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Wednesday, November 17, 1999 Published at 17:34 GMT

World: Europe

Analysis: Russia suspicious of OSCE motives

Russia has received bad press over Chechen refugees

By BBC Eurasia analyst Malcolm Haslett

The Istanbul summit of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe is one of the most important meetings of the year, perhaps the decade.

It is designed to establish a new agenda of cooperation and good will at the start of the new millennium.

But with the recent sharp exchanges over Chechnya, there are fears it may do the opposite.

[ image: Some OSCE achievements may not look so positive to Russian conservatives]
Some OSCE achievements may not look so positive to Russian conservatives
There are many things to celebrate in the past 10 years of progress towards a new world of understanding and cooperation, and many hope that there is now a chance to plot further progress in that direction.

The summit may well produce some heartening successes: a compromise between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh; a deal on a pipeline linking the Caspian to the Mediterranean; further steps towards peace in the Middle East.

Russian suspicions

But there is a dark shadow hanging over this summit, and it is not simply the recent sharp disagreements between the West and Russia over Chechnya.

It is the growing perception among Russians, rightly or wrongly, that the whole agenda is somehow weighted against them, and not addressing all the issues.

Even some of the anticipated successes of the Istanbul summit are not seen so positively in Moscow.

The expected signing, for example, of the deal to build a pipeline from the Azeri capital Baku to Turkey's Mediterranean coast at Ceyhan is viewed by some in Moscow as evidence of an anti-Russian agenda being encouraged by Washington.

Most western states would argue that Azerbaijan and Georgia, through which the pipeline will pass, have a right to break away from Russian domination if they so wish.

But to conservatives in Moscow, this all looks like a deliberate attempt by Nato to undermine Russia's influence.

To such minds, Western criticism of Russia's operation in Chechnya is merely further confirmation of this.

Islamic issues

There is another reason for Russian irritation too, and one which has received some sympathy from, for example, the Central Asian states.

They feel that the summit should be addressing itself more to the problem of Islamic extremism.

As many Russians see it, the rest of Europe should be thanking Russia, not attacking it, for its bold stand against Islamic "terrorism". Chechen "bandits", after all, have kidnapped - and brutally killed - westerners as well as Russians.

Western arguments that it wasn't all Chechens who did the kidnapping, and that one has to find a means to co-operate with more moderate Chechens against the renegades, have fallen on deaf ears.

Yeltsin's key role

According to reports in The Washington Post, US President Bill Clinton will try to persuade his Russian counterpart Boris Yeltsin to accept a mediator in Chechnya, possibly the OSCE itself.

But that is not something that Russian hard-liners will want to accept.

[ image: Can President Yeltsin rein in Russia's conservative forces?]
Can President Yeltsin rein in Russia's conservative forces?
There has even been speculation in the Russian press that Russia may refuse to sign the "Charter on European Security" designed to inspire to greater East-West co-operation in the new millennium.

Western diplomats report, however, that they are continuing to work hard with their Russian colleagues, despite differences over Chechnya, to put the final points to a new arms limitation treaty, due to be signed on Friday.

President Yeltsin has shown himself adept in the past at pulling his own hawks back from confrontation with the West, while working to win maximum concessions for Russia.

But the president's powers, physical and political, are not what they used to be.

Nonetheless, a lot depends on him at this summit.

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