The Russian government yesterday sharply criticized Czech President Vaclav Havel for remarks he made late last month condemning Russia’s war in the Caucasus. In a statement released by the Russian Foreign Ministry, Moscow accused Havel of both raising doubts about Russia’s territorial integrity and trying to justify separatism and terrorism in Chechnya. The Foreign Ministry statement also observed that this was not the first time that Havel had spoken out against Russian policy in the Caucasus, and accused him of sympathizing “with those who are really guilty of the Chechen people’s tragedy and the pain of the whole of Russia” (Russian agencies, May 4). Reports of the Foreign Ministry statement contained no mention, however, of any diplomatic threat made by Moscow in retaliation for the Czech president’s remarks. In the past Russian diplomats have regularly warned foreign countries accused of sympathizing with the Chechen rebels that their actions were construed as being unfriendly toward Moscow and might undermine bilateral relations more broadly.
Havel made his remarks following a summit of Central and East European heads of state in Hungary on April 28. Among other things, Havel suggested that Russia’s own identity crisis as a nation is at least partly behind the war in the Caucasus, and that the issue of Chechnya’s status ought by right to be decided by a referendum in that republic. According to Russian sources, Havel said, “Chechnya has not always belonged to Russia and, indeed, has not belonged to it for all that long.” He also reportedly said that Russian military actions in Chechnya are “being conducted not against terrorists, but against the people.”
As the Russian Foreign Ministry said, this is not the first time that the Czech president has spoken out strongly against the Chechen war. Last November, for example, Havel was quoted by a German publication as saying that Russian oppression is the “main cause of fundamentalism and terrorism in the Caucasus.” He also accused Russia of having long behaved in an arrogant manner toward the people of the Caucasus (AFP, November 8). Shortly thereafter, moreover, the Russian Foreign Minister expressed outrage over a meeting between Czech government authorities and Chechen Foreign Minister Ilyas Akhmadov. A statement by the Czech Foreign Ministry said that the Caucasus war had “ceased to be an internal affair of the Russian Federation” because of repeated human rights violations and civilian suffering caused by Russian troops (UPI, November 26).
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