Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 233

But an unnamed U.S. official, speaking anonymously, acknowledged yesterday that Western protests have had no discernible impact on Russian military actions in Chechnya, and only a minor impact on the political considerations relative to the Caucasus conflict. “On the military side, I think we have had zero impact,” the official was quoted as saying. He did think that international criticism had forced Moscow to accept at least some international political role in the conflict–that of the OSCE–and he said it had improved humanitarian conditions for Chechen refugees. He suggested that, at most, Russia’s hard line in Chechnya had resulted in what he called a growing “existential sanction,” one that was dissipating international support for–and good will toward–Russia’s struggle to move away from communism (Reuters, December 15).

Even if that is true, however, there is little to indicate that Moscow is drawing any useful lessons from it. A commentary in yesterday’s Izvestia, for example, acknowledged that last week’s EU summit in Helsinki had confirmed Russia’s growing diplomatic isolation. Among other things, the article noted that Germany and France were among those EU countries pushing for a hard line against Moscow. That fact, it continued, appeared to signify the collapse of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s whole “European strategy”–one aimed at countering U.S. influence in Europe by encouraging the formation of a “Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis” (Izvestia, December 15).

But the commentary failed to draw the conclusion that it is misguided Russian actions in Chechnya which are costing Moscow the friendship of even those key European governments most sympathetic to it. It suggested instead that those friendly relationships had been illusory all along, and that Moscow was better off for having at last discovered this sad truth. The commentary did not, however, call for Russia to turn away from Europe. Rather, it suggested that Russian diplomats need to redouble their efforts to convince Europeans of the justice of Russia’s crackdown in Chechnya.

The commentary also accused Europeans of misunderstanding what is really at stake in the Russian Caucasus. But by its conclusions it suggested that the real ignorance lay in Russia’s misperception of what is motivating Western criticism of the Chechen campaign. The tone of the commentary also suggested the degree to which Russian media–consciously or unconsciously–have internalized the government’s propaganda campaign over the war in Chechnya. Unless it were for reasons of ignorance or malevolence, why after all would the West criticize a military operation aimed at the destruction of militant international terrorists–and simultaneously at the liberation of an unfortunate civilian population suffering their abuses?