government spokesmen, on and off the record, have said that U.S. President Bill Clinton will, during today’s scheduled Oslo meeting, push Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin hard to end the military campaign in Chechnya and to begin negotiations. Russian government sources have told Russian news agencies that Putin intends to be equally tough. The Interfax news agency, for example, cited “diplomatic sources” as saying that Putin will “express regret” at U.S. criticism of Russia’s “antiterrorist” operation in Chechnya. The same sources were quoted as saying that Putin continues to insist that Russian operations in Chechnya are not aimed at civilians (Russian agencies, November 2). The correspondent for a Russian newspaper, reporting from Oslo, quoted an anonymous source in Putin’s inner circles as saying that Putin would promise Clinton that Russia will observe international agreements, but insist that the “protection of national interests” would take precedence over everything else, “including IMF credits” (Vremya MN, November 2).
Putin has repeatedly insisted that Moscow is not against negotiations to settle political issues, including Chechnya’s ultimate status, but that it will not negotiate with “terrorists.” He and other Russian officials, however, are clearly aware of the public relations problems the Chechen conflict is causing abroad, particularly in Europe. Indeed, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov announced today from Oslo that Russia has agreed to allow a delegation from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to visit Ingushetia, Dagestan and the section of Chechnya under the control of federal troops. Ivanov said the OSCE mission should arrive in Russia some time next week (Russian agencies, November 2).
A further sign that Russia is working hard to blunt international criticism was the interview Putin gave to the French newspaper Le Figaro, which was published today. He told the paper that the Russian authorities are doing everything possible to guarantee Russians a peaceful life and human rights, but insisted that Chechnya had become a “nest” of international terrorism “Our response was decisive and tough,” he told Le Figaro in reference to Chechnya. “I am convinced that in an analogous situation the French or any other government would behave in the same manner. It is a question of protecting the people from terrorists and preserving the country’s territorial integrity” (Russian agencies, November 2).
CHECHEN REFUGEES A PUBLIC RELATIONS PROBLEM FOR KREMLIN.