Two days before a contentious vote on Russia’s admission to the Council of Europe, the Russian president’s office released an official statement urging that Russia be approved for membership. Despite enduring imperfections, the statement reads, Russia has made tremendous strides in the development of democratic practices and the safeguarding of human rights. It portrays the hostage-taking in Dagestan by Chechen rebels as a terrorist act and assesses Moscow’s use of force in resolving the crisis as appropriate and consistent with international efforts to battle terrorism. The statement warns that failure to admit Russia could be interpreted in Russia as a "manifestation of support" for the Chechen rebels. The declaration also suggests that rejecting Russia’s application would undermine the efforts of those "struggling to assert democratic principles and democratic institutions in Russia." (4)
The last argument has been much abused in Russia. The Kremlin has repeatedly warned that punitive actions taken by the West in an effort to hold Moscow to Western standards of behavior undermine Russian reformers and/or strengthen Russian reactionaries. However, the argument is losing credibility as Yeltsin surrounds himself with hawks who represent the very forces he once characterized as the enemies of reform. On the issue of Russia’s assault on Chechen hostage-takers, press reports have revealed both the disproportionate force used by Russia in Pervomaiskoye and its inept brutality. Nonetheless, European leaders seem inclined to reward the progress made by democratic Russia, and at least some subscribe to the view that Russia’s admittance to the Council would provide a better lever to influence developments in Russia than would Russia’s rejection.
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