Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 3 Issue: 16

In his just-published memoir, The Russia Hand (Random House, 2002), former deputy secretary of state and the president-designate of the Brookings Institution, Strobe Talbott, offered several informative passages concerning the Clinton administration’s dealings with the Russian leadership both during the 1994-1996 conflict and the current second war in Chechnya. The following is one such passage: “Clinton and Putin met a second time, in Oslo on November 2 [1999], and the exchange had a harder edge on both sides. Russian troops had continued to bombard Grozny from the ground and air, and the city had no electricity, gas or water. There was increased speculation that a Russian invasion of the entire republic was imminent. Putin denied it. Clinton said the Russian strategy could only result in open-ended civilian carnage. He urged Putin to let the refugees return to their villages and seek a political settlement of the conflict through ‘dialogue’ with the Chechen leaders.”

And Talbott continued his account: “Putin retorted that there was no one reliable to negotiate with. The Chechens were committed not just to wresting their own republic out of Russia but also to turning the entire region into a hotbed of predatory Islamic radicalism. ‘You keep telling us to talk to the Chechens,’ he said, ‘but what would you have us do if they won’t talk and all they want to do is kill Russians?’ Seeing that Clinton had no ready answer, Putin repeated the question several times. Clinton had a question of his own for which Putin did not have a good answer: If talking to the Chechens was pointless and war was the only option, how long would it continue and where would it end?” (p. 360).