Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 21

Diplomatic jousting between Russia and the world community over the Kremlin’s crackdown in Chechnya continued in Moscow late last week as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan wound up a three-day visit to the Russian capital. Annan reportedly discussed a wide array of international issues with his Russian hosts, but the focus of his consultations was clearly on Chechnya. Annan appeared determined to walk a careful line, granting Moscow its right to fight terrorism in the North Caucasus but nevertheless underscoring the need for Russian troops to avoid using “disproportionate” force in their military operations there. “We are all against terrorism and agree that terrorists must be rooted out,” Annan told reporters on January 28. “But the force used against them must be proportionate,” he said, “and should avoid subjecting civilians to violence “because such a situation risks violating international law.”

Annan’s diplomacy afforded some Russian news sources the opportunity to claim that the UN secretary general had voiced his support for the Russian war effort in Chechnya. In Annan’s public statements, at least, this was clearly not the case. But his delicacy was hardly reciprocated. In a joint news conference with Annan on January 28, Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Avdeev restated Moscow’s now standard response to calls for a negotiated end to the fighting. He said that there is no legitimate authority on the Chechen side with which Moscow can negotiate, and that Russian forces must therefore press forward toward a military victory.

Annan’s visit was clearly aimed not only at consulting with Russian officials about the situation in Chechnya, but also at gathering some first impressions about acting Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two men met on Friday (Janaury 28)–their first meeting since Putin unexpectedly assumed the Russian presidency on December 31–and Annan afterwards described the talks as “very good and constructive.” He was also quoted as saying that Putin “came across as someone who had the facts, who was businesslike and decisive, and had a sense of where he wants to go.” Annan nevertheless made it clear that the two men had disagreed on Chechnya and suggested that he had pressed Putin for a quick ceasefire.

Discussions included, as well as Chechnya, the related issues of “human intervention” and strengthening of the UN’s role in international affairs. Annan–like the Clinton administration–has been among the strongest proponents of the principle of humanitarian intervention, arguing that the world community has an obligation to step in when a government is guilty of massive abuses against a part of its own population. Moscow has been critical of the notion, but has been less than consistent in formulating its objections (Reuters, AP, Russian agencies, January 27-29).