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U.S. Department of State

Daily Press Briefing


9-11,13-14Update on the situation in Chechnya
17-18US Contact with Chechen Authorities
18US Contacts with Russian Goverment / Possible Travel

DPB #137
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 8, 1999, 12:55 P.M.


QUESTION: It's been announced that reinforcements have arrived in Chechnya for the 100,000 or so Russian troops that are presently there. There is armored columns moving in to reinforce. And the question I have to ask you is does the United States believe that Russia is trying - the goal is to put Chechnya back under Russian control? Is that what they're about to do?

MR. RUBIN: I think we have made very clear that we don't understand the objectives of the Russian policy. We welcome the fact that Prime Minister Putin indicated last week that the conflict in Chechnya, in the end of the day, can only be resolved through political means. We welcome these statements and call for Russia to begin a dialogue with legitimate Chechen partners. We do not believe that a purely military solution to the conflict is possible and we want Russia to look at how the OSCE can play a useful role.

We remain extremely concerned about the indiscriminate use of force. Like other countries, Russia has assumed obligations under the Geneva Conventions and commitments under the OSCE Code of Conduct on political-military aspects of security. The conduct of Russia's current campaign is not in keeping with these commitments. The costs of this approach are too high - costs in humanitarian terms, damage to Russia's international reputation, and in the end making it harder to achieve a political solution.

Let me make clear we support Russia's right to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity and the fact that Chechnya is part of Russia. We support that. But as I indicated, we are extremely concerned that the costs of their methods are too high and the cost in the humanitarian terms, damage to Russia's international reputation, and in the end the costs of making it harder to achieve the political solution that even Prime Minister Putin, himself, said he supported is what worries us so deeply.

QUESTION: Are they reinforcing?

MR. RUBIN: I don't have any facts on their latest troop movements.

QUESTION: You seemed to say there that the Russians were violating the Geneva Conventions. Could you be more specific? Which particular provisions of the Geneva Conventions?

MR. RUBIN: Right. What I can say is that the indiscriminate use of force and the impact of escalation on innocent civilians is a matter of deep concern to us. There are obligations under the Geneva Conventions and commitments under the OSCE Code of Conduct on political-military aspects of security, and our analysis indicates that the conduct of Russia's current campaign is not in keeping with these commitments. I can try to get you after the briefing perhaps more detail on the specific provisions we're concerned about.

QUESTION: Do you think that the CFE Treaty will be signed during the CFE summit in Instanbul later this month at a time when Russia is said to be seriously violating the CFE?

MR. RUBIN: We certainly want to do all we can to see that this important treaty is adapted to the post-Cold War environment that we now live in. Russia's overall record of compliance with the treaty has been good. Clearly, they are above the ceiling and probably above the potentially adapted ceiling as well. They have indicated they intend to provide as much transparency as possible about their deployments and try to get back into compliance with the agreement as soon as possible.

As far as whether an adapted treaty will be signed at the summit, that is still an open question. Our negotiators are working very hard on this question. Secretary Albright has been in touch with Foreign Minister Ivanov and a number of other ministers in the recent days to try to achieve that.

QUESTION: On the same subject, do you have any comment on reports that to accommodate the access of Russian forces in the Chechnya conflict there is a proposal or suggestion that the Russians might make adjustments in Moldova and Georgia.

MR. RUBIN: I wouldn't assume those two are necessarily linked. There would have had to be adjustments in Moldova and Georgia regardless as a result of the adapted treaty, but I don't think it would be useful for us to negotiate these final pieces in public other than to say that, obviously, Georgia and Moldova are also in a similar region.

QUESTION: Is it possible that you might make some last-minute adjustments to the treaty to accommodate the present level of Russian forces in Chechnya?

MR. RUBIN: No, we don't intend to codify that Russian deployment in Chechnya. The question is when will they come back into compliance with either the original level or any adapted level, which they are over both of them.

QUESTION: What does the Geneva Convention say or the OSCE? What is the understanding for violators? Is there any mechanism within the convention or the OSCE to deal with countries who --

MR. RUBIN: First of all, I think that the first step is to make a judgment and I have indicated today that it is our judgment that with respect to the indiscriminate use of force against civilians, this current conduct is not in conformity with those commitments. With respect to remedies, I'm not prepared to speculate at this time other than to say that, obviously, the Russians and we will discuss this matter.

QUESTION: When you say not in conformity, is that the same thing as saying that they are in violation?

MR. RUBIN: I indicated that their current campaign is not in keeping with these commitments. A violation is a term of art that often is used for political purposes and sometimes is a legal term. You can use your own words, but our words are, "not in keeping with," or "not in conformity with."

QUESTION: Does indiscriminate use of force against civilians constitute - could that constitute a war crime in any future --

MR. RUBIN: I think for now it is sufficient for me to say that their obligations under the Geneva Conventions and certain commitments, they are not in keeping with those obligations. That is our judgment. I'm not going to overstate this case at this time, but I will try to get as much information as I can for you.


QUESTION: Back to Chechnya. You obviously, while saying that Russia is violating the Geneva Convention, were clearly not using the term "violating." Would you have any quibble with -- if the State Department's response was described as saying that Russia's violating the Geneva Convention in Chechnya with the indiscriminate use of force against civilians?

MR. RUBIN: I thought we just did this but we could do it again. Let's do it again. I said what our view is, and in response to one of your colleague's questions, precisely the same question, I repeated what our view is.

As you know, when you ask me these kind of questions I kind of end up saying that one of the benefits that you all have is you own the ink and you decide what you print and you decide what you put on the air, and that's what you'll decide. But if you want to report what our view is, I hope you would report our view accurately.

............... QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the Chechen president request to President Clinton to help?

MR. RUBIN: With respect to that issue, let me say that a letter dated September 30 purporting to be from President - listen up - Chechen President Maskhadov and the Chairman of the Chechen parliament was faxed to the US embassy in Azerbaijan. No contacts were made by the Chechens after the letter was faxed. The letter focuses on civilian casualties caused by Russian air and artillery strikes in Chechnya and appeals to President Clinton to protest and stop Russian actions.

Regardless of any contact with Chechen authorities, our actions would be the same as they have been since the start of the conflict. Most recently, as I indicated, President Clinton made clear to Prime Minister Putin our concern over escalating civilian casualties and the need to pursue a political dialogue. We urge the Russians to pursue a political strategy to end the conflict, to consider third-party intermediaries, and to ensure the safety of displaced persons. Yes?

QUESTION: Do you know if this letter was actually from him?

MR. RUBIN: It is purporting to be. We just don't know the facts. There is no way to know. I don't think we have had a lot of contact with him and, as you know, when people have traveled in that part of the world, it is very difficult to have an engagement with the people of Chechnya given what's gone over the last several years, so we are not always in a position to authenticate such a letter.

QUESTION: You have not tried to get back in touch with them?

MR. RUBIN: Not to my knowledge. They hadn't made any further contacts after the letter was faxed.

QUESTION: Are you planning any more high level trips to Moscow in the next few days, before the meet of the OSCE summit?

MR. RUBIN: I don't think so. Secretary Albright is expected to speak to Foreign Minister Ivanov probably more than once in the lead-up to that meeting, and I know Deputy Secretary Talbott is going to Brussels and London prior to the summit, but I am not aware of any plans for officials that high to go to Russia.


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