Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 3 Issue: 2

On January 11, Reuters reported that U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher had criticized Moscow for “a continuation of human rights violations and the use of overwhelming force against civilian targets” in Chechnya. Reuters commented that Boucher’s statement had effectively ended “a post-September 11 trend of avoiding criticizing Russia’s campaign in Chechnya.” An unnamed State Department official told Reuters, further, that, in the assessment of the United States, civilians had been targeted by Russia in recent attacks on Chechen settlements, including Argun and Tsotsin-Yurt. This information was based, the source said, on reports issued on the ground by members of the Russian human rights organization Memorial and by the Glasnost Foundation.

The following day, January 11, the website of the pro-Moscow Chechen civilian administration, Kavkaz.strana.ru, carried a testy reaction to Boucher’s words by journalist Vladimir Egorov, an ethnic Russian. “Even in the assessment of Western sources,” Egorov wrote scathingly, “Boucher’s words sounded like an exceedingly coarse declaration after long months of refraining from any commentaries whatsoever on issues concerning the conduct by Russia of the counterterrorist operation in Chechnya.”

It should be noted that, as early as December 30, Russia’s national security adviser, Vladimir Rushailo, had criticized the U.S. ambassador to Moscow, Alexander Vershbow, for allegedly applying a double standard in distinguishing between foreign terrorists and domestic “freedom fighters” within the Chechen resistance. “Terrorists, wherever they are located, remain terrorists and must be viewed as such and not as freedom fighters,” Rushailo insisted (Washington Times, January 1).

In an interview with Arnaud de Borchgrave, United Press International’s editor at large, former U.S. Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. stated, inter alia, on January 7 that “there is an awful lot to be said for the fact that Russian policies in Chechnya are still unacceptable. Russia signed a treaty with Chechnya that promised a large measure of autonomy that was never delivered. Out of an understandable motivation to try to improve relations with Russia and make them an ally instead of an enemy in the struggle against terrorism, because they are indeed threatened by Muslim fundamentalism in a geopolitical sense, we should never endorse a violation of Western values, such as the indiscriminate use of military power against innocent civilians. That’s what’s going on in Chechnya” (UPI, January 8). Haig, it might be noted, is a founding member and serves as a co-chair of the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya.