Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 182

Although they have been careful not to aim any direct criticism at Moscow, Western capitals have begun in recent days to increase their pressure on Russian leaders to exercise restraint in Chechnya. The growing concern in the West stands in marked contrast to the general sympathy which Russia received during meetings among world leaders last month at the UN General Assembly in New York. At that time, in the wake of hostilities in Dagestan and a series of deadly bombing attacks in Russian cities, Western leaders were generally quick to assert their solidarity with Moscow and their common desire to do battle against terrorist extremists.

Such sentiments were reflected in a statement issued by the five permanent UN Security Council members on September 23. That statement called for, among other things, greater global cooperation in stemming terrorist attacks. Russian diplomats have since cited the Security Council statement as Moscow’s greatest success at the General Assembly meetings. They have also suggested that the statement proves that the world community is behind Moscow in its battle with Chechen separatists (AP, September 23; Russian agencies, September 24; UPI, September 26).

But the aggressiveness of Moscow’s more recent military operations against Chechnya, which have resulted in widespread civilian casualties and a burgeoning refugee problem, has dissipated much of the West’s good will toward Russia on this subject. Concerns in the major European capitals were reflected last week in a joint statement by Germany, France and Italy. It expressed unease over Russia’s bombing campaign against Chechnya and strongly urged a political solution to the conflict.

The European Union (EU) spoke in similar terms. It released a statement on September 30 calling on Russia to start talks with moderate Chechen leaders in order to avoid aggravating a conflict which threatens to destabilize the whole North Caucasus. Perhaps more important, the EU warned that Russian sovereignty over Chechnya does not justify an all-out war. While the conflict in Chechnya “concerns Russia’s own territory,” the statement said, it does “not mean [Russian leaders] can apply any rules they like there.”

EU leaders suggested that the war in the Caucasus would be high on the agenda during a visit to Moscow later this week by the EU’s new external affairs commissioner, Chris Patten, and the foreign ministers of Finland and Portugal. Germany is likewise expected to urge caution on Russia during talks this week in Nizhny Novgorod between their Foreign Ministers Joschka Fischer and Igor Ivanov (Reuters, September 30; Itar-Tass, October 3).

Moscow has chosen to put the best possible face on the European warnings and, in public at least, suggested that the Kremlin will continue to act as it pleases in the Caucasus. In its reaction to the European Union statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry highlighted what it said was the statement’s reaffirmation of support for Russia’s sovereignty over Chechnya. A ministry spokesman also said that Moscow would continue to count on the support of foreign countries in its efforts to crush Islamic guerrillas. “We have the clear understanding of our foreign partners that it is impossible to stop terrorism with words,” he said (Reuters, September 30; Russian agencies, October 1).