Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 187

Russian officials have in recent days continued to reject international mediation of the conflict in Chechnya. Moscow has simultaneously stepped up its warnings to Arab governments that they should avoid providing any aid to the Chechen insurgents. The first of these messages was addressed to visiting officials from the European Union on October 7. The second came yesterday, when ambassadors from several Arab countries were reportedly invited to the Russian Foreign Ministry for consultations.

The talks between Russian and EU officials followed predictable lines. Just prior to the start of the talks on October 7, a top Russian diplomat ruled out any international mediation. “Mediation between the center (Moscow) and regions of the Russian Federation is something incomprehensible,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yevgeny Gusarev was quoted as saying. His statement was in line with Russian arguments made prior to and during last week’s talks that the Chechen conflict is a domestic Russian affair and requires no outside involvement.

For its part, the EU delegation–which included Finnish Foreign Minister Tarja Halonen, EU commissioner Christopher Patten and Portuguese Foreign Minister Jaime Gama–denied earlier reports suggesting that the EU had put itself forward as a possible mediator of the conflict in the Caucasus. Indeed, the European leaders were careful not to step on Russian sensibilities. In their public remarks at least, they reiterated that the EU regards Chechnya as an integral part of Russia and the conflict there as a Russian matter. The European “troika” nevertheless also restated their concerns over the situation in the North Caucasus and urged Moscow to seek opportunities for dialogue with moderate leaders in the region.

The two sides apparently made some progress on an offer by the EU to render humanitarian aid to the Caucasus. Few details of the proposal were available, but Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was reported to have given Moscow’s consent to the aid program. He also emphasized, however, that the Kremlin’s willingness to accept aid should not be interpreted as a sign of any weakening in the federal authorities’ hard line against Chechen separatists (Reuters, Russian agencies, Russia TV, October 7).

Moscow has come under increasing–if still muted–criticism by Europe and the United States for its military operations in the Caucasus (see the Monitor, October 4). Western leaders have expressed concern both that the Russian actions could further destabilize the Caucasus region and that the costs of the war effort could undermine Russian budgetary discipline and, ultimately, economic reform as a whole. There have also been suggestions that the West has softpedaled its criticism of Moscow because of certain unpleasant parallels between Russia’s military operations in the Caucasus and those conducted by NATO during its air campaign against Yugoslavia. On October 1, U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin dismissed that last suggestion. He argued, among other things, that in Yugoslavia there was a leader with whom NATO forces could deal. In Chechnya, he observed, “there is no leader who has control over the rebels” (Reuters, October 1).