Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 208

The United States yesterday upped the ante in its weeks-long diplomatic effort to bring a halt to Russia’s military crackdown in Chechnya. In a statement to reporters, U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin accused Moscow of failing to meet human rights standards set out in both the Geneva Convention and codes of conduct of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Rubin said that the U.S. remains “extremely concerned about the indiscriminate use of force” being applied by Russian troops in Chechnya” and that “Russia’s current campaign is not in keeping” with those international commitments. Over the weekend Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov appealed to U.S. President Bill Clinton for help in halting what he described as the “genocide of the Chechen people.”

Rubin’s remarks appear to constitute the harshest criticism yet leveled by the Clinton administration over Russia’s bloody crackdown in the Caucasus. It follows earlier urgings–most notably by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and then by Clinton himself during talks with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin–aimed at pushing Russia into a negotiated settlement of the Chechen conflict.

For all of that, however, even yesterday the administration appeared to be pulling its punches to avoid risking a rupture with Moscow over Chechnya. When questioned by reporters, Rubin refused to say that the administration was accusing Russia directly of violating the Geneva accords or the OSCE understandings. He insisted that the strongest terminology Washington would support at this point is to accuse Russia of “not keeping its commitments” in this area. Rubin also underscored that the Clinton administration continues to consider Chechnya to be a part of Russia and supports its sovereignty over the breakaway republic. He did not appear, however, to repeat past administration statements defending Russia’s right to take action against “terrorists”–Moscow’s standard description for the Chechen separatists it is battling (AP, Reuters, UPI, November 8).

The Clinton administration’s apparent hope of maintaining some sort of working relationship with Moscow was reflected also yesterday in a speech the president delivered at Georgetown University. Clinton identified ensuring Russian stability as the first of three principal challenges facing the United States and its allies abroad as the new century dawns. He argued that the West must take up “the challenge of building the right kind of partnership with Russia–a Russia which is stable, democratic and cooperatively engaged with the West.” Aside from their specific relevance to relations with Russia, Clinton’s remarks reflected the broader political battle that is shaping up between U.S. Republicans and Democrats over the future of U.S. foreign policy and the manner in which it will envision U.S. engagement with the rest of the world (AP, November 8).