Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 6 Issue: 5

The West’s efforts to downplay differences with Russia over Chechnya were displayed particularly vividly during the British foreign secretary’s visit to Moscow. As Clinton administration officials had done previously, Cook lavished praise on Putin personally and offered a virtual endorsement of his presidential bid. With regard to Chechnya, a Putin aide claimed that Cook had not even mentioned the standard Western criticism of Moscow’s Caucasus war–that is, that Russian troops have used disproportionate force there. And Cook himself suggested to reporters that it no longer made sense for the West to take a tough position on the war because that would only undermine broader relations and hinder work “on a whole series of other issues that are very important to the whole world.”

Yet Cook’s performance generated some criticism in the Western press, and it was clear in the wake of his Moscow talks that pressure to get tougher with the Kremlin would continue to be voiced by various international human rights groups. That some Western leaders may be tacking back toward a more confrontational posture with Moscow over Chechnya was suggested in remarks by the European Union’s British commissioner for external relations, Chris Patten. He declared that Russian human rights abuses in Chechnya could not be passed over, and suggested that the issue could emerge as a contentious one in talks between the EU, the United States and Russia scheduled for March 1-3 in Lisbon.