Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 203

Aside from the beefs that he apparently will hear from the American delegation in Oslo, Putin is also likely to face considerable criticism from European leaders over Russian policy in the Caucasus. The Russian premier already went through this once recently–during the October 22 Russian-EU summit meeting in Helsinki–and managed to stonewall European demands for both an end to the fighting in Chechnya and the launching of a European humanitarian aid mission to the region.

Indeed, during a meeting with Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari yesterday, the two sides appeared to clash anew over the aid issue. Although Moscow is publicly welcoming the European (and a related UN) assistance effort, Putin appeared to insist yesterday that Russia’s Foreign Ministry and other Russian authorities be given responsibility, initially at least, for distributing international aid in the Caucasus. Given the pervasiveness of corruption in Russia and, probably, some suspicions over Moscow’s actual commitment to aiding Chechnya’s civilian population, Ahtisaari apparently proposed a scheme which envisions considerable international oversight of any aid effort. No decision was reached on the issue during yesterday’s talks (Russian agencies, November 1).

The extent to which the Chechen crisis continues to dog Moscow’s relations with the rest of the world was abundantly evident yesterday. In their own pronouncements prior to Putin’s arrival in Oslo yesterday, various Russian officials had suggested that, while the Caucasus might crop up, it would not be the primary topic of discussion in Putin’s meeting with the other leaders present. That clearly was wishful thinking on Moscow’s part. Indeed, although Putin declared that his major goal in Oslo was to reaffirm Russia’s role as a cosponsor of the Middle Eastern peace process, Moscow appears at best to be a bit player in the current proceedings. The Russian minister was scheduled to meet today with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, but is not a part of the featured three-way diplomacy that is taking place in Oslo between the Palestinian, Israeli and U.S. leaders.