Western Press Review: Putin’s Speech, NATO’s Black Sea Interests

Radio Free Europe, Czech Republic
May 28 2004

Western Press Review: Putin’s Speech, NATO’s Black Sea Interests,
Prosecuting Wartime Abuses, The Arab Summit
By Khatya Chhor

Prague, 28 May 2004 (RFE/RL) — Among the topics being discussed
in the media today are Russian President Vladimir Putin’s first
formal address this week since winning a second term; refocusing NATO
attention on the Black Sea-South Caucasus region; determining command
responsibility for crimes committed in wartime; events in Iraq, as
preparations continue for the 30 June handover of power; and this
week’s summit meeting of Arab leaders in Tunis, among other issues.


Russian President Vladimir Putin’s first formal address to the
Federal Assembly (both legislative bodies) since his reelection in
March is the topic of an editorial today in New York’s leading daily.
The Kremlin head’s words this week (26 May) showed “the real, core
[Putin], not a rookie [or] a shaky politician looking for votes. The
speech was the program of a man very much in charge of Russia. Too
much, in fact,” the paper remarks dryly.

Putin’s main theme was his commitment to tackle the tough economic
problems — including housing, health care, education, and jobs — that
affect every Russian family. And while such pledges are not original,
Putin is “serious,” the paper says. “His enormous popularity among
Russians comes largely from his success in bringing stability and
growth to a chaotic land.” Aided by high oil prices, Putin has made
“impressive progress in reforming the decrepit economic institutions
he inherited.”

Yet despite the welcome promises of economic reform, “The New York
Times” says it was Putin’s “Soviet echoes” that reverberated most
loudly through the great Marble Hall of the Kremlin. The most chilling
was Putin’s denunciation of civil associations that have been critical
of his government and his swipe at Western critics, whom he accused
of trying to prevent Russia from being strong and free.”

Such comments are reminders of a time when the Kremlin assumed
“that economic growth and national security require an all-powerful,
centralized state apparatus.”

The paper writes: “The longing of the Russians for a measure
of security is understandable. But it is imperative that Putin be
reminded at every turn not to confuse the laudable goal of improving
the lives of the Russians with a restoration of the authoritarian,
centralized rule that destroyed their lives to begin with.”


A joint contribution today by James Dobbins of the Rand Corporation
and Philip Gordon of the Brookings Institution says the United States
must soon make needed changes in its military strategy if it is to
stabilize Iraq.

“Reaching the goal of a stable, unified and non-threatening Iraq does
look increasingly difficult,” say the authors. But the withdrawal
of U.S. troops from Iraq would create a security vacuum “that would
quickly be filled by the most heavily armed and violent groups
in Iraq.” Iraq’s many different ethnic, religious, and cultural
communities “would probably struggle to establish control over
that country’s vast energy riches. Civil war, ethnic cleansing, and
genocide [would] be a likely result. Iraq’s neighbors — including
Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey — would probably be drawn in,
supplying arms and money to their preferred factions.”

To achieve success in Iraq, the United States needs a major strategic
shift. “Henceforth, American forces cannot afford to destroy villages
to save them. They cannot afford to use artillery, gunships and
ordnance from fixed-wing aircraft in populated areas, regardless
of the provocation. They cannot afford to sacrifice innocent Iraqi
civilians to reduce American casualties. They cannot afford to sweep
up, incarcerate and hold for months thousands of Iraqis — many of them
innocent — to apprehend a smaller number of guilty ones. They cannot
afford to use pain, privation or humiliation to secure information.”

Dobbins and Gordon say an insurgency “cannot be defeated without the
support of the population.” And the United States will not receive
that support from the Iraq people “unless it puts public security at
the center of its military strategy.”


Vladimir Socor of the Washington, D.C.-based Jamestown Foundation
says that at its upcoming (27-28 June) summit in Istanbul, “NATO can
celebrate a triumph.” Seven new members from the Baltic to the Black
Sea will attend the alliance summit as members. “This — along with
the previous accession round by three Central European countries —
represents the alliance’s greatest strategic, political and moral
victory in its 55-year history.”

But the alliance “cannot avoid addressing the issue of peacekeeping
and conflict resolution on its own vital strategic perimeter,” Socor
says. “Thirteen years after the end of the Soviet Union, peacekeeping
in this region remains in practice Moscow’s monopoly, which only
serves to freeze the political settlements of the conflicts.”

Two years ago, both NATO and the United States seemed ready
“to engage jointly with Russia in peace-support operations
and conflict-resolution efforts in Moldova, Georgia and the
Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. [However,] nothing further has been
heard about these intentions since those summits.”

Socor observes that U.S. “forces and resources are now overextended
worldwide.” Thus he suggests European nations should be ready “to
take the lead in peace-support operations and conflict settlement in
the Black Sea-South Caucasus region, Europe’s doorstep.”

The United States, NATO, and the European Union “have the strategic
and democratic motivations, as well as the means, to initiate a
transformation of peacekeeping and conflict resolution at this
crossroads, where the access routes to the Greater Middle East and
the energy transit routes to Europe intersect.” Socor says this “must
become a Euro-Atlantic priority.” June’s NATO summit agenda would be
“incomplete” if it did not indicate its readiness to address this
vital issue.


In a contribution to London’s leading financial daily, a former U.S.
ambassador-at-large for war crimes, David Scheffer, discusses the
difficulties of determining command responsibility for abuses committed
in wartime. In the wake of the Abu Ghurayb prison scandal in Iraq,
Scheffer looks at how the international war crimes tribunal in The
Hague has dealt with offenses committed during the Balkan wars of
the 1990s.

He says some of the same “[fundamental] questions of ‘responsibility'”
that arose from the mistreatment of Muslim prisoners at the Trnopolje
Camp in Bosnia-Herzegovina are likely to be addressed in the Abu
Ghurayb investigation. Was there, from top U.S. administration
officials down to prison guards, a common intention to institute
practices prohibited by the Geneva Conventions? Who had de facto
control over the U.S. personnel and private contractors conducting
interrogations? And who had the authority “to subject detainees to
inhumane treatment?”

The Hague tribunal has, in recent years, determined “responsibility”
for abuses and the complicity of military and civilian leaders
“by asking whether the individual had superior responsibility for
subordinates, or was a co-perpetrator in a joint criminal enterprise,
or aided or abetted an atrocity by knowingly assisting or encouraging

The tribunal’s determination of command responsibility rests on whether
“there was a superior-subordinate relationship where the accused had
‘effective control’ over the perpetrator. Such control should exist
when a superior has the power to prevent or punish atrocities committed
by subordinates.”

The Hague tribunal “has shown that responsibility for atrocities,
especially war crimes committed against detainees, requires serious and
objective review of evidence up the chain of command.” Scheffer says,
“The die, therefore, is cast for U.S. judges and Congress, which can
punish such crimes, to enforce the law with unassailable integrity.”


London’s weekly magazine observes that the meeting of Arab leaders
in Tunis last week “was supposed to have been about two things:
political reform and a uniform stand on thorny issues such as Iraq
and Palestine.” But following the summit’s end, “Commentators from
Morocco to the Gulf, in unprecedentedly uniform derision, variously
deemed the meeting ‘ridiculous,’ ‘a failure,’ ’empty rhetoric’ and
‘instantly forgettable.'”

The strains between the Arab League’s 22 members have been exacerbated
by the “muscular” approach to the region by the United States,
the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and Washington’s unflagging support
for Israeli policies, its “icy hostility to old adversaries” like
Syria, and its “aloofness” from longtime allies such as Egypt and
Saudi Arabia. Moreover, the sudden U.S. preoccupation with promoting
democracy throughout the Middle East has “shaken Arab palaces and
streets alike.”

But the heads of state and envoys meeting in Tunis did make
an attempt to address “both their own peoples’ and Americans’
concerns.” The summit’s final communique “restated a commitment to
a comprehensive Palestinian-Israeli peace and made a new gesture to
Israel by condemning ‘all operations that target civilians, without
distinction.'” The text also, “unsurprisingly,” condemned the U.S.
president’s recent rejection of the right of displaced Palestinians
to return to Israel as well as his contention that Israel should be
allowed to keep some of the territory it has occupied since 1967.
Some statements were made about the leaders’ commitment to social and
political reform in the region, but many of these were “notably vague.”

The “Economist” notes that 34 Arab nongovernmental organizations from
14 countries issued a statement of protest, calling for a specific
timetable for change or for holding elections.