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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

DEFENSE DOSSIER: Summit 'Success' a Sham




Last week's summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Istanbul, Turkey, has been heralded in the Russian media as an outstanding success.


The mantra continuously repeated by Russian television is that President Boris Yeltsin challenged Western leaders in Istanbul and forced them into a humiliating retreat. It has also been reported in the Russian media that many Western leaders - first of all U.S. President Bill Clinton - even expressed support for the present Russian war in Chechnya after Yeltsin humbled them.


Of course, such wildly exaggerated reports of the OSCE proceedings differ strongly from what the Western media reported from Istanbul. But such discrepancies are hardly surprising. In recent months most Russian media, especially the leading television channels, have become pro-war, pro-government propaganda outlets. It was often said that a genuinely free press is the main achievement of reforms in Russian. Today this "free press" has been revealed to be a sham - together with most other liberal reform successes under Yeltsin.


But while the media fanfare alleges Russian victories in Istanbul, professional Russian diplomats and high-level military experts who worked through the documents signed at the OSCE summit are much more guarded in their assessments. These diplomats say that the end result was "the best possible in the current conditions."


Moscow expected to be challenged about the war in Chechnya. In return, Russian diplomats prepared a resolution on the situation in Yugoslavia that mentioned "NATO aggression against a sovereign country."


Of course, Moscow knew that such language would not be accepted by the West. But Russian diplomats say that they effectively managed to trade the Kosovo issue for Chechnya and produce in the end vague documents that any side can interpret as it wishes.


The West apparently still believes that it has won a major concession from Russia in Istanbul giving the OSCE not only a humanitarian, but also a political role in Chechnya.


The final declaration says: "We welcome the agreement of the Russian Federation to a visit by the [OSCE] chairman in office to the region." The OSCE chairman, Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek, said he expected to visit Chechnya "before Christmas" and would talk to Chechen representatives while there. But, after the summit, Russians are reminding the diplomats in the West to read the fine print. "The declaration does not say Vollebaek will visit Chechnya," the diplomats say. "It says the OSCE chairman in office will." On Jan. 1, 2000, Austria takes over the chairmanship of the OSCE from Norway, and Russian diplomats predict that "Vollebaek will hardly manage to organize a visit before his term expires."


Privately, Russian officials say that before the present "anti-terrorist operation" in Chechnya is successfully finished, no OSCE mission will be welcome in Chechnya. High-ranking officials insist: "The OSCE has a humanitarian, but not a political, role to play in Chechnya."


Diplomatic sources say that Vollebaek has contacted the Russian Foreign Ministry and asked for a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov, early next week in Moscow to figure out the protocol of a visit to Chechnya. But the Russian Foreign Ministry replied that Ivanov has a very tight schedule and can meet Vollebaek on Dec. 2 at the earliest. Russian diplomats say that the Norwegians are still debating whether to come. The true message from Moscow is: "Do not come at all." Russia does not want any foreigners intervening while it bombs Chechnya to pulp.


And Moscow is ready to do more than play the traditional bureaucratic game of not saying yes or no to Vollebaek. They may even be considering concessions on anti-ballistic missile defense to ensure the U.S. administration is soft on Chechnya.


Russian generals are not truly against the United States developing a national missile defense, or NMD. In fact, NMD could help the Russian military lobby for the development of new "anti-NMD" arms systems of their own.


Today, Russian officials are mostly stonewalling on renegotiating the ABM treaty to expose the United States as an aggressive power that breaks arms-control agreements. But if the Russians get tacit support for the Chechen war from the United States in exchange for major concessions on the ABM issue, this trade-off may be in itself a major propaganda coup and worth the bargain.


Pavel Felgenhauer is an independent, Moscow-based defense analyst.