Moscow seeks to mend fences

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Russia has expressed its wish to rebuild relations with western Europe, thrown into disarray by the war in Chechnya and worries over the stability of the Russian government.

The Prime Minister, Victor Chernomyrdin, visiting London, yesterday emphasised his country's readiness to co-operate with the Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE). He said Moscow would allow observers from the OSCE to visit Chechnya, and would seek their help in organising elections at the end of hostilities.

Mr Chernomyrdin is thought to be in emollient form because the principal aim of his European tour is to win economic support for the government's attempt to curb inflation and reduce its budget deficit. He has already stated that Russia would reach agreement with the IMF on a contentious $6.4 bn (£4bn) standby loan.

In a sign of good faith, the prime minister personally deposited a cheque for $100m in a trust account, held at the Bank of England, as a downpayment to commercial creditors owed $500m.

Mr Chernomyrdin met the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, who raised with him a series of Western concerns about human rights and the conduct of the Chechen campaign. Mr Hurd also sought to reassure Mr Chernomyrdin about the possible enlargement of Nato to the east, although British officials emphasise that there remains no question of permitting a Russian veto over membership. Both Russia and Britain agreed on the need to keep up pressure on all sides for peace negotiations in the former Yugoslavia.

Britain is backing international pressure on Croatia to change its mind over the expulsion of United Nations troops from its territory. Next Monday the European Union is expected to delay trade talks with Croatia in a sign of its displeasure, while envoys from the US and Europe are due in Zagreb next week. Croatia says the UN troops must begin to withdraw at the end of this month.