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The BBC's Rob Watson: "A day of conflict between East and West"
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Friday, 19 November, 1999, 16:18 GMT
Analysis: East-West relations must shift
Russian soldiers dig in at an airport near Gudermes in Chechnya

By Steven Eke of the Britain-Russia Centre

Following President Yeltsin's abrupt departure from the OSCE summit in Istanbul there's widespread debate about whether the meeting actually helped or harmed Russia's relations with the West.

These have already worsened in the last few months - as typified by the arguments over Chechnya.

European Security Charter
Creates framework for OSCE peacekeeping operations
Establishes rapid reaction teams for crisis areas
Obliges states to answer for human rights violations
Spells out OSCE's role in relation to Nato and UN
Reaffirms OSCE commitments to democracy and human rights
More training and monitoring of police forces
Russia's leaders have accused the Chechens of harbouring 'terrorists' responsible for attacks on neighbouring Dagestan and the killings of 300 people in a series of bomb attacks against civilians across Russia.

Moscow has argued, perhaps justifiably, that there is no coherent single source of authority in Chechnya and that negotiations would be futile.

The West acknowledges the need to preserve the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation and the right of the Russian Government to intervene to curb terrorism.

Western condemnation

Yet it is increasingly concerned at the level of force used by Russian forces in Chechnya and the plight of the tens of thousands of refugees driven from the republic as a result.

The television images and eyewitness accounts of brutality of the military operation have led to widespread condemnation of Russia's actions by foreign governments and international agencies.

However, the roots of discord between Russia and the West run deeper than current disagreements on Chechnya.

The American-led Nato military campaign in Kosovo last spring, aimed at stopping Yugoslav 'ethnic cleansing' of Kosovan Albanians, was interpreted differently in Russia, not just among the political and military elites but by the population at large.

There was highly-charged rhetoric about 'Nato genocide' against Serbs, and the accusation that Russia's role in safeguarding European security was being deliberately ignored.

Senior Russian military figures have gone further recently, even suggesting the US is striving to perpetuate tension in the Caucasus, with the aim of weakening Russia on the international stage.

Military gains influence

Russia thus finds itself increasingly at odds with the West on strategic matters - while remaining dependent on Western financial organisations, particularly the IMF, for its economic survival.

Increasingly it seems that the previously-demoralised military has gained influence over other lobbies.

And the hawkish Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, has seen his personal popularity ratings improve dramatically during the course of the Chechen campaign.

The re-assertion of central authority over the area, whatever the cost in human lives and damage to infrastructure, would certainly benefit his chances of becoming the next president of Russia, should he decide to stand as a candidate.

The West has become used to a rather simplistic division of Russian politicians into 'good reformers and bad conservatives'.

It can no longer think in these terms. The impending elections to the State Duma in December 1999 are revealing an increasingly centrist, yet largely anti-Western political orientation of the leading parties and electoral blocs.

With the election of a new Duma and a new president, Russia and the West will probably have to work out an entirely new relationship.


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See also:
19 Nov 99 |  Europe
New arms control treaty for Europe
19 Nov 99 |  Europe
Chechen town falls without a fight
19 Nov 99 |  Monitoring
Russian press split over 'haughty' West
18 Nov 99 |  Europe
Yeltsin walks out on world leaders
18 Nov 99 |  Europe
UN envoy inspects Chechen camps
18 Nov 99 |  Monitoring
Full text of Boris Yeltsin's speech
17 Nov 99 |  Europe
Analysis: Russia suspicious of OSCE motives
15 Nov 99 |  Europe
Analysis: Danger of stalemate in Chechnya
05 Nov 99 |  Europe
Analysis: West worries over Chechnya

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