The West continued to rain down criticism on Moscow yesterday over its military operations in Chechnya. But despite some signs of concern in Russia about its growing diplomatic isolation, there was little to indicate that the Western condemnations were having any substantial impact on Moscow’s policies in the Caucasus. That failure appeared to be the result of two factors. First, that the West has yet to link its criticism to any credible threat of punitive action against Moscow should the Russian military continue its bloody crackdown in Chechnya. Second, that the very tensions which are developing between Moscow and the West over Chechnya are being used for domestic political gain by Russian politicians cognizant of widespread popular resentment in Russia against the West. As long as this is true, and as long as the army faces no major reverses in the Caucasus, it doesn’t seem likely that Russian authorities will abandon their hard line on Chechnya in the immediate run-up to parliamentary elections.
The latest expressions of Western pique over Chechnya came from Helsinki and Brussels. Following a forty-five minute telephone conversation with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin yesterday, Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen warned that the European Union will reassess its relations with Russia unless Moscow ends its military campaign in the Caucasus. The remarks by Lipponen, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, follow sharp criticism of Russia’s Chechnya campaign by EU leaders at that organization’s summit last week in the Finnish capital. EU leaders nevertheless backed away on that occasion from calls for the imposition of economic sanctions against Moscow. Lipponen’s remarks yesterday appeared to be a warning that continued military actions by Moscow in the Caucasus could strengthen those European countries seeking approval for a stronger European response to the Chechen war. In that same vein, the Finnish foreign minister also urged Moscow to better use the services of OSCE chairman Knut Vollebaek (Reuters, December 15), who is currently in the Caucasus in an effort to convince Russian leaders to accept OSCE mediation of the conflict (see the Monitor, December 15, and story below).
The Finnish government yesterday also dismissed Russian protests over a visit to Finland by Uzman Ferzauli, a representative of the Chechen government. The Finnish Foreign Ministry said that Ferzauli had met with Finnish officials as part of normal diplomatic activity. Russia’s Foreign Ministry had earlier issued a statement saying that it had summoned the Finnish ambassador to lodge a strong protest over Ferzauli’s visit. “It was stressed that Russia considers the act as an attempt to infringe on its internal affairs, a de facto collaboration with Chechen separatists and terrorists,” the Russian ministry statement said. It also accused the Finnish authorities of having violated “the spirit of good neighbor relations between Russia and Finland” (Reuters, December 15). The sharp Russian response yesterday to Ferzauli’s visit matched Moscow’s reaction last month to visits by Chechen Foreign Minister Ilyas Akhmadov to France and the Czech Republic. Moscow protested each of those visits as an “unfriendly” act toward Russia and one which could have an adverse impact on bilateral relations (see the Monitor, November 16, 29).
NATO foreign ministers in Brussels yesterday also condemned Russia’s military campaign in the Caucasus. While acknowledging Moscow’s right to fight terrorism and “to preserve its territorial integrity,” a statement issued by the ministers criticized the “disproportionate and indiscriminate force” being used against civilians in Chechnya. The statement also professed the belief that Russia’s “pursuit of a purely military solution to the conflict is undermining its legitimate objectives.” The statement bore similarities to the document produced last week by the EU summit. The NATO statement made no mention of sanctions, though it did say that the means by which Russia is conducting the war in the Caucasus “is incompatible with the commitments Russia has undertaken with the OSCE and its obligations as a member of the United Nations and the Council of Europe” (AFP, December 15).
…BUT CONDEMNATIONS CARRY LITTLE WEIGHT IN MOSCOW.