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U.S.: Clinton Condemns Ultimatum On Chechnya

The United States Monday urged Russia not to carry out its recent threat to bomb all those who fail to leave the Chechen capital, Grozny, by December 11. U.S. President Bill Clinton said Russia would pay a heavy price internationally if it followed through with the assault plan.

Washington, 7 December 1999 (RFE/RL) -- In a White House speech on human rights, President Bill Clinton took the opportunity to deliver his strongest remarks to date condemning Russia's ongoing military campaign in breakaway Chechnya.

Russia raised the stakes Monday, dropping leaflets on Chechnya's besieged capital, warning residents and rebels in Grozny to flee, lest they be considered "terrorists" in Moscow's eyes.

Russian federal forces have stated of late that they will smash Grozny into submission and it would appear from the leaflets that that plan is still very much on the table in Moscow. But in Washington, President Clinton Monday urged Russia to think twice.

"Russia will pay a heavy price for those actions with each passing day, sinking more deeply into a morass that will intensify extremism and diminish its own standing in the world."

Clinton, as well as U.S. State Department officials, deplored the intent of the act and said it would leave many of the city's most vulnerable residents open to a military attack.

"I am deeply disturbed by reports that suggest that innocent Chechens will continue to bear the brunt of this war, and not the militants Russia is fighting. Russia has set a deadline for all inhabitants now to leave Grozny or face the consequences. That means that there is a threat to the lives of the old, the infirm, the injured people, and other innocent civilians who simply cannot leave, or are too scared to leave, their homes."

Russians estimate that between 15,000 to 40,000 civilians remain in Grozny. State Department Spokesman James Foley, in a daily briefing, said leaflets or no leaflets, Russia has the obligation to differentiate between "lawful and unlawful" targets in the Chechen conflict.

Strong words from the United States, which up until days ago seemed content to deliver bland statements supporting Russia's right to root out terrorists on its sovereign territory.

Clinton yesterday again offered support to Russia's fight against terrorism, calling it "right." But he said the methods Russia was using in Chechnya were "wrong," and would ultimately prove counter-productive.

David Kramer, Associate Director of the Carnegie Foundation's Russia and Eurasia program, characterized the latest U.S. message as good, but not yet weighty enough.

"There has been indiscriminate bombing going on since early October and the (U.S.) Administration should have taken a much more forceful stand at the very beginning. So, I think this is a very belated response from the Administration. And the Administration should go even further."

Kramer told RFE/RL it was his view the Clinton administration should suspend the second tranche of International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans to Russia. He stipulated that this should be done in a way that makes very clear to Russia the suspension is not because it has failed to meet economic criteria, but specifically because of its military campaign in Chechnya.

Kramer said it was also his personal view that this latest U.S. warning would have little to no affect on the turn of events on the ground in Chechnya. He said Russian Generals have hinted for some time now that they plan to pursue Islamic rebels well into the mountains.

That, according to Kramer, could prove a costly mistake.

"If they didn't learn a lesson the first time then, unless they pretty much adopt the same approach toward the mountain areas as they have toward Grozny, which is...they will pretty much wipe out the mountain areas, I don't see how they are going to wipe out the Chechen rebels if they are secreted in various mountain hiding spots."

Kramer said the Russian Generals' statements just underscore that military conflict, as Russia is practicing now, will in no way bring forth a long-term sustainable solution to the turmoil and instability in Chechnya. That is one sentiment the U.S. administration has expressed all along.