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USIS Washington File

04 November 1999

Text: Sestanovich Statement on Chechnya to Senate Committee Nov. 4

(Albright advisor criticizes Russia on force, refugees, human rights)
(1,680)
While recognizing Russia's "obligation to protect itself and its
citizens from terrorist and other attacks," U.S. Ambassador-at-Large
Stephen Sestanovich told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
November 4 that "this obligation does not and cannot justify
indiscriminate attacks on civilians, the blocking of borders to
prevent civilians from fleeing, or other violations of human rights."
"How Russia resolves these issues," Sestanovich continued in his
prepared statement, "how it counters this insurgency and how it treats
its own people -- will determine what kind of country it will become
and what kind of relationship we have with it. That will be Russia's
challenge and ours."
Sestanovich, who is special advisor to the Secretary of State for the
New Independent States, characterized Russia's response to terrorism
in Chechnya as "deeply troubling" because of the "indiscriminate use
of force," the growing humanitarian crisis, and the human rights
violations committed against certain ethnic groups.
In addition, he said, the United States is concerned that the violence
in Chechnya could "spread beyond Russia's borders and pose threats to
the independence and security of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia."
Sestanovich also expressed concern that the adapted Conventional
Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty that was to have been signed at the
summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
(OSCE) in Istanbul November 18-19 may be in jeopardy because Russian
deployments in the North Caucasus exceed those allowed under the
document. However, he termed "a step in the right direction" the news
that Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has invited an OSCE mission
to visit the North Caucasus.
The United States has said repeatedly "that there cannot be a purely
military solution to the conflict in Chechnya," Sestanovich told the
committee. "A durable settlement requires dialogue and the
participation of regional leaders. Unfortunately, neither the Russian
government nor Chechen leaders have shown much interest in such a
dialogue, and the military escalation that is underway obviously makes
it very difficult to open talks."
Following is the text of his prepared statement:
(begin text)
"THE CONFLICT IN CHECHNYA AND ITS IMPLICATIONS FOR U.S. RELATIONS WITH
RUSSIA"
U.S. Ambassador-at-Large Stephen Sestanovich 
Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for the New Independent
States
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Washington, D.C.
November 4, 1999
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the chance to discuss the conflict in
Chechnya and our response to the humanitarian tragedy that is
unfolding there. This is a complex topic with a long history and
important implications for Russian domestic politics, for the
stability of the region, and for Russia's standing in the world,
including its relations with the United States.
Since my remarks involve strong criticism of Russian policy, I want to
emphasize at the outset that we recognize Russia's territorial
integrity and its right to respond to threats to its security. The
Russian government has a responsibility, indeed an obligation, to
protect its citizens. But it also has a responsibility to avoid using
indiscriminate force against them -- and to take steps aimed at a
peaceful settlement.
Mr. Chairman, I hope it is clear that in speaking of threats to
Russian security, I am not referring to abstract or hypothetical
threats. There are real terrorists and violent insurgent groups in the
North Caucasus. Chechen insurgents are receiving help from radical
groups in other countries, including Usama Bin Laden's network and
others who have attacked or threatened Americans and American
interests. The Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev led a raid on
neighboring Dagestan last August that aimed to set up an Islamic state
there. That attack and a series of apartment bombings that killed
nearly 300 innocent people spurred the Russian Government to step up
its fight against terrorism and to launch the present military
campaign.
President Clinton and Secretary Albright condemned the apartment
bombings as acts of terrorism. The President offered the Russians
technical assistance with their investigation, and the FBI will send a
team to Moscow shortly to follow up. But while we share Russia's
outrage over terrorism and respect its right to defend itself, the
manner of the Russian government's response is deeply troubling. Let
me note three problems in particular:
First, the indiscriminate use of force. The Russian military offensive
in Chechnya that was launched on October 1 has steadily escalated. A
relentless bombing and artillery campaign has been carried out in
nearly all parts of the republic. This use of indiscriminate force
against innocent civilians is indefensible, and we condemn it. We have
publicly and privately urged Russia to exercise restraint and to open
Chechnya's borders to allow civilians to escape the fighting. The
1994-96 war in Chechnya left 80,000 dead, the overwhelming majority of
them civilians. That tragedy must not be repeated.
Like other countries, Russia has assumed obligations under the Geneva
Conventions and commitments under the OSCE Code of Conduct on
Politico-Military Aspects of Security. Common Article 3 of the Geneva
Conventions states that "in armed conflicts not of an international
character, persons taking no part in the hostilities ... shall be
treated humanely." Article 36 of the OSCE Code of Conduct states that
"if recourse to force cannot be avoided in performing internal
security missions, each participating State will ensure that its use
must be commensurate with the needs for enforcement. The armed forces
will take due care to avoid injury to civilians or their property."
Russia's current campaign does not match these commitments.
Second, refugees. The conflict in Chechnya has created a growing
humanitarian crisis that requires immediate attention. Neighboring
Ingushetiya lacks the resources to care for nearly 200,000 displaced
Chechens, and Russia's efforts have also been inadequate.
Americans do not stand idly by in such cases, and, through the
International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN High Commissioner
for Refugees, we are providing emergency aid. We recently provided
$4.5 million to help support UNHCR and Red Cross programs in the
region, and the Administration will quickly answer the Red Cross's
specific appeal for funds to help civilians displaced by the conflict
in Chechnya. In the past week, three air shipments of U.S.
humanitarian supplies arrived in the North Caucasus to support these
Red Cross efforts. As winter approaches, the international community
will almost certainly have to do more, and I hope that we can count on
your support for the resources to do the job.
Russia, too, must devote significantly more resources to addressing
this humanitarian crisis, which it created. We have made that point
repeatedly to Russian officials.
Third, human rights. In the wake of apartment bombings in Moscow and
other cities, the Russian Interior Ministry launched Operation
Whirlwind to root out terrorists nationwide. Police have detained over
2,000 individuals in Moscow and deported many of them -- evidently
because the color of their skin suggests they might have Chechen or
other Caucasus origins. Ethnic-based roundups of "the usual suspects"
are wrong and have no place in a country that aims to provide equal
treatment to all its citizens, as the Russian government has said it
wishes to do. The Russian Government is obliged to do so as a
signatory to the International Convention on the Elimination of All
Forms of Racial Discrimination.
We have said repeatedly that there cannot be a purely military
solution to the conflict in Chechnya. A durable settlement requires
dialogue and the participation of regional leaders. Unfortunately,
neither the Russian government nor Chechen leaders have shown much
interest in such a dialogue, and the military escalation that is
underway obviously makes it very difficult to open talks. In these
circumstances, we believe the OSCE may be able to help. During the
first war in Chechnya, after all, the OSCE mission to Grozny brokered
many rounds of negotiations and monitored cease-fires. On Monday,
Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov invited an OSCE mission to visit the
North Caucasus. This is a step in the right direction.
Mr. Chairman, we are particularly concerned that the violence in
Chechnya could spread beyond Russia's borders and pose threats to the
independence and security of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia. Deputy
Secretary Talbott and I visited the South Caucasus last week, and we
made clear at every stop that the U.S. supports these three countries
during this time of turmoil in the region. Azerbaijan and Armenia have
made progress in addressing the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with support
from us and the other OSCE Minsk Group countries, including Russia. We
need to do more. As for Georgia, the single largest element of our
assistance program has been to strengthen the Georgian government's
ability to control its borders, including with Chechnya.
The international implications of the conflict in Chechnya extend
beyond the Caucasus region. To conduct their operations in Chechnya,
Russian armed forces have deployed more weapons and military equipment
in the North Caucasus region than they would be allowed under an
adapted CFE Treaty. On Monday, Prime Minister Putin pledged that this
situation is only temporary, and that all excess weapons and equipment
from the so-called CFE "flank" area will be withdrawn as soon as
possible, once the situation in Chechnya is under control. This
commitment is especially important now, since Russia, the United
States and the other CFE Treaty member states hope to sign an adapted
CFE Treaty at the OSCE Summit in Istanbul in two weeks.
Mr. Chairman, let me repeat that the Russian government has an
obligation to protect itself and its citizens from terrorist and other
attacks. But this obligation does not and cannot justify
indiscriminate attacks on civilians, the blocking of borders to
prevent civilians from fleeing or other violations of human rights.
How Russia resolves these issues -- how it counters this insurgency
and how it treats its own people -- will determine what kind of
country it will become and what kind of relationship we have with it.
That will be Russia's challenge and ours.
(end text)
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State)



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