WASHINGTON – The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe today urged the Russian Government to cease its bombing campaign in Chechnya and address the social and economic problems that have caused discontent. “Moscow is undoubtedly entitled to defend its territorial integrity and resist terrorism. Our government is justified in assisting legitimate anti-terrorism efforts by the Russian Government,” said Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ).
“But bombing Grozny, taking more innocent lives, and creating hordes of refugees in Chechnya is not likely to end the conflict in Dagestan. Such a policy is more likely to widen the conflict and sow enmity that will last for generations. President Yeltsin’s refusal to meet with President Maskhadov says volumes about Moscow’s willingness to settle the issue peacefully.”
“Instead of leaving the Caucasus region on ‘auto-pilot,’ Moscow might better have done its part to live up to the Khasavurt Agreement and help Chechnya recover from the devastation of the war,” said Commission Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, (R-CO). “Now it is reaping the harvest of neglect. Military overreaction in Chechnya does nothing to address the social and economic problems that have plagued Dagestan and made it ripe for the militants’ incursion. I hope wiser heads will prevail and work to remove the causes of discontent.”
For the past four days, Russian planes have pounded strategic targets near the Chechen capital of Grozny, ostensibly to reduce the combat capabilities of Islamic militants who invaded western Dagestan from Chechnya in mid-August. The government of President Aslan Maskhadov has disavowed any connection with the militant forces, but appears unable to control them. Since the end of the Chechen War in 1996, the region has been plagued by violence, kidnapings, and a failing economy. According to many observers, the dismal economic prospects are responsible for the popularity of the Islamic militants, especially the Wahhabi sect, under whose banner many of the insurgents in Dagestan claim to be fighting.