Russia demands total surrender by Chechens as refugee crisis grows

DESPITE INTENSIFYING Western criticism and an imminent European security summit, Russia insisted yesterday that only surrender by the insurgents would bring about an end to its military onslaught in Chechnya.

"If they [the guerrillas] lay down their arms and halt their action, things could end quickly," Igor Ivanov, the Russian Foreign Minister, said as he arrived in Helsinki to discuss the European Union's "Northern Dimension", strengthening co-operation between Nordic and Baltic countries, and Russia.

The words of Mr Ivanov are a further sign Moscow is ready to continue its bombardment even as it sits down to next week's summit of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Istanbul, to be attended by both Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin.

Yesterday brought no let-up in the offensive, as Russian jets bombed the capital, Grozny, as well as villages in the west of the breakaway region. The only hint of a breakthrough was a Russian news agency report that insurgents in Gudermes, Chechnya's second largest city, were seeking talks with a Russian commander.

But as the bombs rain down, the humanitarian crisis in and around Chechnya continues to grow, with some 200,000 refugees in the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia, and at least as many again uprootedwithin Chechnya itself. "The situation is not getting better, it is getting worse," the Finnish Foreign Minister, Tarja Halonen, said after meeting Mr Ivanov.

The increasing frictions have already turned the OSCE summit into a diplomatic minefield, with the West confronted with a dilemma: take retaliatory action against Moscow and risk losing what little backstage leverage it has, or continue to soft-pedal in the hope of obtaining at least minor concessions from the Russians.

Until yesterday, the latter had seemed the preferred course. But in the most blunt challenge to Moscow yet, senior officials from the French Foreign Ministry met Ilyas Akhmadov, the self-styled Chechen foreign minister - a step described in a Russian statement as "an unfriendly act" and "de-facto complicity with Chechen separatists and terrorists".

Russia's intransigence casts a dark shadow over plans for the signature of a European Security Charter at the 54-nation meeting in Turkey, and for agreement on an updated Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty. Some diplomats say it would simply be impossible to sign a treaty limiting conventional weapons, when Moscow has violated it by massing over 100,000 troops in and around Chechnya and is conducting a full-scale war.

Another option is to go ahead and sign the new CFE deal, but to refuse to submit it for ratification until there is a negotiated solution to the Chechen war. A third possibility is to attach to the text a Russian declaration that it will normalise the situation as soon as it can.

The best hope, some officials believe, lies in the fact that President Yeltsin considers the meeting important enough to attend in person, despite his weak health. The OSCE has long been Russia's "favourite" European security forum, built on the principle of the sanctity of national borders - something that even Moscow's critics believe must be respected over Chechnya, juridically part of the Russian Federation.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
John Rees-Evans is standing for Ukip in Cardiff South and Penarth
news
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
Sport
David Silva, Andy Carroll, Arsene Wenger and Radamel Falcao
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£20000 - £21000 per annum: The Jenrick Group: This high quality manufacturer o...

The Jenrick Group: Electrical Maintenance Engineer

£30000 - £35000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Electrical ...

Recruitment Genius: Photo Booth Host

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company offers London's best photo booth ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers



£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers ...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'