West tells Yeltsin: Pull back or no arms treaty West gives Yeltsin ultimatum on Chechnya

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PRESIDENT CLINTON and the West squared up to Russia over the escalating war in Chechnya yesterday by announcing that the new pan-European arms treaty signed in Istanbul would not be ratified until Moscow pulled back its forces from the breakaway republic.

Rarely since the end of the Cold War has Russia appeared so isolated on the world stage, with one leader after another complaining about the indiscriminate way its forces are killing and wounding civilians.

The Russian newspaper Izvestiya commented: "It is autumn in relations between Russia and the West ... Cold winds are about to blow. It will soon be getting really frosty." It said the summit had "brought the West and Russia up against a barrier which could become a dividing line worse than the Berlin Wall or the Iron Curtain".

Even as Mr Clinton flew out from the bad-tempered two-day summit of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Russian warplanes were pounding targets in the breakaway republic. The fighters have conducted about 60 air-strikes over the past 24 hours, many of them indiscriminate, according to reports from refugees and human rights organisations.

Moscow warned yesterday that there will be no let-up in its air and land campaign against the Islamic insurgents, who are described by Mr Yeltsin as "bandits" bent on exporting terrorism. Mr Clinton's appeals to Russia to relent reflects growing unease in the West at the wide-scale human rights abuses in the republic.

The updated conventional arms treaty which was signed by leaders of countries from the Atlantic to the Urals - 54 nations in all - halves the numbers of warplanes, tanks and other heavy non-nuclear weapons in much of Europe. But the refusal by the West to ratify it underscores the chill that has crept into East-West relations since the war over Kosovo.

Britain, the US, and other European countries will only seek parliamentary ratification for the treaty after Russia has brought its forces on its southern flank - the Caucasus and Chechnya - beneath the limits. Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, said it was crucial to establish the credibility of the new treaty, and it would be undermined if it came into force while its limits were being breached.

The deteriorating relations between Moscow and the West were also visible in tensions over the 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty and setbacks for Russia in the crucial oil and gas politics of the Caspian area.

The summit was dominated by the Chechen crisis, and ended with only minimal concessions from Moscow to hasten a negotiated end to the conflict, in return for Western agreement to sign the new Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) arms agreement and a separate charter setting out the principles of European security.

The summit's final document allows Knut Vollebaek, Norway's Foreign Minister and current OSCE chairman, to visit the Caucasus, and makes a nod to the organisation's possible "assistance" in reaching a political settlement. But the Russians would permit no specific mediation mandate for the OSCE, standing squarely by Mr Yeltsin's insistence on total victory.

The West's consolation from two days of relentless bargaining with Moscow has been the strong emphasis on human rights contained in the charter: above all protection for minorities and recognition that a human rights or humanitarian crisis in one state are matters "of immediate and legitimate concern" to all member countries. It also fought hard for the changes in the updated CFE treaty.

Unlike its predecessor of 1990, an agreement between Nato and the now defunct Warsaw Pact which led to the destruction of over 50,000 pieces of heavy weaponry, the new arrangements set limits on a state-by-state, rather than bloc-by-bloc basis. It also provides for more verification. "This will enhance peace and security in Europe," Mr Clinton said as 30 countries signed the deal.

The deal should also lead to Russia speeding up the withdrawal of its troops from the former Soviet states of Moldova and Georgia, and ending a military presence suspected by the new independent governments of being a means by which Moscow intends to keep them within its orbit.