Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 45

Russia’s Foreign Ministry reacted angrily on Wednesday (March 1) to last week’s U.S. State Department annual report on human rights around the world. The report had painted a disturbing picture of rights abuses in Russia, focusing attention not only on the conduct of Russian troops in Chechnya but also a broader series of human rights problems in Russia. Those included abuses committed by Russian authorities against citizens from the Russian Caucasus and darker-skinned persons more generally, continuing dismal and dangerous conditions in Russia’s prisons, and ongoing violence and abuses within the armed forces (AP, Reuters, February 25; New York Times, February 26; see the Monitor, February 29).

In a response delivered on March 1, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said that Moscow found some of the report’s conclusions unacceptable. With regard to the war in Chechnya, the spokesman reprised some of the now standard accusations which Moscow has leveled at its Western critics. That is, the spokesman accused the U.S. State Department of basing its conclusions on what Moscow claims are unsubstantiated and unverified reports about the activities of Russian troops in the Caucasus. He also complained that U.S. authorities had failed to acknowledge the large-scale “illegal activities by Chechen terrorists,” which, in Moscow’s telling of the story, “forced the Russian authorities to take extraordinary measures to restore the constitutional order and defend Russia’s territorial integrity.”

More broadly, the spokesman charged, the U.S. report demonstrated the “biased attitude of the U.S. State Department to the human rights situation in Russia.” He charged that the report ignored what Moscow would like the world to believe is the systematic violation of the rights of thousands of people (mainly Russian-speakers) in Latvia and Estonia. He also questioned why the report made no mention of the multiple human rights violations caused by NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and U.S. bombing in Iraq. Finally, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman complained that the U.S. report had also ignored human rights problems in the United States itself. “In such matters as capital punishment, racial discrimination and anti-Semitism [the United States] is far from being perfect and is not improving,” he was quoted as saying (Russian agencies, March 1).