Uncle Vladimir's Cabin 

What the foreign papers are saying.
March 3 2000 3:30 AM

Uncle Vladimir's Cabin 

The Financial Times of London reported Thursday that Germany is ready to admit defeat in its battle with the United States over who should be the next head of the International Monetary Fund. German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has "aggressively sponsored" the candidacy of Caio Koch-Weser, a senior German finance official who has been with the IMF for 25 years and was formally nominated for the job this week by the European Union. But U.S. opposition to Koch-Weser, who was pictured on the FT's front page looking pale and forlorn over the caption "Unwanted man," "makes his candidacy unsustainable," the paper said. What the FT failed to explain is why the United States is so implacably set against him. It said only (quoting a British government source) that U.S. opposition "was part of a broader attempt to ensure that the IMF's next managing director would bow to Washington's concept of the role of the institution." (For more on the IMF flap, see this "Moneybox.")

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The head of the IMF is traditionally from Europe, and the paper said European governments have this week begun quietly canvassing for a new European candidate. The names of two Italians and two Britons were circulating. Meanwhile, there are still three official candidates: Koch-Weser; Stanley Fischer, the American acting managing director of the fund; and Eisuke Sakakibara, a former senior Japanese finance ministry official. The FT said a vote on these three by the IMF's 24 directors will be closely followed to see how much support Koch-Weser garners from non-European nations. In the event of deadlock, one possibility is that Fischer will be allowed to take over the fund for about two years until the end of what would have been the term of Michel Camdessus of France, who retired early last month.

The FT also ran an editorial Thursday about George W. Bush's sweep of Virginia, North Dakota, and Washington, saying that Sen. John McCain seems "to have over-played his hand" by attacking the religious right and to have "put the cart before the horse" by reaching out to Democrats and independents too early in the campaign.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of Germany led Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's troubles. It said peace with Syria is now more remote and his ruling coalition is threatened with collapse because of Wednesday's majority vote by the Israeli parliament on a bill designed to block Israel's withdrawal from the Golan Heights as part of a Syrian peace deal. But the Israeli daily Ha'aretz was more optimistic. It said Thursday in an editorial titled "Parliamentary anarchy" that Wednesday's vote was no indicator of the extent of the public's support for peace with Syria and that "if the prime minister succeeds in presenting a convincing agreement to the public, including a sufficient return for an Israeli withdrawal," a referendum result would be very different. A poll in the Jerusalem Post, however, had 78 percent of respondents agreeing with parliament that the Golan referendum should be decided by a "special majority" of the population, meaning that at least 65 percent of voters must approve a settlement.

The knives are out for Vladimir Putin as he prepares to be anointed president of Russia in this month's election. Writing Thursday in the Moscow Times, Pavel Felgenhauer noted that Putin's election manifesto said Russia was a "rich country of poor people" and that its main problems were "lack of will" and "lack of firmness." This, he wrote, sounded distinctly familiar, "In the early 1930s in Europe there was a 'reformer' named Adolf Hitler, who believed that Germany was a potentially rich country, but that Germans were maliciously robbed of their wealth, and that the main source of German weakness was 'lack of will.' Today Putin's 'will' and 'firmness' are displayed in Chechnya, where hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens have been killed, tortured, robbed or forcibly displaced. Putin has also stated that Chechnya 'is the first step' in establishing 'a dictatorship of the law that is fair to all.' "

On Wednesday in the Moscow Times, Putin was attacked not for being Hitler but for creating "a modernised Stalinism." His attackers were a group of Russian human rights activists, who included Yelena Bonner, the widow of the dissident Soviet physicist, Andrei Sakharov. "Under Putin, a new stage in the introduction of modernised Stalinism has begun," they said. "Authoritarianism is growing harsher, society is being militarised, the military budget is increasing."

The newspaper Kommersant reported Wednesday that a country house owned by Putin's wife, Ludmila, was not included in the income and property declarations required by law of presidential candidates. The house is on the scenic shores of Lake Chudskoe, about 100 miles from St. Petersburg, but Putin's office told Kommersant that it is an unfinished construction and therefore did not need to be declared under the election law. Country neighbors of the Putins confirmed to the paper that it wasn't much of a building. "Their house is made of simple boards, between which slag has been placed. The shed and the toilet are very badly built and about to fall apart. The Putins are not very successful gardeners. All they have is a few currant bushes, young plum trees, an apple tree, lilacs and raspberries. There is no vegetable garden."  

Alexander Chancellor is a columnist for the Guardian.