European Press Review: Trouble in Moscow | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 27.10.2003
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European Press Review: Trouble in Moscow

The arrest of Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Chodorkovsky over the weekend raised new questions in European capitals about the depth of Russia’s process of democratization.

Russian billionaire Mikhail Chodorkovsky was detained on Saturday by secret service men in camouflage in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk. He is being charged, among other things, with fraud and tax evasion.

Political commentators across Europe, however, attributed his arrest to the fact that he has provoked anger at the Kremlin by funding liberal opposition parties in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Switzerland’s Basler Nachrichten placed responsibility for Chodorkovsky’s arrest directly on Russian President Vladimir Putin. "It’s Putin’s declared goal," the paper wrote, "to expand Russia’s economy. However, only if that doesn’t touch on the Kremlin’s power monopoly. In this case, Putin forces real or imagined opponents to their knees, even if that means that alarmed investors flee the country and that the Russian stock exchange loses billions within days." It’s probably only the beginning of the Chodorkowski case, the paper predicted. But even at this point, it should "set straight" those optimists who believe that under Russia under Putin has changed for the better.

"It’s quite possible," wrote the Vienna-based Die Presse, "that Putin now finds himself in a quandary: If his allegations against Chodorkowski prove to be true, namely that he has enriched himself in the chaos of the 1990s, and if the judicial system follows up on these charges, it could become discomforting for the present political elite. Once Pandora’s box is open, it might be hard to close again." If the allegations turn out to be wrong, Putin would no longer appear to be the proponent of democracy he likes to present himself as and the West likes to see in him. That, indeed, would mark the start of a new era, the paper wrote.

The Russian daily Kommersant opined that billionaire Chodorkowski’s arrest is the outcome of a power struggle within the Kremlin between older bureaucrats led by Alexander Voloshi, head of the presidential administration, and new staff members appointed by Putin. "It’s easy to see that his case is a political one," wrote the Moscow-based paper. "Everybody knows that all other privatization that took place six or seven years ago was not fully legal. The power struggle is not limited to the influence of certain groups within the administration. It’s about the question what Russia will be like during Putin’s second term of office," the paper concluded.

On Monday, European dailies also weighed in on Iraq, where, as the Spanish paper El Mundo opined, opponents of the British and American forces perpetrated one of their worst attacks yet. "In Baghdad, no one is safe," wrote the Madrid-based daily. "This was amply demonstrated by the attack on U.S. Deputy Defense Minister Paul Wolfowitz’s hotel. Although Americans are sending more and more troops into Iraq, they are faced with increasing resistance. But, there will be no investment without security. This is the greatest challenge for Americans, who at present show an unfortunate image of impotence," the paper said.

Italy’s La Repubblica described Wolfowitz’s hotel as a symbol of what it called "the growing Iraq schizophrenia." It’s a "monument for the political risks undertaken by the White House by pulling the ground of credibility out from under their feet and widening the gap between the world seen through the rose-colored glasses of its PR departments and the bleak reality." It will be fatal, the paper wrote, "if successes in Iraq continue to be exaggerated and difficulties continue to get downplayed."