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Tuesday, 7 December, 1999, 18:56 GMT
Cook's empty threats
Robin Cook: Threatened end of aid to Moscow


By political correspondent Nick Assinder

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook has added his voice to the international chorus demanding that Boris Yeltsin abandons his threat to Chechnya.

He summoned the Russian ambassador to Britain into the foreign office for a ticking off from junior minister Keith Vaz.

And the message was clear - keep your hands off Chechnya, or else.

It was a threat which Mr Cook later repeated in the Commons but which raised the inevitable question - or else what?

Less than a year ago that question was answered in the case of Kosovo when Nato went to war against Slobodan Milosevic.

The warplanes were sent in and the UK, at least, was ready to commit ground troops to protect Kosovo.

The politicians are still arguing about who won that one, but some claim it might be reasonable to expect that a similar response would now be forthcoming against Boris Yeltsin.

Humanitarian mission

There are some similarities between the two conflicts. President Milosevic claimed he was attacking local terrorists in the shape of the KLA while Mr Yeltsin insists he is combating terrorists who have killed hundreds of civilians in bomb attacks on Russian cities.

And, in both cases, the west argued it was pursuing a humanitarian mission.

But the criticism now being levelled against Mr Cook, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton is that they are hanging back from taking decisive action against Moscow for fear of sparking a wider international crisis.

The US president has declared: "Russia will pay a heavy price for those actions, with each passing day sinking more deeply into a morass that will intensify extremism and diminish its own standing in the world."

Real politik

Mr Cook hammered home the message in the Commons, stating: "We appeal to Russia not to escalate its military campaign in a way which will further undermine its relations with the outside world and further damage its own national interest."

In other words, Moscow will face economic sanctions - in the shape of withheld grants - unless it stops killing civilians in Grozny.

The one threat that is not being made is that of military intervention. That is inconceivable and few are arguing for such a strategy.

Taking on Belgrade is one thing - Moscow is still in a different league.

Critics claim it is the worst recent example of "real politik" in operation.

And in Britain, that has led to Mr Cook being attacked for adopting double standards.

Most worryingly, there is clear evidence that Moscow is not listening anyway.

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See also:
07 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
UK condemns Chechnya ultimatum
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