Chechnya Puts Paid to Clinton's 'Win-Winner'
Moscow, Andrew HIGGINSin, The Independent (London, England)
The Chechnya war muscled aside modest gains in a US-Russian summit yesterday when Russian helicopters rocketed a village in the region minutes after President Boris Yeltsin had declared all hostilities over and said his armed forces were no longer involved in fighting.
The assault by at least five helicopter gunships on Serzhen-Yurt cast a pall over what President Bill Clinton had earlier declared a "win-win meeting" during which Russia made partial concessions on the sale of nuclear technology to Iran but gave no ground on the question of admitting its former Warsaw Pact satellites to Nato.
"There are no military hostilities under way in Chechnya right now," said Mr Yeltsin at a press conference in the Kremlin with Mr Clinton. "The armed forces are not involved there. Today, the Interior Ministry simply seizes weapons still in the hands of some small armed criminal groups." Saying Russia was engaged in "creative work" in Chechnya, he added: "I believe that soon we will have a normal situation there."
The abnormality of what is now a 22-week-long war in the region has long caused unease abroad but had been pushed into the background by the hoop- la of VE Day celebrations on Tuesday and yesterday's summit. Mr Clinton expressed concern but did not challenge Mr Yeltsin's version of events, urging extension of a "ceasefire" scheduled to expire on 15 May but which has never really existed.
The gap between Mr Yeltsin's statement and reality underscores what is probably the White House's dominant concern in its dealings with Moscow: is Mr Yeltsin trying to mislead or is he himself being misled? Neither option offers much comfort as Russia and the US steer their relationship through what is probably the most serious turbulence since the Cold War ended. Complicating their contacts is the fact that Mr Yeltsin and Mr Clinton, both up for re-election next year, face pressure at home from conservatives demanding a more robust posture.
White House officials cast what they described as a largely unscripted, and therefore risky, summit as a "modest success" exceeding fearful initial expectations. Mr Yeltsin said three hours of talks had proved pre-summit talk of crisis wrong: "Of course, even after the summit a number of issues have not disappeared. But the important thing is that we seek to address these problems."
Washington does seem to have extracted some concessions on Moscow's contract to supply Iran with nuclear technology. …