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Russia: Officials Rejects Linking Chechen Conflict To Other Matters

As Russia escalates its war in Chechnya, international condemnation has so far been mild. But Russian officials over the weekend signaled their suspicions that the West may try to link Russia's policy in Chechnya with other matters, such as arms control or loans. RFE/RL correspondent Sophie Lambroschini reports from Moscow.

Moscow, 2 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- World leaders are meeting in Oslo for two days to commemorate late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and the topic on the agenda is supposed to be the Middle East peace process. But Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is sure to use the opportunity to continue spreading his official word on Russian policy in Chechnya.

There are some 100,000 Russian troops in and around Chechnya, and bombs fall on the Chechen capital Grozny almost daily. Russia is sticking by its explanation that the military action in Chechnya is a focused attack aimed solely against terrorists. This has been Moscow's answer to Western questions in the face of mounting civilian casualties and, most recently, a strike on a refugee convoy that killed International Red Cross workers.

Putin has repeatedly said the West supports Russia's "anti-terrorist operations," and he interprets that support as support for the Chechen campaign. Yet Russian politicians seem increasingly annoyed with a growing foreign preoccupation with Chechnya. This annoyance is evident in statements warning that Russia is ready to defend its policy even at the cost of estranging the West.

Ever since the International Monetary Fund said two weeks ago that it will suspend loans if military spending increases too much, the Russian media have been speculating that the West is trying to push its own interests by hitting Russia where it hurts.

One Russian worry is that the West may try to use financial institutions to pressure Russia on Chechnya. In an interview with Russian public television (ORT) last night, Putin insisted that Russia would not succumb to such pressure.

Another fear is that the West could use its silence on Chechnya to pressure Russia for concessions in other matters. A Russian daily (Kommersant) speculated that U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott may have offered Russian officials such a tacit deal when he visited last week. The theory goes that if Moscow agrees to accept the U.S. plan to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and if Moscow further agrees to modify the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty the way Washington wants, then Washington will try to shield Russia from Western criticism over Chechnya.

Vladimir Orlov, director of the Moscow-based think tank, the Center for Policy Studies, told RFE/RL at a press conference yesterday that there is no official confirmation for that theory. Orlov said: "There indeed has been information that Talbott might link Chechnya and arms control, but this didn't happen during his talks in Moscow. Or, if such a link was mentioned, then only in private."

But those Russian fears seem hard to douse. Over the weekend, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said (on ORT) that he sees a conflict of interest between Russia and the West in the Caucasus. He said he would not want to return to a situation similar to the Cold War, when regions were divided into Russian and Western spheres of influence.

Terence Taylor, assistant director of the British International Institute for Strategic Studies, recently attended a conference on security with Russian officials. He told RFE/RL yesterday that behind these Russian statements lies a misunderstanding of Western politics. In Taylor's words: "They (Russians) see a plan of isolating Russia in this idea of linking everything -- Kosovo, Chechnya, ABM treaty. They don't understand that American foreign policy is not such a logical construction."

According to Taylor, the West has adopted a "wait and see attitude" about Chechnya. He says the Russians are mistaken when they see a grand master plan against them.