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Christopher Hints Chechnya War Could Hurt Aid to Russia

By William Drozdiak
The Washington Post

Secretary of State Warren Christopher warned Tuesday that unless Russia halts the bloodshed in Chechnya soon, the war will have "unfavorable consequences" for Moscow that could lead to cuts in U.S. aid.

Christopher, who arrived here Tuesday morning for two days of discussions with his Russian counterpart, Andrei Kozyrev, indicated that the United States is holding in abeyance any decision about a summit meeting between U.S. and Russian leaders and making it dependent on how Moscow moved to resolve the secessionist conflict.

"It's an awful and tragic episode and it grows more so," Christopher told reporters before meeting Kozyrev for a private dinner. "The Russian leadership knows they have a problem."

As public outrage in Western countries has grown over the brutality of the Russian attempt to suppress Chechnya's three-year campaign for independence, U.S. and European governments have escalated their criticism.

Christopher said that Moscow's international standing had been "seriously hurt" by the war and that hopes for a future partnership with the West had been placed in jeopardy. He said he would tell Kozyrev that it is in Russia's own interest to stop the fighting, seek reconciliation with the Chechens, take into account their views about independence and provide humanitarian relief.

Asked if Russia's failure to take urgent steps to halt the fighting would lead to cuts in U.S. aid, Christopher said it is "only realistic" to conclude that "if the tragedy and bloodshed continues, it will inevitably have consequences in American public opinion and in the Congress that are bound to be unfavorable."

But Kozyrev said upon his arrival here Monday night that the Russian government considered the conflict an internal affair and that he would rebut any criticism from Christopher with questions of his own about American domestic problems.

Russia's bloody attempt to suppress the revolt in Chechnya has overshadowed the original purpose of the Christopher-Kozyrev encounter, which was to review the parameters of U.S.-Russian relations and try to achieve greater harmony on a broad range of issues such as Bosnia, Iraq, North Korea and the future structure of European security.

The United States and its European allies have been striving to assuage Russia's opposition to the expansion of NATO to embrace the new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe. Russia has resisted what it fears may be an attempt to move the East-West divide to its very frontiers and has demanded the right to play a central role in any future European security order.

Last December, Kozyrev surprised Christopher and other NATO foreign ministers by refusing at the last minute to sign protocols that would have set an agenda for Russia's participation in a military cooperation program known as Partnership for Peace. U.S. officials hoped the Geneva meeting would help neutralize Russia's opposition to NATO's expansion and get relations back on a more positive track.

But the mounting death toll and reported human rights violations in Chechnya have provoked alarm in Western capitals about the course of Russian democracy. In particular, U.S. and European governments are concerned that Russian President Boris Yeltsin may have abandoned the path of reform and surrendered to nationalist or authoritarian impulses, leaving the country's fragile democratic institutions on the verge of collapse.

On an issue of great symbolic importance to Moscow, the Russian government has proposed that President Clinton fly to Moscow in May to meet with Yeltsin to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II and celebrate the Moscow-Washington alliance that led to the defeat of Nazi Germany. But Christopher said that while discussions and planning would continue in the near future, the "timing and circumstances" of a summit would depend on events such as the fighting in Chechnya.

He took pains, however, to emphasize that the United States still supports Yeltsin as Russia's first democratically elected president and a positive agent of reform and that it is not too late to avoid lasting damage to his relationship with Clinton and other Western leaders.

Christopher said that he is convinced that Yeltsin remains in full command of the country.