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Tuesday, 7 December, 1999, 12:10 GMT
Putin rebuffs Chechnya warnings
Chechen fighters Mr Putin says the rebels threaten regional stability

By world affairs correspondent Nick Childs

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has said he understands Western concerns over the war in Chechnya, but that the West should put pressure on the Chechen rebels.

Battle for the Caucasus
He was responding to some of the strongest warnings yet from Western governments over Moscow's military campaign in the breakaway republic.

They have been particularly critical of Russia's ultimatum, giving residents in the capital Grozny until Saturday to leave the city or risk being killed.

Mr Putin may have wrapped his comments in some diplomatic niceties, but his words amount to a curt rebuff to the latest Western warnings.

Vladimir Putin Mr Putin: Defiant over war
If Western leaders are really worried about the situation in the North Caucasus, he said, let them put pressure not only on the Russian government but also on the Chechen rebels.

And, while the latest statements from Western governments have underlined their alarm over Russia's ultimatum to the citizens of Grozny, they have also highlighted their relative powerlessness to influence Moscow.

President Clinton, in his strongest remarks so far, said Russia would pay a heavy price for its current tactics.

But his statement was not accompanied by any concrete policy initiative. And there's still little consensus over what steps the outside world can take.

Economic sanctions

There has been speculation about possible economic sanctions, but little indication that the major Western powers are ready to contemplate such action, fearing it could backfire.

European Union foreign ministers issued a statement expressing their deep concern. EU heads of government will discuss Chechnya at their summit later this week, and may defer some technical and aid agreements with Russia.

But the Finnish foreign minister admitted that such a move would be merely symbolic.

The head of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe also acknowledged there was little his group could do at present, beyond attempting to put moral pressure on Moscow.

And Western leaders must be conscious that their expressions of concern up to now have had little apparent effect on the Russian leadership.

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See also:
06 Dec 99 |  Europe
'Russia will pay for Chechnya'
06 Dec 99 |  Europe
Leave or die, Chechens told
20 Nov 99 |  Europe
Russians close in on Grozny
19 Nov 99 |  Europe
Analysis: East-West relations must shift
19 Nov 99 |  Monitoring
Russia's media war over Chechnya

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