Russia gives the lie to its 'democracy'

You might think that Russia would leap at the chance to celebrate its inclusion in the Community of Democracies, created by more than 100 governments at a conference in Warsaw this week sponsored by the United States and Poland. But Russia did not send its foreign minister, only a lower-ranking official, to what was billed as a ministerial conference.

And a look at the Declaration of Warsaw suggests one reason. The declaration emphasizes such staples of democracy as the rule of law, freedom of the press, and freedom from arbitrary arrest - principles that Russia has yet to embrace fully.

President Vladimir Putin has learned, on his recent European travels, that the mailed fist in Chechnya that works so well for him in elections at home does not necessarily work for him internationally.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schrder gave Mr. Putin a warm reception in Berlin, but also admonished him about his brutal war in Chechnya.

And Mr. Schrder let it be known that as long as the war raged in the breakaway province, Russia could not expect any significant action on loan forgiveness.

Last Saturday, a delegation of the Council of Europe, led by Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini, visited Moscow to warn that the war in Chechnya was endangering Russia's position in the council. Then something interesting happened.

Russian generals told the European delegation that the war was winding down.

Next day, Sunday, Gen. Gennady Troshev, senior commander in the region, announced that "the war, as such, is over" and air and artillery attacks were being suspended.

He indicated that Russia would try to pursue peace talks by trying to come to terms with Akmad Kadyrov, the unelected citizen of Chechnya whom Putin has installed to govern the province.

But next day, Monday, the promise of a cessation of hostilities was belied by several dozen strikes by planes and helicopters - and heavy fighting continued through yesterday.

A Kremlin spokesman stated that Troshev had been "misinterpreted" and that there was every intention of continuing offensive actions, although perhaps on a reduced scale.

Clearly, someone in authority to issue orders to the military had thought that ceasing attacks would help placate the European Council and bolster the position of Mr. Kadyrov, the Kremlin's puppet. But clearly someone else in perhaps greater authority had other ideas.

The episode left an impression of disarray in the Kremlin and a military command fighting a war it no longer believes in.

One has to surmise that, despite Putin's moves to centralize control, the struggle for power in Russia may not be over.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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