at least, the war against corruption. On the military front, things do not look good and Russian casualties are mounting. An offensive on the other front, that of corruption, becomes even more indispensable.... Pavel Borodin's firing was, of course, a necessary measure to show to voters the new head of state's seriousness about corruption. It was necessary but it won't be sufficient. The great battle against those oligarchs who confused their own interests with those of the state and who are exerting a direct influence on Russia's government will be much harder to win than the war in Chechnya."

BULGARIA: "Chechnya Could Make Or Break Putin"

Center-left Sega held (1/12): "The war in Chechnya could play a dirty trick on the acting Russian president. The wave that he was riding, thanks to the Russian people's affinity for 'strong-hand' decisions, could cast him into the abyss of political failure."

"Putin's Philosophy: A Powerful State And A Strong Hand"

Influential, weekly Kapital commented (1/8): "If someone thinks that the world has lived to see a democratic transition of power in Russia, this is just an illusion. On the surface, everything seems fine, there are no violations of the Constitution, but the theatrics with Yeltsin's dramatic resignation on New Years' Eve has only one goal--Putin's election as president."

CROATIA: "Chechnya--Only Possible Obstacle For Putin"

Bogoljub Lacmanovic opined in Vjesnik, the mouthpiece for the former ruling party HDZ (1/14): "Putin's opportunity to turn presidential elections into a formality of [his] installation in the Kremlin can only be spoiled by the Russian army's failure in Chechnya. And such an outcome is not to be ruled out.... Putin is not and cannot be willing to negotiate with the Chechen separatists. If he agrees to negotiate, his victory in the elections will be put under question. But even with Putin as president, Russia cannot look forward to a stable future."."

"Putin's Cosmetic Purges"

Bogoljub Lacmanovic commented in Vjesnik, the mouthpiece for the former ruling party HDZ, (1/12): "Just as it was when it skyrocketed, Putin's popularity has now started to dwindle. Putin opted for cosmetic changes in the Kremlin because he does not want to have his fate in the elections depend solely on the military successes of his generals in Chechnya. The question, however, is whether cosmetic personnel changes will be sufficient for victory in the elections. Only a determined struggle against the corrupt, high-level staff in the Kremlin and the resumption of investigating the most influential tycoons could guarantee Putin a resounding victory at the presidential elections. Putin is not ready for such a fight, as he is inhibited by the obligations toward those who lifted him to power in the Kremlin."

HUNGARY: "To Be Afraid Of Putin?"

Gabor Stier argued in pro-government Magyar Nemzet (1/12): "The world's skepticism can be understood. No one can seriously believe that Putin is working toward a Western democracy, and yet Russia may become a more effective state by rule of law, which helps increase stability in the region. Putin's first steps reflect pragmatism, and although careful, they indicate that oligarchies are not considered eternal allies. And odd as it may sound, the KGB past, in Russia's case, can even be an advantage when discipline and experience in serving of the state are employed in building Russia."

IRELAND: "New Czar?"

The conservative, populist Irish Independent opined (1/6): "What are the chances that Putin can escape from his own past, the savagery of the war in Chechnya and the legacy of Yeltsin, and give his country democracy and a free market? Alas, optimism is impossible. For corruption is endemic, and corruption can undermine the free market more insidiously than communism ever did."

KAZAKHSTAN: "Heavy Russian Lock"

Independent weekly Argumenty I Fakty commented (1/13): "Wonderfully, Vladimir Putin realizes that the [entire] empire can't be restored. Much was lost irretrievably but he will try to reconnect anything possible. That's why he will strengthen the union with Belarus and will start to pull in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. If Belarus is a window to Europe for Russia, then Kazakhstan is a door to Asia. And Putin will try to hang a strong Russian lock on that door."

"How Tightly Is Putin On 'Family's' Hook"

Independent weekly Vremya commented (1/7): "Membership of the 'family'...is changing. But it will be retained and its main figure, main sponsor and brain center most probably will be Boris Abramovich Berezovsky.... But Russia is an unpredictable country and it's not by accident that Yeltsin ruled it.... And the question now is how tightly Putin is on the 'family's' hook."

LITHUANIA: "'Family' Needs"

Second-largest Respublika noted (1/14): "The finale performance of the president's resignation could be unexpected for the 'family' that directed it." The paper concluded that it would not be surprising if the business needs of individual "members of the family" became one of "Putin and his party's points of negotiation."

MOLDOVA: "Russia's Economic Impact On Former Soviet Territories"

Petru Bogatu wrote this editorial in the Christian Democratic Popular Party's Tara (1/11): "The interim president has already declared that Moscow will give up the 'Euro-American' model of capitalism, pleading for a paternalist state that will massively interfere in the national economy. The changes in the Kremlin's economic trend might jeopardize the perspectives of free markets in some former Soviet territories. The new power in the Kremlin will try to create its own pole of influence on the world map."

POLAND: "What About Chechnya?"

Jan Strzalka opined in Catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny (1/12): "In Putin's political manifesto, there are a lot of lofty words about respecting human rights, freedom, pluralism, democracy, but not a word on Chechnya. The Kremlin wants to seize Grozny fast and at any cost--but it turns out again that a blitzkrieg is not possible. Accordingly, Putin declares a suspension in the storming of Grozny.... Why did he announce the armistice and dismiss his military hawks? Is the Army too weak to defeat the defenders of Grozny or is Yeltsin's successor getting ready to play the role of the dove of peace?"

"Putin Unclear"

Andrzej Jonas judged in military weekly Polska Zbrojna (1/7): "Putin's cold gaze and blank face seem to characterize him as a pragmatist...rather than a lover of democracy and advocate of liberalism. It is not known whether he has enough imagination to embrace the enormity of tasks and watershed challenges that Russia faces today. Putin's view of Russia and its place in the world is also unclear."

SLOVENIA: "Russia Heading Toward Unknown Again"

Left-of-center Delo ran this piece (1/8): "With the help of the artificially instigated war [in Chechnya] and Putin's troops, the 'imperialistic instinct' has...revived the Russian people's dreams about a large and strong country which all the world will be afraid of and which will control not just Chechnya, but all of the Caucasus.... [Putin] is not a Communist, but as a declared member of the KGB he can neither be a democrat. He has been offering order, laws, a strong military and a mighty state.... But how will he...uproot corruption when he himself is a hostage of the elite which has brought him to the political surface? Russia is heading toward the unknown again."

SPAIN: "Putin: Only A Matter Of Time"

Independent El Mundo remarked (1/6): "The Russian Federation Council's decision to hold a presidential election on March 26 paves the way for Boris Yeltsin's hand-picked successor, Vladimir Putin, to take over control of the Kremlin.... In the intervening weeks Putin already seems to be walking on a red carpet, as Primakov appears ready to throw in the towel.... The only person shaping up as a credible rival is Communist Party leader Zhuganov."

TURKEY: "The Plot In Chechnya"

Kenan Akin wrote a front-page editorial in conservative/religious Turkiye (1/7): "Without any hesitation, Russia continues to massacre and kill even civilians. These are onslaught massacres, and the global community must immediately stop it. Otherwise, Russia will inevitably start massacring other parts of the Caucasus.... Russia tried to justify the whole thing by saying it was fighting terrorism. However, it is very clear Russia's current intention is to invade Chechnya and take full control of the Caucasus."

EAST ASIA

AUSTRALIA: "Taming The Russian Bear"

The nationla, business-oriented Australian Financial Review, ran this opinion piece (1/10): "Putin's war in Chechnya has marked him as a man more inclined to cynical political actions than reasoned open debate.... But Putin's real challenge is to put some substance into the framework of democracy and markets that Mr. Yeltsin created."

CHINA: "Resignation: Yeltsin's Last Ace In The Hole"

Zhou Zunnan wrote in Beijing Youth Daily (Beijing Qingnianbao, 1/6): "Even though the United States and other Western countries have expressed their hopes to cooperate with Putin and improve the relationship with Russia, the recent anti-U.S. upsurge in Russia and disputes on issues like Chechnya, the ABM Treaty, and Caspian oil resources make it rather difficult for Putin to mend Russia's ties with the West before the presidential elections. However, it is also impossible for Putin to cause Russia's relationship with the West to deteriorate further, or resume a Cold War by openly confronting the West, because Russia still depends on the West for economic help."

SOUTH KOREA: "Russia's Halt Against Chechnya"

The independent Hankyoreh Shinmun commented (1/10): "After [Putin's] appointment as the acting president...[the Chechen] campaign grew more fierce as Russians attempted to finish up the battle and occupy Grozny, only to fail, thus forcing Putin...to find a new strategy."

THAILAND: "Few Details On Putin's Aims"

The lead editorial of the top-circulation, moderately conservative Bangkok Post commented (1/9): "Mr. Putin wants 'to restore the strength of the Russian state.' So far, he has given few details. Does Mr. Putin want to strengthen nuclear treaties, continue Russian disarmament and seek more steps to scale down Russian militarism? That would be good. Or does he see Russia as a diminished superpower which must regain misguided pride in Russians and fear in neighbors? Will Putin take the necessary steps to begin eliminating the...violent mafia members from Moscow power positions? Or will his term be as corrupt as Yeltsin's?"

VIETNAM: "The Biggest Challenge To The Acting President, Putin"

Nguyen Khac Duc commented in Sai Gon Giai Phong (Liberated Saigon, the mouthpiece of Ho Chi Minh City's Communist Party, 1/7): "The biggest challenge currently facing Putin is...the Chechen war.... If the campaign...is protracted or causes serious losses, this will be a disadvantage to Putin."

SOUTH ASIA

INDIA: "Will Putin Be Able To Give Russia A Face Lift?"

The pro-BJP Calcutta Bengali Bartaman had this piece by Debjani Gangopadhyaya (1/14): "Putin's future success will mainly depend on two factors: how he handles the Chechen problem and how far he will be able to salvage Russia from its present economic slump."

PAKISTAN: "The West's Silence Over Chechen War"

Islamabad's rightist Pakistan Observer averred (1/7): "The world is thus silently witnessing the unfolding human tragedy in Chechnya with no apparent remorse or sensitivity. The powers which can play a role in saving the Chechens' destruction are ironically guided by double standards in their approach toward identical issues. While unrest can move the UN swiftly to hold a referendum in East Timor for the freedom of the Christian community, the Muslim Chechens are abandoned to the mercy of Russia's military might for the same demand.... One can only pray that the United States and other major world powers should rise to the occasion and save the total annihilation of the Chechen nation.... Given to the international community's apathy...let the OIC face its religious and moral obligations towards the Chechen Muslims and rally world opinion to bring an immediate end to the Chechen war."

MIDDLE EAST

EGYPT: "Chechnya Shames Superpowers"

Pro-government Al Ahram insisted (1/4): "Although the situation in Chechnya is similar to the situation in Kosovo, the U.S. administration has not taken any position on the Chechen crisis, unlike with Kosovo.... In fact, the U.S. position has nothing to do with its inability to face Russia.... The issue is all about U.S. interests.... The Russian position allowing the United States to pass its unjust resolution about Iraq [at the UNSC] seems to be in return for the Americans not opposing the Russian acts in Chechnya. U.S. statements on the Russian attacks...were only for media consumption.... This Chechen human disaster is a shame for humanity and for the superpowers in particular, because they have...bargained at the expense of the interests of other nations."

KUWAIT: "Russian Annihilation And Minimum U.S. Condemnation"

Independent Al-Anba (12/30) featured this comment by Abdulhadi Al-Saleh: "Events in Chechnya are similar to the scorched earth policy during the Vietnam War. The powerful Russian military is annihilating a Muslim nation before the whole world, with minimum condemnation from the United States.... We appreciate the American position toward our country, especially the recent UNSC resolution on Iraq, but we hope that there are no deals done under the table. Regrettably, the world continues on the basis of two principles, power and interests."

JORDAN: "The Chechnya War Becomes A Muslim Issue"

Taher Udwan front-paged this comment in semi-government, influential Al-Ray (1/5): "Russia launched a war of extermination and massacres against Chechnya before the open eyes of the entire world. The shameful stand of the Islamic countries vis-à-vis this war will increase the Muslim people's sympathy for the Chechen people. We were expecting a stronger reaction on the part of the Muslim world...but it seems that political factors and interests within the OIC are stronger than moral and religious considerations. The sad thing is that the deal that was struck between Russia and the United States in the UNSC over Iraq was at the expense of the Chechen people, the end result being Muslim victims in both countries."

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: "Anniliation By Russia As World Stands By"

The Dubai-based, English-language Gulf News ran this editorial (1/4): "The ploy is now obvious. Russia intends to wipe Grozny from the face of the earth.... The world stands idly by as mere spectators to the event. Vague calls of concern are drowned out in the clamor of leaders anxious to point out that it is an internal matter for Russia.... There will be no NATO forces coming to the rescue of Chechens.... Russia knows that and is content to continue its annihilation of Grozny, unabated and unhindered except by a few Muslim fighters determined to stand their ground."

AFRICA

NIGERIA: "A Daunting Task For Russia"

The Lagos-based, independent Daily Champion maintained (1/14): "The new leadership in Russia has a daunting task. It must work extra hard to retrieve the Russian economy from the abyss.... It is in this way that Russia can fulfill the role of counterbalancing the superpower equation in order to ensure some modicum of fairness in the world order. Secondly, the leadership must end the carnage in Chechnya that currently goes on in the name of the pursuit of terrorists."

ZIMBABWE: "The Democratic Route"

An editorial in the government-controlled Chronicle held (1/4): "We believe Putin can only consolidate his grip on power by going the democratic route, as his predecessor did."

WESTERN HEMISPHERE

ARGENTINA: "Chechen Counteroffensive"

Leading, independent Clarin's Moscow correspondent, Leon Bastidas, observed (1/10): "With a powerful counteroffensive...separatist guerrillas put in jeopardy the Russian troops and left evident the illusory character of federal control over the rebel republic.... The events of the last few days in constitute a serious setback for the Russian army and consequently for interim President Putin, whose popularity could drop and, thus, complicate considerably his triumph in the march presidential elections."

CANADA: "Trouble In Chechnya"

Montreal's liberal, English-language Gazette observed (1/12): "It's clear that Russian forces are in for a prolonged fight against the guerrillas.... The turn of events threatens to upset the tidy scenario according to which acting president Putin is to ride to victory in March's presidential election on a wave of enthusiasm for a war he has championed.... There is also reason to fear that Mr. Putin's political self-interest might contribute to a decision to put increased resources into the war."

"A Bloody Hand On The Tiller"

Eric Margolis commented in the conservative Ottawa Sun (1/10): "As Russians poured shells on the Chechens...Bill Clinton actually described Russia's siege of Grozny a 'liberation.'... Why this nauseating sycophancy? Because Clinton agreed to give Moscow a free hand in Chechnya in exchange for Moscow allowing the United States to keep bashing away at Iraq... Clinton has hailed the Putin regime as 'new, democratic Russian leaders.' In fact, the Chekists and generals now running the Kremlin look very much like the old, brutal Soviet Russia, only this time less ideological and more efficiently ruthless."

"World Needs A Strong Russian State"

Richard Gwyn proposed in the liberal Toronto Star (1/5): "The distinctive hallmark of Putinism...may turn out to be the rooting out of corruption and criminality.... To actually do this, Putin will have to challenge the power of the oligarchs...whose money elected Yeltsin last time around.... It's all early days.... But on the essentials, Putin is dead right. Russia does need a strong state. And a strong leader."

CHILE: "Russia's Bet"

Top-circulation, financial Estrategia (1/7) ran this editorial: "For now, the acting president seems to be the man who will bring stability to the complicated political scene, in which corruption and party favoritism seem to be the rule.... We now have to wait and see...if the fiscal and monetary restrictions are lifted and if the government intervention, which has been minimal and distorted by powerful financial groups and mafias, can carry forward stagnated reforms."

MEXICO: "Russia Needs More Than A Military Triumph"

Monterrey's largest-circulation El Norte (1/4) carried a column by Isabel Turrent: "Unity and its leader, President Putin, march under only one banner: violence. Russia will need more than a military triumph to rid itself of Yeltsin's heritage and construct a promising future. It needs honest leadership with clear ideas and the willingness to realize them."

For more information, please contact:

U.S. Department of State

Office of Research

Telephone: (202) 619-6511

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