The Nando Times - Russia hopes to end tension with US over Chechnya

By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV

MOSCOW (December 24, 1999) - After a top U.S. diplomat harshly criticized Russia's campaign in Chechnya, the Foreign Ministry accused the United States on Friday of letting domestic affairs influence its stance toward Russia. Still, it voiced hope that tensions between the two countries would ease.

"American policy in the last months has been increasingly driven by momentary domestic considerations," Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin said, according to Russian news agencies.

"That has been displayed by Washington's intention to use economic levers of pressure against Russia, including sanctions under artificial pretexts."

U.S.-Russian relations have emerged as an issue in the U.S. presidential campaign, with candidates calling for the administration to halt aid because of the Chechen conflict and alleged Russian money-laundering.

Bilateral ties are at a post-Cold War low, strained by U.S. criticism of Russia's military action in Chechnya, Moscow's rejection of Washington's plan to build anti-missile defenses and other disputes. However, both sides say they don't want a return to confrontation.

The ministry statement came a day after U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, wrapping up a visit to Moscow, voiced harsh criticism of the Russian military's conduct in the breakaway republic. He accused Russian forces of indiscriminately killing Chechen civilians and violating international law.

Moscow has responded harshly to U.S. criticism over Chechnya, saying it amounted to meddling in Russian internal affairs. But Rakhmanin said the issue hadn't dominated Talbott's visit, and he chose conciliatory language to respond to the U.S. envoy's statement.

"While defending Russian interests and adequately reacting to anti-Russian attacks, we are still hoping for positive development of our mutually advantageous cooperation with the United States," Rakhmanin said.

"It was said that President Bill Clinton would like to leave a good legacy in Russian-American relations to his successor," he continued. "We can only welcome such an approach and hope it is backed by practical steps."

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