Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 216

A tumultuous Day One of the Istanbul summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) summit began yesterday with recriminations but ended with Russian and Western leaders having found enough common ground to complete the drafting of several key security documents. In between Russian President Boris Yeltsin provided his usual dose of drama by cutting short a planned meeting with European leaders and then departing from the summit ahead of schedule. Initial reports suggested that he had stormed out of the meeting with French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to protest criticism heaped on Russia for its military operations in Chechnya. Both Russian and Western officials later denied that Yeltsin’s early departure reflected any unhappiness over the course of the summit. And, in what reports suggested was an unexpected concession by the Russian side, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov later agreed to allow an OSCE mission to visit Chechnya. That agreement, which is to be incorporated into today’s final declaration, apparently cleared the way for the sides to reach agreement on two security documents: a European Security Charter and the amended Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty.

On at least first glance, little about yesterday’s summit appears to have gone Moscow’s way. Discussions were dominated by condemnations of the manner in which Russia is conducting its war in Chechnya. That criticism came despite warnings from Moscow in the runup to the summit that the Caucasus war is an internal Russian matter and not a proper subject for OSCE consideration. But Chirac called Russia’s military operations in Chechnya a “tragic error” while Schroeder declared that “war is no way to eliminate terrorism.” In general, the European leaders were said to have been more outspoken than U.S. President Bill Clinton in calling Russian military actions in Chechnya disproportionate, indiscriminate and destabilizing. Clinton tempered his own remarks over Chechnya, warning that Russian policy there could result in “an endless cycle of violence.” But he also spoke with sympathy of the dilemma which Russia faces in the Caucasus.

Appearing to be in passable health, Yeltsin rebuffed the Western condemnations in the style that has now become the norm for Russian officials. He accused Moscow’s Western critics of misunderstanding the situation in Chechnya and said that the Kremlin would never negotiate with “rebels and killers.” Russia would turn to negotiations, he said, only after it had destroyed or brought to justice rebel bands in Chechnya. “I am convinced that stability and security in Europe cannot be established without Russia. You have no right to criticize Russia for Chechnya,” he said.

Yeltsin later met with Clinton for talks in which both sides reportedly pushed their view of the Chechen conflict. Despite the disagreement, the meeting was described as having been friendly enough. But, according to French officials, Yeltsin cut short a subsequent meeting with Chirac and Schroeder after only five minutes, despite the fact that it had been scheduled to last forty-five. Yeltsin’s early departure from Istanbul was attributed by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Yakushkin to the unwillingness of Western leaders to sign the European Security Charter yesterday afternoon, as had been planned. Instead, Western leaders were insisting that an agreement first be reached to include references to Chechnya in the summit meeting’s final declaration (Reuters, AP, Russian agencies, November 18).

In the runup to the Istanbul summit Russian officials had repeatedly made it clear that they would brook no mention of the Chechen conflict in the final declaration. They also warned against trying to make the signing of the European Security Charter contingent upon agreement on the text of the final declaration. It was a surprise, therefore, when, following Yeltsin’s departure, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov agreed to invite Knut Vollebaek, the chairman of the fifty-four-nation OSCE (and the foreign minister of Norway) to visit Chechnya. That invitation, which came during a meeting with Western foreign ministers, is to be incorporated into today’s final declaration and was the commitment the Western leaders were seeking. It opened the way for today’s scheduled signing of the new European Charter agreement and the amended CFE accord.