Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 227

Russia faced a new cavalcade of Western criticism yesterday following Monday’s ultimatum in which Chechen civilians were warned to evacuate Djohar by Saturday of this week (December 11) or face annihilation. It seemed unlikely, however, that the Western condemnations would have any impact on Russian policy if they remain unaccompanied by the threat of sanctions or some other punitive actions aimed at Moscow. To date, only the European Union has made any serious mention of possible sanctions. The issue will reportedly be discussed at the EU Summit in Helsinki on Friday (December 10).

Even the possibility that the EU might consider sanctions against Moscow drew an angry response from the Russian Foreign Ministry yesterday. Although it was not delivered in the form of an official statement, sources from the ministry were quoted as having said that the “language of economic sanctions and diktat is unacceptable, all the more so when it concerns the issue of Russia’s territorial integrity and the fight against terrorism.” Foreign ministers from the EU countries, meeting on December 6 in Brussels, reportedly raised the possibility of ending European food aid to Russia, of putting a moratorium on the signing of any new cooperative agreements with Moscow, and of discussing with other Western nations the possibility of linking IMF loans to Russia with Moscow’s behavior in the Caucasus. The European minister also condemned anew Russia’s military operations in the Caucasus, and called upon Moscow to observe commitments it made on this score during last month’s OSCE summit in Istanbul (Reuters, Itar-Tass, December 7).

Condemnations of Russian actions in Chechnya, if not the threat of possible punitive actions, came from numerous other sources as well. French President Jacques Chirac, whose government has been among those most critical of Moscow’s Chechen policy, yesterday called the Russian ultimatum to Djohar “unacceptable” and once again urged the two sides to negotiate an end to the conflict (AFP, December 7). In London, meanwhile, the British government intensified its own condemnations of Moscow. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook called in the Russian ambassador yesterday to express London’s dismay over the Russian ultimatum. Referring to the December 10-11 EU summit, Cook warned that the EU would issue no aid “if Russia does not respect basis humanitarian norms” (Bridge News, Reuters, December 7).

The story was much the same in Italy, where Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema yesterday called developments in Chechnya “horrible, unacceptable.” The sharp criticism was especially noteworthy because it came as Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov arrived in Italy for talks with both Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. The consultations were intended to focus on preparations for a December 16-17 meeting of the G-7 countries and Russia in Berlin, but there seemed little doubt that Chechnya would dominate Ivanov’s talks with Dini and Fischer (Reuters, Itar-Tass, December 7).

On Monday, U.S. President Bill Clinton had criticized the ultimatum delivered by Moscow to the residents of Djohar. He warned that Russia would “pay a heavy price” for its assault on the Caucasus republic, and suggested that the offensive would deepen anti-Russian sentiments in the region while diminishing Moscow’s standing in the world. For all of that, the Clinton administration has seemed in general to be more restrained in its criticism of Moscow than have European governments, and some Russian news sources have continued to portray the United States as sympathetic to Russia’s war efforts in Chechnya (International Herald Tribune, December 7).