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Le Monde deplores US, EU ' Obsequious Indulgence' Toward Russia
Le Monde
3 June 2003
Editorial: "'Friend' Putin"

There have probably been few occasions on which cynicism has prevailed so brusquely and on which lack of scruple has been so openly displayed: the way in which the United States and the EU have just treated Vladimir Putin's Russia will go down as a model of realpolitik. The Russian president can congratulate himself on the grand celebration that he organized Saturday 31 May and Sunday 1 June on the banks of the Neva to mark the third centenary of St Petersburg. Prominent guests including President George W. Bush and the EU heads of state and government acknowledged him as a peer who must be welcomed unreservedly at Monday's G8 meeting in Evian.

Mr Bush, who mentioned, with a tremor in his voice, the monstrous human rights violations perpetrated by Saddam Husayn, greeted Mr Putin as a "good friend"; the Russian chief of state has been forgiven for having dared to oppose Washington over the Iraq question. Mr Bush is forgetting that his "friend's" armed forces have for years, in Chechnya, been committing what all human rights defense organizations -- including Russia's -- describe as "war crimes" on a large scale. Mr Bush is forgetting that the same armed forces inflict on the Chechen people treatment of the same kind that Saddam Husayn's regime applied to the Iraqi Kurds. But the White House's outrage is probably of the variable geometry kind -- sharp when it serves the interests of US policy; nonexistent when it does not.

In a Russian-European joint communique, reaffirming a "strategic partnership" between the two sides, the EU approves of the sham political process that Moscow has supposedly launched in Chechnya. This is the referendum held in March in the small Caucasian republic, which the Russian press refused to take seriously, so reminiscent was it of the Soviet era... When Jacques Chirac opened the Polar Academy in St Petersburg, he said that this institution "places Russia in the front rank of the democracies, by virtue of its respect for first peoples, the dialogue between cultures, and simply respect for others." He went on: "This is a very strong message addressed to the world's democracies, which have not heeded it." The Chechens, somewhat deaf, have "not heeded it" either, and must regret the fact that they do not feature among the "first peoples."

The line of argument cited by the United States and Europe is as follows: we are well aware of the atrocities that the Chechens suffer, but our relations with such an important country as Russia cannot be governed by the situation in Chechnya. We may accept part of this argument but nevertheless fail to understand so much obsequious indulgence toward Moscow, such a denial of actual conditions, such a refusal to bring all possible pressure to bear on Mr Putin. All this, for too long, and with no result: the war in Chechnya continues, and with it, the suffering.

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