Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 12

World leaders, anxious to get a reading on Russia’s new, acting president, should perhaps not put too much stock into the more statesman-like role that he assumed yesterday. Putin’s apparently constructive dialogue with the European delegation, after all, took place as Russian military forces were stepping up their bombardment of positions in Chechnya. And his call for the international community to understand Moscow’s position in Chechnya by relying “on facts” rather than “propaganda” was nothing more than a restatement of cynical Russian efforts aimed at portraying widespread civilian suffering in Chechnya as a figment of Chechen propaganda–and the Western media’s imagination.

It is also worth noting that while Putin was showing a relatively cooperative face to the European lawmakers yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was continuing with the more belligerent brand of diplomacy now standard in Moscow’s reactions to international concerns over Chechnya. In remarks that followed Putin’s talks with the Council of Europe delegation, for example, Ivanov warned bluntly that foreign officials who are considering sanctions against Moscow over Chechnya should dispense with trips to Russia altogether. “If someone wanted to come here with sanctions, there wouldn’t be any point in them coming to Moscow or the region” of the North Caucasus, Ivanov was quoted as saying. He also issued his own denunciation of the Western media, which he said has provided “biased and one-sided” coverage of events in Chechnya. He suggested further that Western reporters are being manipulated by “the patrons of terrorists and their allies” (Agence France Presse, Itar-Tass, January 17).

Ivanov’s rhetoric was equally harsh in his January 14 denunciation of the U.S. government–when he reacted to the fact that the Chechen government’s foreign minister, Ilyas Akhmadov, had been granted a visa to visit the United States and had held talks last week with low-level U.S. State Department officials. Ivanov complained that Moscow had warned the United States in advance against allowing Akhmadov to visit. He also charged that Washington’s action not only risked encouraging “terrorists and separatists”–Moscow’s standard designations for the Chechen rebels–but had complicated efforts to resolve the crisis in the North Caucasus. Ivanov said that he hoped the admission of Akhmadov to the United States did not reflect any change in Washington’s “declared stance of unconditional respect for the territorial integrity of Russia” or its support for the “joint fight against international terrorism.” He repeated Moscow’s assertion that the terrorist Osama bin Laden, sought by the United States for his suspected role in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa, is directly linked to events in the conflict in Chechnya (Reuters, AP, Itar-Tass, January 14).

Moscow, meanwhile, may find itself in the coming days fighting a rearguard action over Chechnya in yet another European forum. A Portuguese junior foreign minister was quoted yesterday as saying that the European Union would meet on January 24 to debate possible sanctions against Moscow for its crackdown in Chechnya, and suggested that the sanctions could affect EU aid used to modernize and restructure the economies of the former Soviet states, or even the EU’s overall approach to relations with Russia. Portugal currently holds the EU presidency (Agence France Presse, January 17).