The Observer - Cold War is back again as Yeltsin blasts West

By Jonathan Steele in London
Sunday November 21, 1999

Son-of-Cold-War reared its ominous head in Istanbul last week with angry pre-emptive calls from Boris Yeltsin for the West not to interfere in Russia's Caucasian backyard, and Western leaders going ahead to denounce the slaughter of civilians in Chechnya.

Bill Clinton's words were softer than those of his European Nato allies, but in all it was the worst East-West verbal slugging match since the mid-Eighties.

On Moscow's side, the feeling has been growing that the United States has been exploiting a decade of Russian weakness. It expanded Nato eastwards to take in three former Russian allies. It has been wooing the ex-Soviet states on Russia's southern flank, from the Caucasus to Central Asia.

With its air strikes against Yugoslavia it flexed Nato's muscles in the Balkans to give the alliance a right to intervene beyond the borders of its member states. It is threatening to scrap the anti-ballistic missile treaty and to create a 'shield' of interceptor rockets with which it could attack Russia without fearing retaliation.

The charge sheet is long, and that does not even include the issue of the economy, where some Russians insist the West has also been trying to get Russia deep in debt so it can impose political conditions on repayment.

On the Western side, many feel the Chechen operation shows the Russian elite is as heavy-handed as ever in launching tanks when things go wrong, instead of looking for political solutions. Instead of using sophisticated methods to handle terrorism, the Kremlin behaves as badly as the Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

Eight years after Yeltsin came to power, the Chechen debacle is a metaphor for a Western image of an unreconstructed Russia: muscle-bound, impervious to criticism and unable to convert itself into a modern European democracy. Add the mounting evidence of financial corruption and Russia's failure to develop an efficient market economy, and you have another ingredient in the West's sense of regret. On Chechnya, the origins of Yeltsin's war are as obscure as the goals he is pursuing. Chechnya has become a classic 'failed state'. Its economy was virtually non-existent, reliant on infrequent transfers from Russia and ransom money from hostage-taking. Power was split between warlords. It was only when one warlord, Shamil Basayev, decided to destabilise the neighbouring territory of Dagestan that the Russians took action.

Using massive force, they drove the Chechen gunmen out of Dagestan. The mistake was to move on into Chechnya. The pretext was the spate of bombs in Moscow and other cities, which did not justify the excessive response that the Kremlin launched.

Did Yeltsin think a war on Chechnya in the name of countering terrorism would help his friends in next month's parliamentary elections? Does he really believe he can win this time, even though the Russians were forced to withdraw after the last war three years ago?

Yeltsin launches operations without running through the possible outcomes. All he knows now is that the war is popular in Russia since Russian casualties are low.

He also believes he can ride out Western criticism. How could countries that unleashed illegal aggression on Yugoslavia criticise legitimate counter-terrorist operations by Russia inside its own borders, Yeltsin bellowed at the Istanbul summit. 'The national interests of the United States would best of all be served by an option whereby an armed, controllable conflict would perpetually smoulder on the territory of the North Caucasus,' said Defence Minister Marshal Igor Sergeyev last week.

In Istanbul, the Americans indicated they were trying to undermine Russia in the Caucasus. They watched admiringly as Azerbaijan and Turkey signed a deal for a new oil pipeline from the Caspian to Turkey. This would eliminate the pipeline that goes via Chechnya and the Russians have offered to divert further north. The Americans have also started bilateral military programmes in all the Central Asian states and are wooing the post-Soviet businessmen.

None of this justifies the adventure in Chechnya. By frightening all states in the Caucasus, Yeltsin is helping the Americans. But Moscow is right to believe the Cold War did not end in 1989. The clashes in Istanbul did not mean the Cold War is back. Sadly, it never went away.

Officials warned on Wednesday that the restrictions would go on until consumption dropped by seven percent.

NATO's bombs put the lights out across Serbia and power cuts continued briefly after the bombing ended. The system was repaired but the EPS officials said its capacity was now limited.

http://www.newsunlimited.co.uk/observer/international/story/0,3879,106144,00.html

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