Russia Bows to West on Chechnya

ISTANBUL -- After a defiant display by President Boris Yeltsin, Russia yielded to Western pressure at a European security summit Thursday and accepted for the first time an international political role in Chechnya.

Yeltsin flew home to Moscow ahead of schedule after telling Western leaders they had no right to criticize Russia's war against "bandits and killers" in the rebel republic.

Shortly after he left, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov reversed seven weeks of stonewalling and agreed to invite the chairman of the 54-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to Chechnya, and to give the OSCE both a political and a humanitarian role in the region.

He made the concessions at a meeting with foreign ministers of the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Italy.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Ivanov had agreed that Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek, the current OSCE chairman, would visit Chechnya.

The invitation would be spelled out in a final declaration to be issued when the summit closes Friday, she said.

French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said the West had won references to the need to respect OSCE norms of behavior in Chechnya and to the essential nature of a political solution through dialogue.

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said the declaration would contain all the elements the West had sought, stipulating that the OSCE would participate in both humanitarian assistance and political dialogue in Chechnya.

Looking in better health than in recent public appearances, Yeltsin gave a vintage combative performance on a rare outing from Moscow, giving U.S. President Bill Clinton a big bear hug and bantering with French President Jacques Chirac.

"We do not accept the advice of so-called objective critics of Russia," Yeltsin said in a feisty speech at the opening summit session. "Those people do not understand that we simply must stop the spread of this cancer and prevent its growths from spreading across the world."

Delivering his speech in a firm lucid voice, Yeltsin said the world has no right to criticize Russia over Chechnya. "There was a wave of terrorist acts that swept through Moscow and other cities of Russia and caused 1,580 casualties."

Clinton said he did not bridge differences with Yeltsin on Chechnya in their meeting, but he tempered criticism of Russian action in his conference speech with expressions of understanding and admiration for the Russian leader.

"He was very vigorous and so was I," Clinton told reporters of the bilateral talks. "We have a very good personal chemistry, but it didn't stop us from our clear disagreement here."

He balanced his speech with an acknowledgement that Russia had a right to combat terrorism and a conciliatory tribute to Yeltsin for his defiant resistance from atop a tank of a coup attempt in the dying days of the Soviet Union.

"If they had put you in jail instead of electing you president I would hope that every leader of every country around this table would have stood up for you and for freedom in Russia and not said 'well, that is an internal Russian affair that we cannot be a part of,'" Clinton said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Yakushkin said Yeltsin had cut short his stay because Western countries had refused to sign a European Security Charter as originally planned Thursday, to hold out for concessions on Chechnya.

But he later dismissed reports the president had walked out in a show of defiance.

"The president is in a good mood. ...[The reports] are nonsense," Yakushkin told ORT television.

Yeltsin spent barely five minutes with French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der although they had been scheduled to meet for 45 minutes. He proposed a trilateral meeting in Paris on Dec.21 instead.

Both European leaders had used their summit speeches to slam Russia's seven-week-old military offensive and urge him to seek a political solution.

Chirac called the offensive "a tragic error" and Schr?der said war was the wrong means to combat terrorism.

As the meeting with Chirac and Schr?der began, the French president presented Yeltsin with a giant pen.

The Russian president banged himself on the head with the pen and said: "Jacques, this is big enough to kill a man."