U.S. Must Do More for Chechnya
By Diane Roazen
Now that President Boris Yeltsin is in, it's business as usual in Russia. Facing serious international trade and military issues with the Russia, the United States must figure out how Moscow intends to "do business" in and outside of its borders. The most disturbing indicator of how Russia will deal with its international and domestic affairs may be right in front of our closed eyes. Russia's dirty war in Chechnya continues, while Moscow tries to hide the atrocities there from the world.
Actions often speak louder than words, and nowhere is this more true than in Russia's handling of Chechnya. Yeltsin made an election promise to end the war, signed an armistice on June 10 and then openly supported its violation three days later. Last week he gave full support to renewed bombing offensives, that killed dozens of civilians, including children, and wiped out villages. To many, these false promises and betrayals demonstrate either that Yeltsin is not in control or that he is playing a dangerous game that makes a mockery of his commitment to democracy and human rights.
The Clinton administration's recent condemnation of the continued Russian assaults in Chechnya may be too little and too late. Washington's response has surely not been commensurate with the human tragedy of ethnic cleansing. The credibility of the Yeltsin administration and all who supported him, including the United States, is at stake.
Consider a few of the many facts which have been documented by human rights organizations:
. At least 30,000 civilians, and probably a great deal more, a third of whom are children, have perished in 19 months of war.
. 500,000 are homeless and 230,000 have fled from a population of 1.3 million.
. Thousands are missing. Written testimonies of survivors of Russian "detention" centers reveal horrors beyond imagination.
. Thousands of young children suffer severe wounds, including missing eyes and limbs.
. Entire villages, cities, cultural centers and historical landmarks have been destroyed.
. Russian troops have denied humanitarian assistance and carried out summary executions, rape and torture of civilians.
The Russian leadership has shown that it is continuing a centuries-old policy of coveting Chechnya's natural resources and strategic location.
IMF loans, summits and elections draw near. But when the international heat is turned up on atrocities in Chechnya, as it is now, the Kremlin does its best to convince the world that the Chechens are "terrorists" who do not want peace.
Yet the Chechens do want peace and democracy. They also want freedom but feel that a mutually beneficial agreement with Russia is feasible. The late Chechen president, Dzhokhar Dudayev, who was killed in a missile attack in April, consistently kept the doors open to all peace initiatives, calling for international guarantees and mediation while practicing restraint despite betrayal and atrocities by the Russian military and government. The Chechens have also felt betrayed by the West, especially in the United States.
In effect, the United States not only gave permission for the war to begin and continue but also funded a large portion of the war, perhaps unknowingly. Some if not all, of last years $6 billion IMF loan when to the costly war in Chechnya rather than to economic reforms. The American taxpayer paid for nearly 20 percent of this loan. How much of the new $10 billion IMF loan will go to Chechnya?
Meanwhile, President Clinton has consistently asserted that Chechnya was an internal matter. Clinton essentially gave Yeltsin carte blanche to do as he pleased, an agreement made when America was about to intervene in Haiti. But is the funding of a war by the American taxpayer and the gross violation of human rights an internal issue?
Washington labors for peace in one country while allowing war in another. The United States and Russia pledge to fight terrorism while Russia practices it in Chechnya. The United States prides itself on being a leader in human rights and demands that countries respect these rights. But the United States often bends the rules for Russia.
Now that Yeltsin has won the election, the U.S. government has a moral and legal obligation to propose talks in a neutral country. The United States should tie all new loans to these guarantees to insure implementation, assist in cease-fire and troop withdrawal and promote free elections in Chechnya. The United States must insist on unrestricted access to Chechnya for humanitarian aid. Congress should investigate Russia's accountability for U.S. funds, human rights violations and Russia's use of weapons of mass destruction. An international task force should investigate allegations of crimes against humanity by both sides.
U.S. inaction undermines international law and the credibility of the American government. It makes a mockery of its commitment to human rights. Our silence has been costly, embarrassing and dangerous. How Russia really intends to "do business" and how it intends to handle its international and domestic affairs is evidence in how it has handled the dirty war in Chechnya.
Diane Roazen, a friend and adviser to Dzhokhar Dudayev, is a history professor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.