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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Talbott: Russia Treats Chechen Population as Enemy

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott said Russia had fallen into a bad old Soviet habit of treating a whole people as an enemy by killing so many civilians in its fight against rebel separatists in Chechnya.

Talbott defended the U.S. policy of continuing to engage with Russia despite the scale of violence in Chechnya, but said the ruined Chechen capital was a "grotesque monument to overkill."

He told a public hearing the United States did not regard the actions of the Russians as war crimes but that he hoped Moscow would see a transcript of the discussion - including comments by two Senators declaring that they did.

Despite the destruction of 400,000 homes and expulsion of 200,000 people, the United States has not proposed a resolution of censure against Russia at the UN Human Rights Commission's six-week annual meeting ending in Geneva on April 28.

"We want to see an outcome that has the maximum impact," Talbott told Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, at the Subcommittee on Foreign Operations.

Russia's second campaign in Chechnya in eight years had brought out one of the worst habits of the Russian and Soviet past - "the tendency to treat an entire category of people, indeed, of its own citizens, as an enemy," Talbott said.

The senators were flanked by satellite photos of Grozny before the Russian bombing campaign began and afterward, in which it looked virtually flattened.

The U.S.-based group Physicians for Human Rights presented the hearing with findings from a survey of Chechen refugees showing 60 percent of 1,140 interviewees had seen Russian forces commit abuses against non-family members. More than 16 percent reported abuses against their own household.

More than 40 percent of a sample selected at random from a UN High Commission for Refugees registry of 180,000 refugees witnessed a killing. Six percent saw a household member killed, said Doug Ford, appearing for the group.

"Our survey shows a higher level of abuse than the survey we did in camps in Macedonia," Ford said, referring to abuses reported by ethnic Albanian refugees expelled from Kosovo by forces of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic last year.

The U.S. administration has come under pressure to take harsher action against Moscow and has been accused of double standards because it backed NATO's bombing campaign in Kosovo.