Britain stokes up the diplomatic war over Chechnya

Click to follow
The Independent Online
AS RUSSIAN shells pounded the Chechen capital, Grozny, Western countries warned of economic measures against Moscow, and of diplomatic retaliation which could include a recall of ambassadors and cancellation of a G8 foreign ministers' meeting next week.

In London a British official said possible sanctions would be presented at tomorrow's European Union summit in Helsinki. The summit will also consider withholding food aid and suspending EU science and technological programmes.

The latest Chechen town to fall, according to Russian and Chechen accounts, was the stronghold of Urus-Martan, south-west of the capital. The Russians claimed to have taken the town and killed 80 rebels. The latter said they had abandoned Urus-Martan of their own accord to regroup.

Barring a Russian change of heart, a meeting next Thursday of G8 foreign ministers, representing Russia and the major Western countries, might also be scrapped. "Unless Moscow agrees to put Chechnya top of the agenda, there may well not be a meeting," the official said.

As outrage continued at Monday's "leave-or-die" ultimatum to inhabitants of Grozny, Germany - Russia's largest international creditor - said no international loans would be released to Moscow while the offensive lasted.

However, the impact of the West's anger was unclear. Robin Cook, Foreign Secretary, said last night that the criticism "had obviously been heard and understood" in Moscow, and had forced the Russian generals to dilute the original ultimatum to the estimated 40,000 people left in Grozny, that if they did not leave the city by Saturday they faced annihilation.

But President Boris Yeltsin demonstrated his disdain for his critics in the West by defying doctors' advice and starting a visit today to China, the sole permanent member of the Security Council to support his generals' war. He has also signed a scheme for a union with Belarus, another of Russia's few allies over Chechnya.

And, although his military now says the ultimatum was directed exclusively at the insurgents, senior Russian diplomats declared there would be no surrender to outside pressure.

Further reports, page 15

Letters, Review, page 2