On July 18, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the topic “The Putin Administration’s Policies toward the Non-Russian Regions of the Russian Federation.” The session was chaired by Senator Joseph Biden, with Senator Jesse Helms (the committee’s minority leader) and Senator Richard Lugar also in attendance. The editor of this publication was one of four witnesses called upon to give testimony. The others were Marjorie Balzer (Georgetown University), Paul Goble (Radio Liberty) and Steven Solnick (Columbia University). Much of the discussion during the session concerned the deteriorating situation in Chechnya. While the witnesses differed on certain points, all of them sharply criticized what they viewed as the Putin administration’s wrongheaded and counterproductive policies toward Chechnya.
The following day, July 19, Senator Helms published an op-ed entitled “Putin Shouldn’t Be at the G-7 Summit” in the Wall Street Journal. “If G-7 leaders intend to celebrate Slobodan Milosevic’s recent detention in The Hague,” Helms observed inter alia, “they should not forget that the Putin war against Chechnya has been far more savage and devastating than the destruction Mislosevic wrought on Kosovo. Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing in Kosovo is responsible for at least 10,000 deaths and the illegal detention and torture of several thousand Albanians, while Mr. Putin’s bloodthirsty war against Chechnya has caused the deaths of more than 30,000 noncombatants, the dislocation of 600,000 civilians and the illegal incarceration of 20,000 Chechens.” The Russian media took immediate and serious note of Senator Helms’ op-ed, which had appeared in a major American news forum. “An American Senator Believes that Putin Is Not Worthy of the ‘G-8′” was the title of a piece featured in the online daily Lenta.ru. “It Is Proposed to Exclude Putin from the ‘G-8′” read a headline in Gazeta.ru, while SMI.ru titled its coverage, “An Anti-Putin Philippic on the Eve of the Summit.” (All three items appeared on July 19.)