Chechen Foreign Minister Ilyas Akhmadov visited the Prague headquarters of RFE/RL today, where he said that Russia is waging a war of utter destruction in the breakaway republic. RFE/RL correspondent Susan Caskie reports that Akhmadov called for mediation by the United Nations.
Prague, 15 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Chechen Foreign Minister Ilyas Akhmadov says that Russia is creating in Chechnya "a zone of total destruction" in which "everything that moves is doomed to death."
Speaking in Prague at the headquarters of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Akhmadov called for intervention by the United Nations. He also questioned why the international community had intervened so forcefully in Kosovo but not in Chechnya.
"Why, in the case of Kosovo was it possible, but in our case it is not possible? Do we differ from them? Aren't the same bombs falling on us? Don't the dying experience the same physical pain as say a Serb or Albanian? During the last eight years, we have been held hostage in this comic judicial situation. When we apply for help, we are answered 'You are a subject of the Russian Federation, and all that is happening in your country is entirely an affair of Russia.' But the murder of the whole population cannot be a matter of Russia. At this very moment, our government won't speak about any problems of status, and won't speak about the problem of our political regime. We are aware of one thing -- we apply to the world, to save our people from total destruction."
Akhmadov says the Russian tactic for taking the capital, Grozny, is to bomb everything flat and enter the city only after it has been completely destroyed.
He put the civilian death toll in Chechnya since the beginning of the current Russian military operation at more than 4,000.
Russian government officials say Chechen civilian casualties have been minimal. They say the military offensive, which has uprooted some 200,000 civilians, is aimed at destroying terrorists who they blame for explosions in Moscow and other cities that left 300 people dead in August. The Chechen government as well as Chechen rebel commanders say they are not responsible for the apartment bombings.
Western governments have criticized Russia's assault on Chechnya as excessive, but have so far been careful to acknowledge the conflict as an internal Russian matter.
Those governments are expected to step up their criticism of Russia at the summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that opens this Thursday in Istanbul. Chechen Foreign Minister Akhmadov said he spoke with European Parliament President Nicole Fontaine in Strasbourg recently and came away encouraged that the West is beginning to understand the plight of the Chechens. "I know that the European Parliament is now taking strict measures on [loans to Russia] that might be spent on the war. More, a new question is arising now, of freezing the Russian Federation's membership in the Council of Europe. We know the tough positions of the leaders of some European countries toward the Russian Federation on what we are supposed to speak about during the summit, including the president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel. The world is finally understanding the unprecedented threat of what is happening in Chechnya, and I am optimistic about the results of the Istanbul summit."
Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who has been largely invisible during the conflict, said today that he plans to attend the OSCE summit. Defending his country's conduct in strong terms, he said the West "does not have the right to accuse Russia for destroying bandits, cut-throats and terrorists on its own territory."
Akhmadov today suggested that elements in Russia favor instability in other parts of the Caucasus.
"Before the conflict we applied to the Defense Council of the United Nations and to the General Secretary of the United Nations, and to the chairman of the OSCE also. Today in Chechnya there is a flash point which could turn into a large scale conflict."
Akhmadov's visit to France last week drew an angry response from the Russian government. After the Chechen foreign minister spoke to the French parliament (Tuesday), Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said the French were "playing with terrorists."
Over this past weekend, Russia has stepped up both the military campaign and the information war. According to Russian television (NTV), Russian planes conducted 180 sorties on Saturday alone, the most attacks in a single day since the war began seven weeks ago. And Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said yesterday that the recent offensive on the city of Gudermes marked a "turning point" in the war, because, he said, Chechen residents sided with the Russian military.
The Russian government has strictly controlled the flow of information about the conflict. In marked contrast to the way the first Chechen war (1994-1996) was covered, this time around most Russian media have been supporting the Russian government's view of events. Fewer foreign journalists have access to Chechnya now, partly because a spate of kidnappings in the region since the last war have made Chechnya a dangerous place for foreigners.