Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 1 Issue: 3

During his recent three-day visit to France to attend a European Union-Russia summit meeting and to conduct bilateral talks with President Chirac and other French officials, President Putin also took a hard line on Chechnya. While he expressed agreement with the contention of European Union leaders that a negotiated settlement to the conflict was necessary, Putin adamantly declined “to negotiate with people with blood on their hands.” He thus ruled out any negotiations with the Chechen separatists. Presumably, therefore, talks were to be held only with the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership under Mufti Akhmad Kadyrov. Putin also remarked that “democratic elections” for a new Chechen leader would take place as soon as conditions warranted.

During his visit to France, Putin reportedly met with understanding and sympathy on the part of the French and European Union leadership (a perceived need for Russian oil and gas apparently helping to elicit these sentiments), but he was harshly criticized by the French press and, especially, by French intellectuals. A published open letter written by Josep Ramoneda and Andre Glucksmann–which was eventually signed by more than 500 French, European, Russian and American intellectuals–noted that “Europe will be receiving Vladimir Putin in Paris while Russia’s war against Chechnya goes on, wretched and cruel…. Chechens face deprivation, bombing, arbitrary roundups, torture and mass executions. Like Kosovo, half the population has fled to refugee camps…. We fear that short-sighted considerations will justify the martyrdom of a people…. [G]as for blood, will this be the last utterance of European civilization?”