Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 197

Western condemnation of Moscow’s military operations in Chechnya intensified over the weekend in the wake of the October 21 deadly bombing attack in Djohar. The criticism remained declaratory, however, with no immediate threat of penalties or sanctions of any sort to back it up. Russian government and military officials seemed little concerned by the outcry. Indeed, many of them continued to dismiss the criticisms as both misguided and a form of interference in Russia’s internal affairs. The exchanges suggested that Moscow is unlikely to step back militarily in Chechnya until either the West puts some teeth into its objections, or the Russian military is rebuffed on the battlefield.

Several Clinton administration officials expressed Washington’s displeasure with Russian policy in the Caucasus. On October 22, U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Jim Steinberg met with Russian Ambassador Yuri Ushakov during a previously scheduled visit to the White House. Steinberg reportedly voiced “in no uncertain terms” Washington’s demand that Russian troops forego the use of disproportionate force in Chechnya and instead employ diplomatic means to resolve the conflict. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott conveyed essentially the same message the same evening. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in the midst of a visit to Africa, called the bombing of the Djohar marketplace “deplorable and ominous,” and said that she would convey Washington’s concerns to Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. There were reports that she intended to speak by telephone to the Russian diplomat yesterday evening (Reuters, Itar-Tass, October 23; Washington Post, October 24).

European leaders also expressed their concerns on October 22 about the Djohar bombing–and over Russia’s broader military policy in Chechnya–but failed to move much beyond rhetorical admonitions during an EU-Russian summit meeting in Helsinki, Finland. The meeting was an important one, and was to have to have dealt with a wide array of political, economic and security issues, as well as with the conflict in the Caucasus. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin attended the summit on behalf of President Boris Yeltsin. Top EU officials present in Helsinki included the recently named EU foreign affairs coordinator, former NATO Secretary General Javier Solana, as well as European Commission President Romano Prodi, External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten and Finnish President Paavo Lipponen, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency.

Putin, who was making his first trip to the West as prime minister, was expected to bring to Helsinki both a plan outlining Moscow’s relations with the EU and a blueprint setting out how the Russian government intends to deal politically with the crisis in the North Caucasus. Given the worsening hostilities in Chechnya, there were suggestions that the summit could turn contentious. One EU official was quoted as saying, “we will show disappointment if they do not come up with a political solution to the [Chechen] crisis.” There was apparently never any threat, however, that the EU might sever ties with–or aid to–Russia (Reuters, October 20).