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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

MAILBOX: To Clinton on Chechnya, to Yeltsin on Democracy

An open letter to U.S. President Bill Clinton signed by 35 former high-ranking foreign policy officials and human rights activists sent Monday, Oct. 25.

We hope you will vigorously use American influence, in diplomacy and public statements, to halt the second disastrous war in Chechnya. We hope that America will act to relieve the humanitarian consequences of these new strikes while seeking to terminate the hostilities.

Russia began with the bombing of Grozny and Chechen villages. Now the Russian government has moved on to a ground invasion and recognition of a puppet government, overturning the democratic elections of 1997. The indiscriminate bombing and shelling with inaccurate area weapons such as the Grad and Uragan rocket systems remains the most unacceptable Russian action. The stated rationale was to attack the Islamic terrorist groups who invaded the neighboring province of Dagestan and, allegedly, were responsible for bombings of apartment houses in Moscow. (The Russian government, however, has produced no evidence linking the appalling apartment-house bombings to Chechens.) Terrorism by Islamic extremists in the North Caucasus is, indeed, a serious problem which menaces us as well as the Russians. But the main Russian targets have been the Grozny airport, oil refineries, fuel storehouses, Chechen government television, cellular telephone towers, radio transmitters, bridges, roads, villages and, sometimes, columns of refugees fleeing from the destruction. The Russian government has also cut off gas and telephone links, and ceased paying Soviet-era pensions.

We cannot know Russian intentions, but the effect is to depopulate Chechnya, as the Serbs tried to empty Sarajevo by shelling. In any case, these actions against civilians are inhumane and violate universally acknowledged laws of war. Every recent traveler's account agrees that fundamentalist views are unpopular among most Chechens, who want to live a normal life. By making this impossible, Russia will drive more and more of the population into the terrorists' camp.

Finally, the bombings are producing masses of refugees; these will burden the weak economies of the North Caucasus republics (and possibly of Georgia), increase ethnic tension and provide easy camouflage for terrorists. Russia has repudiated the internationally monitored, free election that elected Maskhadov as president, and recognized again a "parliament" that was fraudulently elected during the first Chechnya war, was regarded by most Chechens as a quisling regime, and vanished from Grozny with the Russian army. Doing this not only removes Moscow's only possibility of a settlement by dialogue, but calls into question Russia's commitment to democracy. It is not appropriate to give new foreign aid to the Russian central government, or to facilitate loans from the IMF, while the Russian government is targeting civilian populations. It is simply fact that waging this kind of war will sour the climate here for a cooperative relationship with Russia. Our government needs to explain this frankly. No official statements, unfortunately, have identified the importance of maintaining democratically elected government in all of Russia's 89 provinces. In Chechnya this means, until the next scheduled election, the Maskhadov government. We ought to offer generous humanitarian assistance directly to all the victims and refugees, whether in Dagestan or in Chechnya, through Russia and through Georgia. The United States government should expect the governments involved to provide access and security. Finally, we should offer to join Russia in an international effort to promote regional economic recovery in the North Caucasus.

The 35 signers include former National Security Advisers Zbigniew Brzezinski and Robert C. McFarlane; former CIA Director James Woolsey; former Senator Dennis DeConcini; former Congressman Stephen Solarz; author Francis Fukayama and Weekly Standard Editor-in-Chief William Kristol

Yeltsin Must Emerge

An open letter to President Boris Yeltsin from the leaders of the Fatherland-All Russia bloc.

Our appeal to you is dictated by the serious situation transpiring in the country as the parliamentary and presidential elections approach. The coming elections will decide the future of our country. For the first time in the country's history, we have the opportunity to have free democratic elections decided by the people's will and it is your duty to uphold this process.

However, at the moment, the Duma campaigns are taking place in conditions of open interference by the presidential administration. A narrow circle of people, are exerting unprecedented pressure on the elective process. Your circle is openly demonstrating partiality for the victory of loyal political forces. The mass media has been subject to open pressure by both private and state structures.

The leadership of the country is completely given over to the presidential administration. The state becomes hostage to it. This fortifies the isolation of your politics and information about them and you from the people who elected you. Russia's government is becoming small change in the political games of your circle.

Mr. President, as the head of state, you must take the necessary measures to assure normal democratic elections, freedom of the press and a stop to censorship. We request of you that you come out of political isolation and express your will. One of the first steps toward this must be the firing of comp romised members of your administration. You must meet with representatives of the mass media as well as members of political groups and societies. It is now time for you to hear the unprejudiced and uncensored opinions about the way things are in this country.

Today, much depends on you - how the country will enter the third millennium and whether you will be remembered by the people as the first democratic leader in the history of our country.

Yevgeny Primakov,

former prime minister

Yury Luzhkov, mayor of Moscow

Vladimir Yakovlev, governor

of St. Petersburg