MOSCOW OBJECTS TO DIPLOMAT’S COMMENTS
The Russian Foreign Ministry lashed out on September 18 against a U.S. diplomat who had ventured to comment on the recent developments in Chechnya’s election campaign in terms no more critical than much of what one sees even in Russia’s own mass media. (For example, the pro-Kremlin website Strana.ru stated on September 18 that it has become “obvious” that, “for the local [Chechen] population,” the forthcoming election “is not going to be the kind of agreement-building procedure that might enable people in Chechnya to find reconciliation with each other and with the new government.”)
Nevertheless, the Russian Foreign Ministry declared that the remarks of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Steven Pifer at a hearing of the U.S. Helsinki Commission on September 16 “have nothing in common with the fundamental interests of Russian-American cooperation.” Pifer’s offense was to observe that the U.S. government is “concerned that the elections will lack sufficient credibility with the Chechens to advance the process toward a political settlement and could even set that process back.” Though he spoke positively of “the political process the Russians began with the referendum last March,” he added that “Moscow’s black-and-white treatment of the conflict” has had a “deleterious effect on the overall U.S.-Russia relationship.”
Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who chaired the hearing, told the ambassador that President Bush should raise the Chechnya issue in his upcoming summit meeting with Vladimir Putin in energetic rather than pro forma terms, making it clear “that we aren’t kidding.” Pifer replied in noncommittal fashion that he and his colleagues would make sure that the president would have a “good briefing.” He said that while it is difficult to predict such conversations, he did believe that the subject would come up.
The Russian Foreign Ministry reacted by accusing the diplomat of trying to turn Chechnya into “one of major challenges to the Russia-U.S. partnership.”