Washington, 20 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Grigory Yavlinsky, the leader of the democratic opposition in the Russian Duma, told a Washington audience Thursday that more than 100,000 people have died in the 21-month Chechen war.
As a result, Yavlinsky said, it will be "next to impossible" for any Russian government to convince the Chechen people to agree to remain within the Russian Federation.
In a wide-ranging address to a conference organized by the RFE/RL Fund, Yavlinsky blamed Russian President Boris Yeltsin for launching what he called a "genocidal" war there in 1994 and for failing to end it now as he had promised to do during the election campaign earlier this year.
And the Russian leader also had harsh words for the West. He said that the International Monetary Fund was in effect "financing the war" in Chechnya by continuing to provide funds to a Russian government that was still failing to collect more than 30 percent of the taxes owed to it.
Indeed, Yavlinsky said, the West's approach to Yeltsin at a time when the Russian president was engaged in such a war recalled the decision of the United States and other Western democracies to send their athletes to the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin when Adolf Hitler was in power and when it was already obvious what the Nazi leader intended.
Yavlinsky's statement is remarkable on three grounds.
His suggestion that the official Russian figure of deaths in the Chechen war is now 100,000 and that the actual number is higher still far surpasses the 80,000 figure given by Russian national security chief Aleksandr Lebed earlier this month. Moreover, Yavlinsky's number is dramatically higher than the 30-35,000 figure that still continues to be cited by the Western media and many Western governments.
Yavlinsky's decision to use a Washington venue to condemn Yeltsin in the harshest terms and also to condemn Western support for Yeltsin and implicitly for what he made clear was Yeltsin's war is striking.
Given the risks he faces of a political backlash at home, Yavlinsky's choice to speak out in the American capital underscores just how worried he is that the failure to resolve the Chechen conflict will have the most serious and negative consequences for his own country.
In addition, it reflects as Yavlinsky noted the concern many Russian democrats have about the West's failure to speak out more clearly against the violence in Chechnya.
Yavlinsky's statement calls attention to just how difficult it is going to be for Moscow to find an exit from this war anytime soon. Yavlinsky pointedly noted that the agreement Russian national security chief Lebed had reached with the Chechens, an agreement in which so many have put their hopes, is unlikely to work.
According to Yavlinsky, Lebed is simply a Yeltsin aide and thus does not have the authority on his own to sign such an agreement, a point many other Russian officials from Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on down have made in recent weeks.
In calling for a negotiated settlement, Yavlinsky indicated that any such talks about Chechnya's status would inevitably be difficult and long.
As a result of that and of the fact that some in Moscow are profiting from the war, Yavlinsky raised the specter of still more violence in war-torn Chechnya.
But the democratic Russian leader concluded by warning that the longer the war goes on, the less willing the Chechens will be to accept anything short of total independence and the more fateful the consequences of both the conflict and that outcome will be for Russia as a whole.