Right of Reply: Dr Phyllis Starkey

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The Independent Culture
The Labour MP, a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, responds to a leader that criticised the West's failure to intervene in the conflict in Chechnya

YOUR EDITORIAL yesterday and Patrick Cockburn's front-page report clearly described the disaster unfolding in Chechnya. I agree that the West must act, but to be effective, that action must take account of political realities within the Russian Federation.

Nato's actions in Kosovo caused enormous disquiet in Russia. There is a widespread Russian perception that a concern for human rights was used by Nato as a pretext.

The Allies' campaign in Kosovo was seen, in the context of discussions for the expansion of Nato to include the Baltic states and others, as evidence of an attempt to encircle Russia and weaken its influence. This view is particularly strong among the Russian military.

To an extent, the Chechnya campaign can be interpreted as the Russian military asserting its right to ignore Western sensibilities where Russian sovereignty is under threat.

Western governments need to re-assert to the Russians their concern for the civilians within Chechnya. Experience shows the futility of trying to defeat terrorism by outright military attack and economic threats are likely to be counter-productive. The Russian military already believes its politicians are far too ready to betray Russia's interests whenever the IMF tells them to.

One way forward would be through the Organisation for Security and Co- operation in Europe (OSCE), which is respected by the Russians. By linking the Chechnya situation with instability in other parts of the region, an urgent international conference organised through the OSCE would not be seen as a threat to Russian sovereignty but as an international attempt to tackle the underlying problems of poverty, Islamist infiltration, organised crime and the absence of effective government that bedevil the whole Caucasus.