Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 43

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the U.S. government-funded radio station, has postponed its plans for broadcasting in three North Caucasian languages, including Chechen. The broadcasts, which were scheduled to have begun yesterday (February 28), were postponed at the request of the U.S. State Department (AP, February 27). RFE/RL’s press secretary, Sonia Winter, was quoted today as saying the postponement was due to “an improvement in Russian-American relations and the stabilization of the situation in Chechnya” (Vremya Novostei, March 1). She was also quoted, however, as saying that the staff hired for the broadcasts would not be fired and that the station was waiting for a “green light” from Washington to start the broadcasts (Radio Ekho Moskvy, February 28). U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, meanwhile, was quoted as saying that RFE/RL would delay the start of the broadcasts because, first, the target areas were already well covered by the station’s Russian-language broadcasts and, second, such broadcasts could hinder efforts to bring about a political settlement to the Chechen conflict (Vremya Novostei, March 1).

In February of last year, Radio Liberty announced that it had begun “the planning process” for broadcasting in Avar, Chechen and Circassian, the languages spoken in three republics of Russia’s North Caucasus region–Dagestan, Chechnya and Karachaevo-Cherkessia. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty President Thomas A. Dine said the decision to broadcast in the three languages had been made by the U.S. Senate’s Appropriations and Foreign Relations committees. Not surprisingly, the reaction of the Russian authorities to the planned broadcasts was highly negative (see the Monitor, February 13, 2001). This year, as the broadcasts’ planned start-up date approached, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman on Chechnya, warned today that Radio Liberty could lose its Russian broadcasting license–meaning that its Moscow bureau would be closed down–if it interviewed “people who are on the list of those wanted by Interpol and suspected of having committed crimes in Russia”–an apparent reference to Chechen rebel field commanders. Broadcasting such interviews would violate Russia’s law on terrorism (see the Monitor, January 28). Yesterday, immediately following the announcement that the Chechen-language broadcasts would be postponed, Yastrzhembsky indicated that the Kremlin hopes the postponement will turn into a complete cancellation. Chechen-language broadcasts by Radio Liberty, he warned, “could aggravate the situation in Chechnya and the North Caucasus as a whole, deepen ethnic strife and conflicts, and complicate the search for a political solution to the crisis” (Interfax, February 28). Later, after the U.S. State Department’s Boucher made comments that were quite similar, Yastrzhembsky said: “It’s impossible not to agree with the arguments on this issue articulated by the American administration” (Vremya Novostei, March 1).

RFE/RL President Thomas Dine, meanwhile, was quoted as telling the Reuters news agency that the “Chechen project” had fallen victim to geopolitics–specifically, the need to consider the interests of Russia, which has joined the U.S. campaign against international terrorism (Izvestia.ru, March 1).