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Russia: 'Putin Era' Begins Amid High Expectations, Lingering Doubts

Vladimir Putin's early moves to put his stamp on the Russian presidency--naming key ministers, including Mikhail Kasyanov as premier, and introducing bills to rein in regional governors and strengthen the central government--were closely monitored by Kremlin-watchers from Europe, Asia and Latin America. While quick to emphasize the daunting challenges--from an ailing economy to pervasive corruption--facing Mr. Putin, most commentators struck a cautiously optimistic note about the new Kremlin occupant. "For Russians, he represents stability and competence; to the rest of the world, he is a welcome relief from the unpredictability and directionless leadership of Yeltsin," said an Islamabad writer, echoing a common refrain. "We should wish him well," headlined a London weekly, observing: "A self-assured, rich Russia would be less difficult than a bitter, prickly, poor one still armed with nuclear weapons." Yet hope often went hand-in-hand with lingering doubts--fed most recently by last week's police raid on Media Most, a leading media group--about Mr. Putin's commitment to civil liberty and rule of law, and what his vow to create a "strong state" means in practice. "Russia's democratic foundation is still fragile" and "Putin's message remains as ambiguous as his political career," warned one pundit. Highlights follow:

IT'S THE ECONOMY, PUTIN: The consensus among editorialists both within Russia and abroad is that Putin's number-one task should be "rebuilding the national economy." His choice of the "pragmatic," "fiscally moderate" Kasyanov--a man who "knows well both the Soviet economic system and the economy of the new Russia"--to be prime minister was seen by most as a step in the right direction. Moscow's reformist Kommersant judged that the appointment indicates that "the president...will pursue a liberal economic policy," with an emphasis on "developing a political and legal ensure economic growth."

A 'STRONG STATE' LED BY AN 'IRON HAND': In copious comment, Moscow's leading reformist papers were generally of two minds about Putin's "administrative reform" agenda: They acknowledged that his proposals, including one to limit the power of the 89 regional leaders, are "overdue" and "logical," but voiced concern about the ease with which "Putin has concentrated power in his hands." As Segodnya put it, "It is important that, having liquidated one extreme, the Kremlin should not swing to another, lest Russia, instead of being a joint-stock company run by 89 shareholders, turn into a state-owned enterprise or worse, a military unit." Papers elsewhere in Europe also questioned what the apparent move toward "a strong state government from a powerful center" portends for the democratic process. While allowing that stricter administrative controls are needed, many concurred with a Madrid daily that "the quest for order should not lead to the concentration of power, but to the establishment of rule of law."

ON THE DIPLOMATIC FRONT: Some media voices--noting the priority Mr. Putin attaches to restoring Russia's global prestige and weight--suggested that he will seek "greater rapprochement with the West," but make it conditional upon Moscow's "national interests being respected." According to a Singapore daily, he wants to "check American influence, while at the same time repairing ties with the Western world."

EDITOR: Katherine L. Starr

EDITOR'S NOTE: This survey is based on 62 reports from 27 countries, May 4 - 19. Editorial excerpts are grouped by region; editorials from each country are listed from the most recent date.


RUSSIA: "Handing Over Power To Putin"

Leonid Radzikhovsky judged in reformist Segodnya (5/19): "Almost without any effort, Putin has concentrated tremendous power in his hands. In accordance with an old tradition, Russia has found a 'Varangian' (a person unknown to it), and with a moan of bliss, handed over to him full power.... Everybody--members of parliament, their electorate, the oligarchs and, most interestingly, even the governors--has quickly grown tired of the tedious mess in which we have found ourselves as a result of the 'unbearable state of freedom.' Without putting up any resistance, they all hestened to hand over the surplus (or the remainder) of their political freedom to whoever was ready to accept it. Such are tradition and the Russian national mentality. But what are the consequences going to be?"

"Kasyanov Day"

Svetlana Babayeva and Alexander Sadchikov commented on Mikhail Kasyanov's confirmation as prime minister in reformist Izvestiya (5/18): "The essence of Kasyanov's government can be summed up in two words: a technical matter. On one hand, no patently odious decisions have yet come from the White House. On the other, persistent rumors are circulating in the government that some officials have already been fired or are about to be fired for opposing the adoption of biased decisions on major industrial groups. But in any case, the corridor within which the Kasyanov cabinet can operate has shrunken to narrow technical matters.... Property has been divvied up, the market infrastructure is basically in place and the rules of behavior have been set. Making these mechanisms work normally is a matter of technique. The government ceases to be the center for adopting decisions, political and budgetary, and can concentrate on economic tasks and reforms whose priorities will be determined at the Kremlin. Let us hope the Kremlin is ready for that."

"Overdue Reform"

Andrei Kamakin commented on the administrative reform initiated by Putin in reformist Segodnya (5/18): "Thereby governors, instead of being politicians on the federal scale, are becoming regional managers who depend on federal representatives. In the Senate, regional executive and legislative branches of power will be represented by delegates of the governors and legislative assemblies. In exchange, the governors will be given the fire the heads of local administrations who were previously independent of them. But this is poor consolation for the governors. The administrative reform in Russia is long overdue and the president's actions are logical. It is important that, having liquidated one extreme, the Kremlin should not swing to another, lest Russia, instead of being a joint-stock company run by 89 shareholders, turn into a state-owned enterprise or worse, a military unit."

"This Is The Dictatorship Of Law; Administrative Reform Launched"

Irina Nagornykh held in reformist, business-oriented Kommersant (5/18): "The president has announced that he will submit to the State Duma several draft laws changing the system of how the country is run.... It is not by chance that Putin announced it in a televised address to the nation. The measures he proposed drastically change the current state system.

"The president has openly shown his hand, thus indicating that he is prepared to face up to the resistance on the part of regional elites. He has addressed the nation seeking its support...[thus preventing] the governors, who control...their fiefdoms, from mounting a resistance to the Kremlin initiatives.... Putin simply confronted them with an fait accompli, signalling that his actions would be tough and decisive. 'This is the dictatorship of law,' he explained."

"Commodore's Heavy Steps"

Alexei Germanovich judged in reformist, business-oriented Vedomosti (5/18): "After Kasyanov's triumphant confirmation by the Duma, the president finally has a free hand. Putin now has everything to begin acting: vast constitutional powers, an apparently loyal prime minister, a loyal government and popular affection. He has already made first steps and promising declarations of intent. They include the strengthening of the federation, Kasyanov's package of economic laws, Chechnya, 'the equidistancing of the oligarchs from power, the strengthening of the judiciary system and law enforcement bodies. Although Putin has been at the helm for almost half a year, he has yet to come up with a coherent program of action.... Kremlin officials either don't know what Putin's plans are or are tight-lipped about them. The president's current priority is 'improving relations within the federation in the framework of the Constitution;' the second priority is 'the government's economic package', a presidential staff official said.... Putin has already tackled the 'federal relations.'"

"When Will They Ever Learn?"

Yevgeny Krutikov, commenting on the police raid on Media Most offices in Moscow, said on page one of reformist Izvestiya (5/12): "It may be a prologue to serious trouble with freedom of the press. The new government has yet to show that it is willing to carry out democratic reform. For the authorities to fail to produce real charges based on evidence that can be used in court, while creating an entirely new situation in contemporary Russia, is still fresh in our memory from Soviet times. A conflict between the old mentality and reality is probably our chief problem today."


Reformist Segodnya's Leonid Radzikhovsky (5/12) described the Media Most raid as "simply another stupidity by some officials in the FSB (federal security service), the prosecutor's office or other agencies which have lots of dumb generals. But they will not pay for it. The 'guarantor of the Constitution' will.... But then, it will do Putin good if he promptly stands up for freedom of the press, improving the image of post-Yeltsin Russia as he does so."

"Gusinsky's Influence Abroad May Hurt Foes"

Centrist Nezavisimaya Gazeta (5/12) ran this comment by Marina Volkova and Vladislav Kuzmichev: "The influence (Most's leader) Vladimir Gusinsky wields abroad may harm his foes more than anything else. Whatever the reasons for the raid, the foreign media will call the action against the 'only opposition channel' politically motivated or attribute it to officials trying to avoid scandalous exposes. With Russia feeling vulnerable on its foreign debts and Chechnya policy, its critics may use that to push decisions that will hurt this country."

"Clinton, Blair May Come to Most's Aid"

Mikhail Rostovsky pointed out in reformist Moskovskii Komsomolets (5/12): "The massive attack on the media holding may yet get stuck.

"Doing that to Most and NTV (affiliate television channel) is not a case where you can get away with breaking the law. (Their leader) Vladimir Gusinsky, vice president of the World Jewish Congress, has very influential financial circles in the West to support him. Putin may soon be getting telephone calls from Clinton, Blair and Chirac."

"Good That Kasyanov Has No Party Affiliations"

Reformist Noviye Izvestiya commented (5/11): "It seems good that Kasyanov has no party affiliations--in our over-politicized age, people are sick and tired of active politicians. He is also intelligent, hard-working and prompt. Must we look for someone better than Kasyanov, after a long line of conflict-prone politicians who spent all their energy on political battles? Should he be appointed prime minister, he would honestly pursue the president's policy. No doubt about that. The trouble is that we still don't know much about that policy. Even so, it would be naive to believe that the new Russian leadership will limit itself to simple maneuvering, without having a proactive reform strategy."

"Putin To Use Kasyanov To Pull The Coup"

Vladislav Kuzmichev said on page one of centrist Nezavisimaya Gazeta (5/11): "Mikhail Kasyanov is to effect an economic breakthrough, as envisioned by the new president. But in doing so, he will not only have to ease the influence of the president's economic guru Andrei Illarionov and his radical ideas but to resist the temptation to leave everything as is. Today's high oil prices, an increase in Russia's gold and currency reserves, and industrial production growth create the illusion that establishing normal rules of the game for players in the market will mend the economy. In reality, the relative economic well-being will end unless production growth is backed by serious structural reform, including lower taxes."

"Putin's Mind Set On Liberal Reform"

Andrei Bagrov stated on page one of reformist, business-oriented Kommersant (5/10): "Basically, there is no doubt that Kasyanov will take over from Putin as prime minister. But there is little in common between the two premiers. Putin, clearly, was a political premier. His goal was to become president. Kasyanov is a 'technical' premier. The presidential administration will handle the economic strategy, as well as politics. Clearly, the president and his administration will pursue a liberal economic policy. The idea of developing a political and legal ensure economic growth is central to their program. They hope to have the government protect property rights and make business fully transparent by enforcing Western standards of accounting. Also, they will seek to deregulate economic activity and cut broad social aid programs. Playing the father of the nation in social policies, Putin ruin this image by his economic policy."

"Chechnya, Oligarchs Key Concerns"

Editor-in-chief Viktor Linnik pointed out in neo-communist Slovo (5/5): "The Russians are most concerned about the war in Chechnya and the omnipotence of the oligarchs. As they watch the new president handle those two concerns, they will know whether they made the right choice last March. Neither has an easy solution. There are other serious problems, too. The composition of a new cabinet is secondary. It will show the degree of the oligarchs' involvement in government and a struggle 'at the top' over influence on the new president. The old system, which has been established in the last decade, will not go easily."

"Kasyanov Aims High"

Reformist Vremya MN (5/4) front-paged this comment by Yevgeniya Pismennaya on a press conference by First Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov: "He spoke only about positive trends. Nothing negative. Not a word about changes in the real incomes of the population or setting the inflation mechanism in motion. There has been a rise in gas and electricity rates, as well as in social benefits, which means that there is an excess of money in the Russian economy. All Kasyanov talked about was successes, implying that the country could not do without him, virtually setting the stage for his premiership. He could not resist hinting that he was going to drop the word 'deputy' in his title, 'I wish that a new government would form quickly--we have a busy, ambitious work schedule. The new government will draw up its economic program by the beginning of June."

BRITAIN: "West Should Wish Him Well"

The independent weekly Economist observed (5/12): "The West should not fear a strong, prosperous, even militarily competent Russia. Vladimir Putin's rousing appeal to old-fashioned national pride...when he was inaugurated president was not in itself malign. It is understandable that Russians of all stripes should wish to regain some of the self-respect they have lost in such quantities since the Soviet empire shattered a decade ago. A self-assured, rich Russia should be less difficult than a bitter, prickly, poor one, still armed with nuclear weapons. The West should wish Mr. Putin's presidency well.... It may not even be bad that Mr. Putin should be consolidating power. Yet the doubts about him also linger, even mount. One is whether his pledge to see off the oligarchs should be taken seriously. So far, he has done nothing that visibly distances him from Boris Yeltsin's establishment. He may perhaps be steeling himself to take on one or other of the tycoons, but it seems more likely that he is trying to play them off against each other.... And the new president shows little readiness to come to terms with the rebellious Chechens. More disturbing still are the signs that Mr. Putin holds civil rights in contempt, believing that an iron hand is required to bring order to the country and that it should not be unduly fettered by democratic constraints.... Still, it is early days. Mr. Putin has a stock of goodwill, both within Russia and abroad. He seems intelligent. Some of the best as well as the worst of the new Russians appear to have his ear. He will not gain the confidence of Westerners, however, until he shows that he is his own man, and that that man is someone who believes in civil liberty and the rule of law, not just in the strength of despots."

"Putin Installed"

The centrist Independent observed (5/8): "Vladimir Putin pledged to create a strong and prosperous Russia yesterday when he was sworn in as Russia's second democratically elected president. Unlike Mr. Yeltsin, he may be in a position to provide this. There has been substantial economic growth in recent months thanks to the collapse of the over-valued ruble in the financial crash of 1998. Russian manufacturing industry now stands a chance of getting back on its feet. But Mr. Putin must also decide if he is able to negotiate an end to the war in Chechnya...without which [he] would not now be president of Russia."

"Kremlin's Master"

The independent Financial Times editorialized (5/5): "For Vladimir Putin, the easy part was getting elected. The hard part begins on Sunday when he will be inaugurated. The country is undergoing a traumatic process of adjustment. In less than a decade it has lost an empire, its superpower status, its all-pervasive ideology, and much of its economic substance.... No other nation, and no other head of state, faces such a daunting challenge of reconstruction, physical and psychological. It is not all negative.

"The good things going for Mr. Putin include his age and energy, in stark contrast to his ailing predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. He is young enough to have no nostalgia for the stagnant communist system of the Soviet Union's declining years.... He can scarcely do worse than the previous chaotic regime. He will also enjoy considerable goodwill from the outside world. Western leaders are desperate to see some revival in Russia, and some improvement in their relations."

FRANCE: "Putin Intends to Bring Russian Regions Into Line"

Maxime Loussine filed from Moscow for centrist La Tribune (5/19): "The new president wants to reduce the influence of the regional elite and the oligarches. He said he intended to sign a law that would allow him to dismiss a regional governor or a president of an independent republic.... The honeymoon between Vladimir Putin and the regional bosses is over."

"Putin Against The Media"

Laure Mandeville observed in right-of-center Le Figaro (5/12): "Four days after Putin's official accession to the presidency, the Russian secret police looks as though it wants to prove that it is ruling the country, thus confirming the worst fears of democratic circles. The surreal spectacle of armed men storming the offices of Media Most is raising concern among the Russian political class and the press."

GERMANY: "Russian Centralism"

Right-of-center, business-oriented Financial Times Deutschland opined (5/19): "Putin wants to get the country out of the crisis. He is now preparing the ground for this. His aim is that the decisions from the Kremlin must be valid from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok. His main instrument: a strong state governed from a powerful center. The cabinet list of the new premier, Kasyanov, points to this direction.... The signals which Putin is sending to the regions are even more significant. The unlimited power of the governors will be restricted--and this is right.... Putin now plans to make himself respected in the country that stretches over nine time zones.... What is now lacking is only the blueprint of a policy for Russia as a whole."

"Old Figures In A New Game"

Centrist Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich argued (5/19): "Since Russia's new premier has entered the global stage, the public has been waiting for answers. Now it has got at least a few answers. Whom does he want? First of all, the old team. In the key ministries...nothing changes.... These leaders helped him achieve power, and, with him, they waged the war in Chechnya. What does Putin want? Continuity? By no means. Putin does not change the team, but he changes the script, beginning with the chapter of the 'Power of the Provincial Leaders.'... Putin is pinning his hopes on stricter controls...[to] keep the country together.... This is a dangerous argument, since democracy is not dominant in the genome of the Russian people. It is now important to watch whether Putin will, nevertheless, respect it."

"Putin And The Power Of The Center"

Jens Hartmann asserted in right-of-center Die Welt of Berlin (5/19): "Putin's warnings to the 89 regional leaders to watch their activities more closely are understandable.... If Putin wants to create an economic miracle, he cannot achieve this without changes in the regions. If Putin wants to keep the federation together, he must strengthen the power of the center.... Despite...doubts, Putin has addressed an issue that is overdue. If he succeeds, he will enter Russian history books as reformer. If he fails, the centrifugal tendencies will increase.

"The great question is with what means the new leader in the Kremlin wants to implement this mammoth administrative reform. There is a great danger that he...will abandon the rule of law and rely on the effectiveness of a police state. His moves against disliked media give reason to fear that Putin considers order to be the one he learned at the yards of military bases. Then the 'dictatorship of the law,' which Putin plans to extend to the country as a whole, would get a particular tone."

"More Market, Less Freedom"

Centrist Der Tagesspiegel of Berlin observed (5/18): "Putin's future course is becoming increasingly clear. And this is good--and bad--at the same time. It is good, because the chaos of the Yeltsin era is finally over and the new president reintroduces a 'predictable' policy.... It is bad, because he is increasingly heading for an autocracy. The fact that the formerly recalcitrant Duma approved Mikhail Kasyanov as the new premier shows that Putin has everything under control. Economic reforms have a chance now.... Under Putin, the vast Russian empire will function better.... But for the rule of law, Moscow has prepared a second-class funeral."

"Putin's Reforms"

Frank Herold argued in left-of-center Berliner Zeitung (5/17): "The guessing about the aims of the reforms initiated by the Russian president is over: Putin's reforms have begun. The president wants no less than this--to distribute power through decrees from the top to the bottom and to create a structure where he can control all activities. Stop the division of power, whose complicated balance created nothing but confusion for Russia.... Putin has now appointed seven governors-general who are committed to him and who are more powerful than the 89 governors freely elected by the Russian people.... After this beginning, we will be excited to see what Putin has conceived for the two remaining strong forces in Russia: the bureaucratic apparatus and the oligarches. He will have to share power with at least one of them if he wants to rule over the others."

"Putin And The 89"

Centrist Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich opined (5/15): "President Putin is making an effort to cut down on the degree of disorganization among the 89 'Subjects of the Russian Federation.' He wants to have tighter control over the elected governors and presidents. In Russia, unified law is supposed to reign once again, and provincial leaders shall not be able to govern at will any longer.... All of this makes sense. But reform in Russia...will only lead to results if Moscow's old dominance does not resurface."

"The Dictatorship Of The Law"

Katja Tichomirowa averred in left-of-center Berliner Zeitung (5/12): "The holdings of Media Most, its newspapers and radio stations but mainly its TV channel NTV, have been a nuisance for the Kremlin for a long time. Their reporting on the Chechen war did not show the country-wide patriotism that is usual under Putin. Instead of writing the story on the heroic epic poem of the battle leader, NTV showed fallen soldiers, bombed houses and fleeing civilians. In addition, NTV supported the opposition in the election campaign for the Kremlin.... The 'dictatorship of the law' does not necessarily hit the opponents of law and order, but certainly the opponents of the Kremlin. Putin's rhetoric is no commitment to the rule of law but the open announcement of a totalitarian state."

"Precondition Is Kasyanov's Independence From Oligarchs"

Moscow correspondent Tomas Avenarius wrote in centrist Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich (5/11): "Putin obviously plans to push ahead with liberalization despite resistance. In this respect, Kasyanov is to play an important role. Putin is no economic expert, the 42-year-old Kasyanov, in turn, has exclusively dealt with economic and financial questions.... Time will tell how far the zeal for the reforms of the Kremlin youngsters will go when the ten-year economic program is presented. This plan, under the title 'Gref Program' will outline how Russia can turn into the 'flourishing, prosperous, and civilized country' that Putin promised during his inauguration. But a precondition for success of this program would be that Kasyanov tells the truth when he describes himself as independent of [the influence] of all industry groups and oligarchs."

"With Power And Knowledge"

Right-of-center business Financial Times Deutschland of Hamburg pointed out (5/9): "Kasyanov is an expert who prefers function over intrigue. That is why he is a man of Putin's taste. The choice of the former finance minister is a smart move in several respects. On one hand, Kasyanov conveys continuity, since he assumed important offices in the previous governments. And continuity is important for Russia, both domestically and in external affairs. Domestically, because Russians have become tired of permanent changes, and in foreign affairs, because the stability in fiscal policy over the past months has met with a positive response in the international arena. This choice also makes sense for strategic reasons. Kasyanov may be a strong finance policy expert, but he is hardly a premier who plans to establish his own power center in the White House in Moscow. Putin can expect Kasyanov to back his policy...and Putin needs loyalty to change the course of the Russian tanker. For the West...this is the first time in a long time that, with this newcomer in the White House, an economic expert is at the helm who knows how Western economies work. And this alone is great progress."

"A New Attempt"

Werner Adam front-paged this editorial in right-of-center Frankfurter Allgemeine (5/8): "At his inauguration in the former throne room of the czars, President Putin pointed out once again that this was the first time in Russia's aberrant history that power was being transferred from one freely elected president to another. The importance of this fact can hardly be overstated. However, it remains to be seen whether this historical act will provide added impetus for transforming the heartland of the former Soviet Union into what Putin describes as a 'free, flourishing, rich, strong and civilized Russia.' To date, there has been little progress toward this goal.... And so far, the new Russian president has not even made public the finer points of his political and economic plans.... On the international front, however, Putin can expect to be courted the West, which, against all evidence to the contrary, continues to hope for miracles regarding democracy, the market economy and the rule of law in Russia. In this respect, Putin may have the best of intentions--but that is not enough."

ITALY: "The Most Obscure Side Of Putin's Politics"

Sandro Viola judged in left-leaning, influential La Repubblica (5/19): "Is Vladimir Putin a disguised Communist who aims at restoring a totalitarian system? Absolutely not. On the economic level, his goals fully coincide with those of the West: free market, open doors to foreign investors, balancing the budget. But his ideas on the methods and the means of governing are still obscure.... Some doubts are beginning to emerge about a man to whom the West, perhaps too hastily, had tributed the best reception....

"The reality is that none of the Putin wathcers knows even vaguely the intentions of the former KGB official. And nobody worries about the future repercussions of the nationalistic language...on Russia's 'grandeur' which surface more and more frequently in Putin's speeches."

"Putin's Strengthens His Position"

Fabrizio Dragosei filed from Moscow in centrist, top-circulation Corriere della Sera (5/18): "President Putin does not want to waste time in strengthening his position at the center of Greater Russia. Thus yesterday he presented a series of proposals aimed at depriving local governors of their power.... Simultaneously, there have been attacks...against the independent media--NTV television, Radio Liberty--that are now openly accused of not participating in the 'team play' sought by the Kremlin."

"New Czars, Old Systems"

Alberto Stabile filed from Moscow in left-leaning, influential La Repubblica (5/12): "New Czar, old systems. One would say that nothing has changed as a result of Russia's switch from Yeltsin to Putin, if one were to judge from the sensational and violent raid conducted yesterday by the tax police at the headquarters of the MediaMost editorial group in Moscow."

"Putin's Challenge: Rebuilding The Economic System"

Piero Sinatti argued in leading, business Il Sole 24 Ore (5/9): "[Mr. Putin's] most difficult task has to do with the economy.... In his inaugural speech he promised to act 'honestly and openly.' We want to take his words at face value. But we are puzzled by the appointment of Mikhail Kasyanov as prime minister. He is a skilled negotiator of the foreign debt and an appreciated interlocutor of the IMF. But he is close to Berezovsky's 'oligarchy.' People have said that of Putin as well. Let's hope that both of them clearly separate political leadership from the business community."

"Vladimir's Three Messages"

Centrist, influential La Stampa (5/8) ran a front-page commentary by Moscow correspondent Giulietto Chiesa: "Putin's inauguration contains three precise messages. The first affirms the full legitimacy of the new president.... The second message indicates that we will have to pay the necessary respect to Putin's Russia. Nothing that may cause alarm in the West...but an indication that there will be more firmness and autonomy in Russia's foreign policy.... The third message is more innovative. It is a proposal for compromise and pacification. The praise of former President Gorbachev and Putin's commitment to represent 'all Russian people'...indicate that Putin really wants to change something.... One of the unknown factors is represented by the West, mainly the United States. Putin asked for respect and promised his voters that he will demand it. The additional expansion eastwards of NATO and the American mini-space shield will be two crucial tests."

"The West Feels A 'Springlike' Breeze"

A front-page analysis by Antonio Pollio Salimbeni in pro-DS (leading government party) L'Unita' declared (5/8): "For now, Western leaders have reacted with satisfaction to Putin's inauguration.... Clinton was right in saying from the very beginning that 'we can do business with the new Russian leader.'... It is a fact that yesterday no warnings, polemical attacks, or demands typical of a superpower were issued in Moscow.... The politics of the red carpet can continue.... It is difficult to imagine that Putin may brandish the nuclear weapon like Yeltsin...but it is clear...that [he] will be an intransigent defender of Russian interests in foreign policy."

BELGIUM: "Putin Takes Oath"

VRT correspondent Johan Depoortere opined in independent Catholic De Standaard (5/6): "President Putin is inheriting the ruins of unfinished reforms and plundered national wealth.... But, Putin has the Duma in his pocket, so that it won't be a problem to push through needed laws.... Economically, the situation is favorable for the new president.... Pessimists, however, warn that the positive economic figures are nothing but the result of high oil prices and the residual effect of the devaluation.... Agricultural reform is only one issue on the long list of urgent problems, including reforms of the armed forces, education, health care, the fight against crime and corruption. That is undoubtedly too much for one man--even if that man is a seasoned KGB agent."

BULGARIA: "The New Court Of The Russian Czar"

Left-leaning weekly 168 Hours observed (5/19): "Putin is an enterprising and energetic person, but his idea for liberal economic reforms in Russia could clash with the clumsy Russian bureaucracy. However, if put under the strict supervision of Russia's secret services, this bureaucratic machine could be brought back to a working condition.... The new Russian government will be an extension of the new president's will as well--a tame 'technocrat' of a prime minister, ministers who are close to the president, and an economic development strategy run by the Kremlin."

"The Technocrat"

Left-leaning, stridently anti-U.S. Monitor commented (5/10): "If Putin's goal is to consolidate and stabilize Russia he will need a cabinet of technocrats, united around the president's ideas. not a politician, but will be useful for Putin and Russia with his pragmatic approach of a financial expert and accountant."

CROATIA: "Putin To Put A Stop To Yeltsin's Anarchy?"

Russia expert Bogoljub Lacmanovic commented in Zagreb daily Vjesnik (5/9): "After Putin came to power, it became obvious that...the government is acting in a somewhat more 'serious' manner.... Hence, one can expect that after 'Yeltsin's anarchy,' the new Russian government will use exclusively its own news agencies to leak 'functional' information--either to test the population's reaction before making some delicate decisions, or--when necessary--to disguise the government's real intentions."

DENMARK: "Putin's Man"

Conservative Berlingske Tidende's editorial read (5/11): "The appointment of Kasyanov as prime minister is a positive sign. Putin obviously wants an economic specialist to be responsible for an area in which he does not have much experience himself.... Putin has confirmed that he wishes to resume a reformist economic line, and this is clearly a progressive step. On the other hand, Putin's regard for military power is a constant object of worry."

HUNGARY: "Putin's First Go"

Foreign editor Peter Barabas argued in independent Nepszava (5/6): "Putin managed to show in London that he had set new directions for Russian diplomacy and also that he...found a bridge to the world.... By ratifying START II, Moscow has shown itself capable of...embarrassing Washington. The new military doctrine has delivered this message to the world: Moscow, if attacked, might be more dangerous today than during Soviet times.

"Putin, however, has not revealed in what direction he wants to take Russia. The world, it seems, is already grateful that he wants to take it (Russia) anywhere at all."


Independent, liberal-left Makedonija Denes said in its editorial (5/8): "Putin seems serious about having Russia reach to its old status.... Putin must start with the economic organization of Russia. Russia is, undoubtedly, rich in resources and intellectual potential, but it cannot be a relevant factor in the world, if the structure of its economy is weak and its citizens are poor."

POLAND: "Russia's Third Hope"

Slawomir Popowski opined in centrist Rzeczpospolita (5/8): "Putin...faces a great opportunity. He can complete what Gorbachev initiated...and what Yeltsin developed.... Compared to his two predecessors, Putin's starting position is more favorable. First, he is younger. Second, coming with him are politicians of an utterly new generation for whom old disputes over the communist past are purely historical. Third, he enjoys enormous popularity among the Russians.... Fourth, his term coincides with Russia's economy showing signs of improvement."

"Waiting For Concrete Things"

Wieslaw S. Debski observed in leftist Trybuna (5/8): "It appears that the Russian people are almost counting on a miracle. Putin is expected to bring order, curb corruption, restrict bureaucracy, combat organized crime, assure that pensions and wages are regularly paid, stabilize the economy, win the war in Chechnya, and restore Russia's significance in the international forum."

ROMANIA: "Putin Desires Dialogue With West"

Gabriela Anghel held in pro-government Romania Libera (5/6): "Putin wants Russia to restart the dialogue with the West and become, once again, an important actor on the international scene. Putin's signals indicate a new, less hostile, attitude toward NATO's expansion in the East, showing that this controversial issue is less important than the desire to have an active dialogue with the Alliance. What Putin wants is, in fact, a global redefinition of Moscow's relations with the Western world. The priorities presented by Putin serve as a basis for preparing the U.S.-Russian summit.... The only possibility of an immediate crisis between Russia and the West is, for the moment, the U.S. [NMD] project."

SPAIN: "Putin's Contradictory Progam"

Independent El Mundo commented (5/19): "Vladimir Putin is carrying out his program with an iron hand. Some of his measures to establish rules of economic activity and to curb the influence of the mafias are intended to reduce the current chaos. However, the quest for order should lead not to the concentration of power, but to the establishment of rule of law. In this sense, we find unacceptable the measures against those media critical...of his reforms, as well as those measures which are intended to strengthen central power...over the republics and other federation entities.... Remedy should be sought through correct legal channels and not by giving Putin the option of dismissing regional presidents and parliaments."

"All The Power For Putin"

Center-left El Pais opined (5/12): "Vladimir Putin has appointed a technocrat with no political weight as prime minister.

"The appointment of Kasyanov...confirms that power will remain in the Kremlin.... There's no evidence the Russian president is going to resist the temptation of exercising the almost dictator-like powers the Russian constitution bestows upon him.... Putin has a worrisome obsession with Russian military power and restoring Russia's superpower status.... Yesterday, he allowed...a military search of the headquarters of an important news organization that is critical of the Kremlin."

SWEDEN: "A Historic Day"

Independent, liberal Dagens Nyheter (5/8) ran this op-ed piece by foreign editor Per Ahlin: "For now Putin is regarded positively by the international community...but scenarios for future disagreements are not difficult to paint. The U.S.' NMD plans...have been strongly opposed in Moscow, enlargement of NATO is still a source of irritation, and the war in Chechnya is cause for international tensions.... However, last Sunday such concern was overshadowed by the remarkable event which actually took place in Moscow."

TURKEY: "The New Czar Of Russia"

Izzet Sedes wrote in mass-appeal/sensational Aksam (5/9): "It remains to be seen whether Russia will apply the rules of democracy and free-market economy. If Russia's new leadership can successfully do that, then it may pave the way for the country to become stronger, and eventually to become a possible EU member. For the time being, this is all speculation, yet it is certainly worth following."

UZBEKISTAN: "Strategic Partnership In Action"

State-run, Russian-language, national Pravda Vostoka featured this article (5/10): "[Putin's] first overseas trip is to Uzbekistan. This is an indication of the significance that Uzbekistan has not just in the region, but also in the NIS and it demonstrates the great importance to Russia in cooperating with our country.... Russia has started to restore its position in the world political arena. It made the right choice when it began its...rapprochment with CIS partners."


CHINA: "Why Has Putin Chosen Central Asia As His First Visit?"

Wang Xiaoyu wrote in the official Chinese Youth Party China Youth Daily (Zhongguo Qingnianbao, 5/19): "Albright's visit to Central Asia last month turned out to be unsuccessful. The Central Asian countries have come to realize that the United States is not their savior. Obviously, the motive of Putin in choosing the region as his first to completely change Russia's status in the region."

"Focus Will Be On Economic Construction"

Liu Gang wrote in the official Communist Party People's Daily (Renmin Ribao, 5/19): "The appointment of Kasyanov, an economic expert, indicates that the new Russian government is most likely to focus on economic construction."

INDONESIA: "Prospects of Vladimir Putin Government"

Golkar Party's Suara Karya opined (5/10): "Existing signs lead us to conclude that Putin will consistently promote a market economy and develop good relations with the West, but will take no firm action to eradicate corruption, collusion and nepotism.

"How will Putin run his administration? There is a concern that he will rule with an iron hand. His background as a KGB officer, coupled with the firmness and hardness with which he ruthlessly crushed the Chechen rebels, provide cause for concern."

JAPAN: "'Putin Philosophy' Being Put To The Test"

Business-oriented Nihon Keizai editorialized (5/10): "Putin has clarified his goal of re-creating Russia as a major power that has a nationalist and centralized government...[but is] open to the world, to gradual structural reform and a market economy.... But the realities of Russian life are far from easy."

"Putin Must Bring Healthy Market Economy To Russia"

Liberal Asahi told readers (5/8): "Mr. Putin must give top priority to rebuilding the national economy through the introduction of a healthy market economy, creating a new governmental and state system, strengthening central control over provinces, and eliminating 'corrupt' financiers' involvement in national politics."

SINGAPORE: "Putin Has A Dream"

The pro-government Straits Times' editorial read (5/10): "Putin can go part way in making Russia functional again, if he would bring his tough-guy image to bear on the crime problem.... One reason Russian society has polarized between the suffering masses and an extra-legal elite is the infiltration of oligarchs in all levels of government. If Mr. Putin can neuter the menace, he will have done plenty for his beloved fatherland.... Military gestures beyond Russia's borders remain an open question. His handling of the Chechnya rebellion reveals a militarist bent. But apprehension is tempered by indications that he is striking an independent line in foreign policy. He is unimpressed by the United States, one reason why the next U.S. president had better be all steel to deal with him. He wants to fashion an alliance with China and India to check American influence, while at the same time repairing ties with the Western world.... But his intentions toward old Soviet republics, such as Georgia and Belarus...bear watching. How he takes counsel to patch up the economy, and pick the right people for the job, will largely determine if Russia is restored to greatness.... His choice of prime minister, fiscally-moderate Kasyanov, is a good sign that the halting reforms will be persisted with."

SOUTH KOREA: "Putin's Era"

Independent Dong-A Ilbo opined (5/8): "[Putin's] goal for his countrymen has been clear from the moment he made a debut...(i.e.,) to construct a strong Russia, including the creation of a formidable economy and, also, an ability to hold U.S. dominance in check.... The economy remains the greatest challenge for the new president. Although he keeps reminding about his strong commitment to privatizing Russian corporations, there is skepticism about how much he can deliver on his promise, given the pervasive corruption in Russia. Russia's democratic foundation is still fragile and political cynicism runs deep."


BANGLADESH: "In Quest Of Democracy In A Land Of Autocracy"

The independent, English-language Daily Star opined (5/12): "[Putin's] major tasks...lie in promoting economic well-being for his people and in restoring their confidence and dignity.... He has to steer the nation very as not to cause annoyance to the oligarchic kingmakers. inside the country, while conforming to the rules of international donors."

NEPAL: "We Congratulate The Russian People"

Centrist Bimarsha commented (5/12): "Vladimir Putin, faces serious challenges. His term will be evaluated on the basis of his success in freeing Russia from corruption and other economic distortions. Although he was involved in the KGB, he has already been able to present himself as a person committed to democracy and reform.... Russia is also expected to promote its...importance in the world under his leadership. The commitments of Putin have encouraged everybody. The world is looking at him with growing interest, respect and hope. We congratulate the Russian people for being able to elect a person who has been able to enjoy the goodwill of both Russia and the rest of the world."

PAKISTAN: "Putin's Rough Ride Ahead"

The center-right Nation held (5/11): "The agenda before Putin is extremely challenging, strewn as it is with imponderables. The president has assumed leadership in a country with deep-seated structural problems. He may turn out to be a leader both strong and good, but expectations must be related to the enormous task he faces. Still, at least at the outset, Putin's election can only be seen as a positive step. For Russians, he represents stability and competence; to the rest of the world, [he is] a welcome relief from the unpredictability and directionless leadership of Boris Yeltsin. "


ARGENTINA: "Putin Is Russia's Best Known Secret"

Martin Murphy commented in the liberal, English-language Buenos Aires Herald (5/10): "A considerable majority of Russians is counting on Putin to put years of social and economic hardships behind, while Western powers are hoping he is someone they can do business with.... It is impossible to guess whether Putin will turn out to be a continuation of Yeltsin, a modern czar, or a combination of both.... Although the Chechen war continues to capture the biggest headlines, Russia's main problem is the state of its economy.... Back in 1991, people were eager to abandon communism; nine years later they have learnt that embracing capitalism carries its risks... Hence Putin's idea to create a 'strong' state.... The problem is that in a country with little democratic experience and run by a president with a KGB background, the risk of a 'strong' state turning into an authoritarian one--and the president into a modern czar--is higher than usual."

"In Search Of Lost Grandeur"

Leon Bastidas, leading Clarin's Moscow-based correspondent, opined (5/8): "A country facing a deep economic crisis, an ongoing war in Chechnya, nearly a third of its population reduced to poverty, and deeply rooted vices such as corruption and a gigantic bureaucracy: This is the legacy which the new president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, received yesterday. The Kremlin's new number one...has not disclosed yet how he will meet this enormous challenge, though he has already outlined the key focus of his government: making the state stronger. The great pending issue, vital for Russia's territorial integrity, is Chechnya.... Even though...the Russian economy has shown signs of stability, its precariousness is obvious.... In the international field, the task he needs to face is equally important: recovery of Russia's global prestige and weight. Putin proposed a rapprochement with the West, but not at any cost. The Kremlin chief says that Russia's national interests must be respected."

MEXICO: "A New Generation"

Nationalist Milenio (5/18) carried this column by Mireya Olivas: "Even though Kasyanov seems to like market policies, there is uncertainty as to whether he will be able to politically maneuver to help Putin implement the necessary economic reforms.... Another question mark regarding Kasyanov is his ties with the Russian oligarchy, particularly the wealthiest man in Russia, Boris Berezovsky. In any event, his mere presence, as well as Putin's, indicate that a new generation has taken over power in Russia--a generation further removed from the former Soviet power structure and having more goals in common with the West."