Hurd tells Europe not to isolate Russia

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The Independent Online
Douglas Hurd delivered Britain's strongest condemnation of Russia's crackdown in Chechnya yesterday, calling it at a setback to reform in Russia and security in Europe. However, in a speech to Stockholm's Institute for International Relations, the Foreign Secretary added that the West would be wrong to isolate Russia over the war.

Putting theory into practice, Mr Hurd held talks over dinner last night with Russia's Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev. It was their first meeting and one of the first direct contacts between a Western foreign minister and Russian leader, since the offensive began on 11 December.

"The brutality and disregard for human life in Chechnya has rightly given us pause," Mr Hurd said. "Chechnya represents a setback to reform in Russia, and to our own hopes of seeing the principles of security and stability take root throughout Europe." While describing the war as a "dark cloud", Mr Hurd said it would be important over the next two years for the West not to "push Russia beyond our reach. We shall need to combine continuing support for the process of reform with a clear and critical response where the principles we value have been violated or ignored."

He said three trends gave reason to believe reform was not entirely lost - continuing press freedom, progress of liberal economic reforms, albeit in an uneven manner, and the scheduling of free parliamentary and presidential elections.

Mr Hurd did not refer directly to Boris Yeltsin's role , but other British officials said the Russian President's reputation had taken a dent because of the ferocity of the assault on civilians. However, they said Britain and its allies believed they had little option but to continue working with him in the hope that the worst of the war was almost over.

The officials pointed out that Britain and Russia were still co-operating closely on a diplomatic solution to the Bosnian war. With France they have devised a proposal for lifting United Nations Security Council sanctions on Serbia in return for Serbian recognition of Croatia and Bosnia as independent states in their pre-war borders.

Russia is seen as the country with the greatest ability to influence the policies of Slobodan Milosevic. .However, the President of Serbia has shown little willingness to recognise Croatian and Bosnian pre-war frontiers, often seeming more interested in incorporating their Serbian populations into an expanded Serbian state.

Last night a senior US offical said that President Bill Clinton had agreed to lift sanctions temporarily if Belgrade recognizes Bosnia and other former Yugoslav republics.