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The BBC's James Robbins
"The West is eager to avoid punishing Russia"
 real 28k

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook
"I wholeheartedly condemn yesterday's ultimatum"
 real 28k

EU external relations commissioner Chris Patten
"This will affect our relationship with Russia"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 7 December, 1999, 15:47 GMT
UK condemns Chechnya ultimatum
Russia has told people in Grozny to flee the city or die

The UK foreign secretary has "wholeheartedly condemned" the Russian ultimatum to the people of the Chechen capital Grozny to flee or die.

Battle for the Caucasus
Robin Cook addressed MPs hours after the Russian ambassador Yuri Fokine was summoned to the Foreign Office to hear of the UK's "deep concern" about the offensive.

Mr Cook welcomed the International Monetary Fund's decision to withhold 400m in financial aid to Russia because of the military action.

I wholeheartedly condemn yesterday's ultimatum to the citizens of Grozny to flee or be destroyed
Foreign Secretary Robin Cook
He said Britain understood the concerns Russia had about terrorism in Chechnya and noted three UK citizens had been murdered after being kidnapped there.

But he said: "We cannot understand how Russia imagines it can rout out terrorism by attacking a whole population."

Challenged by Tory foreign affairs spokesman John Maples, Mr Cook said he found the killing of civilians as abhorrent in this case as during the Kosovo conflict.

"We condemn vigorously what Milosevic did in Kosovo and we condemn vigorously what Russia is doing in Chechnya," the foreign secretary said.

Robin Cook: Questioned Russian tactics and condemned its actions
He rejected the suggestion by Labour MP Tam Dalyell that Russia was mimicking Nato tactics through its aerial bombardment against Chechnya.

But the Liberal Democrat spokesman Menzies Campbell suggested the west had to accept blame for the scale of the Russian offensive.

"Isn't the harsh and unpalatable truth - and I do not exclude myself or the Liberal Democrats from this criticism - that we have been supine in the face of the medieval barbarism directed against the people of Chechnya?" he asked.

EU ministers consider further sanctions

The British move to increase diplomatic pressure on Russia coincided with US President Bill Clinton warning Russia would pay a "heavy price for its action".

A Downing Street spokesman echoed these remarks, saying the ultimatum would "only perpetuate the cycle of violence".

Nato secretary general George Robertson, ahead of a meeting with Bill Clinton, said Russia's handling of Chechnya was "unacceptable" and did not make sense, but he said Western government sympathized with its problems in the rebellious region.

"The message we give to them is not of hostility; it is of constructive advice as to how we believe they could best deal with the serious situation that confronts them," he said.

UN High Commission for Refugees spokeswoman Lyndal Sachs warned the Russian ultimatum - ostensibly aimed at "terrorists" in Grozny - would lead to the deaths of the weakest people remaining in the capital.

Refugees attempting to get out of Chechnya
"The people still in Grozny are the ones who can't get out because they are old, sick or very young," she said.

The Downing Street spokesman said the situation would also be debated at the European Union summit in Helsinki this weekend.

EU foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels, also denounced Russia's "unacceptable threat" to the Chechen people.

But the Finnish foreign minister, Tarja Halonen, admitted the union could do little to stop the Russian offensive.

While the Helsinki meeting could lead to the EU refusing to sign international agreements with Russia, but conceded this would do no more than send a "political signal".

EU external relations commissioner Chris Patten offered a slightly more positive assessment of Europe's influence, suggesting Russia would have to take account of the impact its actions would have on its external relationships.

"What I'm saying isn't in any way a threat, what I am describing is the real world and in the real world people are going to say to us, you can't go on behaving with Russia as though nothing had changed."

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See also:
07 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Cook's empty threats
07 Dec 99 |  Europe
Russia defiant over Chechnya
07 Dec 99 |  Europe
Putin rebuffs Chechnya warnings
06 Dec 99 |  Europe
Battle for the Caucasus: Special report

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