Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 6 Issue: 9

Indeed, if aggressive Russian moves in the area of arms control appeared to be paying some dividends, the same could not be said of its ongoing efforts to defend Russian military operations in the Caucasus. Russian diplomats suffered a serious setback on April 26 when the fifty-three nation UN Human Rights Commission unexpectedly adopted a resolution condemning abuses by Russian forces in Chechnya. The vote in favor of the resolution represented a rare rebuke for a UN permanent Security Council member at the human rights forum and was apparently triggered by Moscow’s own unwillingness to negotiate a compromise on the matter. The European Union, which sponsored the resolution, had been willing to settle on a weaker measure, but apparently pushed for the resolution vote because of Russian intransigence. Moscow, not surprisingly, denounced the resolution and said that it would ignore it.

The April 26 UN resolution reflected continuing tensions between Moscow and the West–and particularly between Moscow and Europe–over Chechnya. But Vladimir Putin’s April 17 visit to London demonstrated the concurrent willingness of many in the West to put the Chechen war aside in order to mend fences with Russia. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has spearheaded this effort, moving with determination in recent months to establish London as a sort of bridge between Russia and both the European Union and the United States. Blair has based this policy on a belief that engagement rather than confrontation will best serve Western interests in Russia. But to this point the bargain appears to be a one-sided one in Moscow’s favor. Blair’s invitation to Putin entailed a considerable political risk for the British prime minister (as had an earlier meeting between Blair and Putin in St. Petersburg), yet Putin used the London talks to issue yet another ferocious defense of Russian actions in the Caucasus. The encounter left Blair open to accusations of having coddled the author of Russia’s bloody war in Chechnya. Whether the British policy will pay dividends down the road remains to be seen.