Most Russian newspapers have been crowing about Russia stealing a march over NATO in Kosovo, though one or two have queried the wisdom of the move. The daily Segodnya said Tuesday that the Russian masterminds of the Kosovo campaign clearly failed to consider the consequences of plonking 200 Russian paratroopers at Pristina airport before the allies got there. The greatest danger was not that they would be left without food and reinforcements (Bulgaria and Hungary having refused to provide Russia with an air corridor into Kosovo) but that they could be subject to attacks by the Kosovo Liberation Army, which had already brought units into the Pristina suburbs. KLA fighters would target the Russian peacekeepers, which would have to rely on NATO for their protection, the paper said. (The Neue Zürcher Zeitung of Switzerland led Wednesday with Russia pressing for the immediate disarmament of the KLA.) The Kommersant Daily said the Russian soldiers had been lured into a trap, because they would have to hold out until at least the weekend when the G-8 summit takes place in Cologne, Germany. “It is only then that the paratroopers will become Russia’s trump card in a political game between the G-8 leaders,” it said. “Otherwise, the thrust to Pristina will have been a spectacular but ineffective action.”
Izvestia, however, believes that this act of bravado has already achieved a lot by showing the West that it cannot brush Russia aside. “Western politicians who have got into the habit of confronting Russia with faits accomplis will now know that the Kremlin, too, is capable of getting its coup in first,” the paper said. “Washington’s strategy of getting Russia to win the peace for it and then, after dividing Kosovo into five NATO zones, casting it out, has proven its futility.” Komsomolskaya Pravda made the same point, saying this is the first time in 10 years that Russia has managed to score a point off Western diplomats and NATO brass. Moskovskaya Pravda said the coup means that NATO would not, after all, be able to impose its authority on the Russian forces in Kosovo, but the paper criticized the Kremlin for not going further. “When Pristina airport was under our control, we should have landed a Russian contingent there immediately,” it said, even though this would have meant cooler relations with the West and probably a suspension of Russia’s negotiations with the International Monetary Fund.
As to Russia’s claim that its paratroopers’ premature incursion had been “a mistake,” this was ruled out in Izvestia by the chairman of the Duma’s Foreign Relations Committee, Vladimir Lukin, who said in an interview that only President Boris Yeltsin could have given the order for the troops to go in. “The Russian generals did not act at all in opposition to the political will of the country’s leadership,” Lukin said. He added that the move was in keeping with the relevant U.N. Security Council resolution “because instead of a U.N. operation, a NATO operation had got under way. … The blitz march of our troops was an attempt to make matters develop in full compliance with the U.N. resolution.” Lukin added that the West should treat Russia as a partner, not a lackey, but he ruled out any clashes between Russian and NATO troops in Kosovo “because the allied commanders realize perfectly well that Russia was right, legally and morally.”
Coverage of Kosovo in Western European papers Wednesday focused mainly on horrific new evidence of Serbian massacres and on anxieties about the KLA, which, the Süddeutsche Zeitung of Munich reported, is occupying strategic positions in Kosovo and hampering the Serb retreat. Both Die Welt of Germany and Corriere della Sera of Milan led on the Serbian Orthodox Church demanding the resignation of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic “in the interests of the people” and his replacement by a “government of national salvation.” Describing the church’s influence as “enormous,” Corriere said this was “the first severe attack” on the Serbian regime.
The Arab press returned Tuesday to one of its favorite themes: Will Washington, after dealing with Milosevic, have another go at toppling Saddam Hussein? The most frequent answer was yes, though an article last weekend in the Pan-Arab al-Quds al-Arabi said Jordan was increasingly convinced that the United States has no plans to remove the Iraqi leader by force. The article said that Jordan, which borders Iraq, has seen no signs of American military preparations and believes the United States may be deterred from fresh action by Iraq’s intensive preparations over the past nine months for a “final showdown.”
But in the Pan-Arab al-Hayat Tuesday there were two articles predicting that the United States will adopt a much more aggressive Middle East policy after Kosovo. The Jordanian commentator Salameh Ne’matt wrote that the defeat of Milosevic was “a resounding demonstration of Washington’s power and its ability to foil attempts by radical rulers … to defy the New World Order which it leads.” So, in a different way, was the defeat at the ballot box of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who fell as a result of “sustained political bombardment.” Ne’matt said Kosovo had given the United States greater credibility in the Middle East and broader room for maneuver, since a number of states that Washington classifies as “radical,” such as Syria and Libya, have shown that “they fully understand the rules of the game” and have taken to dealing with America much more intelligently and pragmatically than before. He said, “This may be Baghdad’s last chance to learn lessons from the developments of the past few months and appreciate the futility of entering into a fresh stand-off with the U.S., irrespective of the justice or injustice of U.S. policy in the MidEast.”
Another al-Hayat article said that American “shamelessness is set to make a major comeback” in the region, as, since Kosovo, there is “no prospect of persuading the policymakers in Washington that they are not always right–just as it was impossible to persuade Saddam that he did not win the 1991 Gulf War, or Milosevic that it was his savagery which led to the latest bombing campaign and provided NATO with moral cover for its first dirty war. … We cannot expect US officials to change the way they think about the region, with all their arrogance, high-handedness, and ignorance of realities.”
The Coca-Cola scare in Europe led the front page of the Financial Times, which said the company is “fighting to recover consumer confidence” after about 100 Belgians fell ill after drinking Coke. The FT said it evoked memories of the 1990 Perrier scare, when traces of benzene were found in the mineral water. This is believed to have cost the French company around $200 million, it said. A story reported in most British newspapers Wednesday concerned a banana skin found in a Tudor garbage dump near the Tower of London. Giving this front-page treatment, the Times of London said the banana, dating from the 1480s, could have been nibbled by King Henry VIII–which is odd, since bananas were previously though to have first arrived in England about 300 years later.