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Christopher Says Chechnya Situation Got Beyond Yeltsin’s Control

January 5, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Russian President Boris Yeltsin is likely to ride out the bloody crisis in Chechnya, but he has lost effective control of efforts to suppress the insurrection, Clinton administration officials say.

Yeltsin was described Thursday as relying too heavily on the chief of presidential security, Aleksandr A. Korzhakov, a former KGB major who has been his bodyguard. In an effort to assert his authority in a situation gone awry, Yeltsin is likely to dismiss several military officials, the officials said.

Defense Minister Pavel S. Grachev could get the axe as well, but that is considered improbable because Grachev has supported Yeltsin in his economic and political reform programs, said a senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

U.S. intelligence analysts, assessing Yeltsin’s actions in Chechnya, have concluded he depended too much on hard-liners. The analysts are also surprised that he ordered a crackdown after granting considerable autonomy earlier to the independence-minded Tatar Muslims.

A senior defense official said, however, the situation in Chechnya would not lessen U.S.-Russian military cooperation.

Rather, the conflict shows there should be more contacts to impress on Russia the U.S. approach to dissent, the official said.

Secretary of State Warren Christopher, lamenting the mounting civilian toll, reaffirmed U.S. opposition to the Chechens’ resort to force to try to break off from Russia. But he said the Clinton administration was equally concerned about the heavy loss of life.

He said he had advised Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev in a telephone call Wednesday evening to seek a negotiated solution to the rebellion. ``He quite candidly described it as an awful situation, a tragic situation,″ Christopher said, and promised ``they are trying to find ways to minimize casualties.″

Yeltsin’s use of air power and tanks to try to suppress the secession has provoked criticism in Europe and at home that he has been too heavy-handed.

Christopher, in an interview with the Voice of America, agreed, but suggested it was not Yeltsin’s intention at the outset.

``I am sure it has not gone the way President Yeltsin hoped it would go,″ Christopher said. ``It has turned out to be a very difficult situation that he is trying to work his way through. That has to be recognized as a problem that has been created for him.″

At the same time, Christopher bolstered Yeltsin’s stock. He called him a strong exponent of political and economic reform and said the Russian president had U.S. support in protecting the territorial integrity of Russia.

``We would be opposed to any attempt to changes its borders through armed insurrection,″ Christopher said.

Defense Secretary William Perry, speaking at the National Press Club, voiced support for ``the territorial integrity″ of Russia.

And yet, Perry said, ``We are becoming increasingly concerned by Russia’s tactics, which have caused many civilian casualties. We have made those views known to the Russians and will continue to make our views known.″

Throughout the crisis, Christopher and other U.S. officials have described the rebellion as an internal problem best left to Yeltsin to resolve. Christopher did not back away from that position in Thursday’s interview, but he put equal emphasis on human rights.

Christopher met on Wednesday night with Elena Bonner, the Russian human rights activist who has criticized Yeltsin’s tactics in Chechnya.

On Thursday, she called on President Clinton to ask Yeltsin to halt the military assault on Chechnya, which is continuing despite a suspension of bombing attacks on Grozny, the rebel capital.

The widow of Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov said Russian troops were engaged in ``a war for the destruction of a whole people.″

Christopher will meet Jan. 17-18 in Geneva with Kozyrev ``on a broad range of issues,″ State Department spokeswoman Christine Shelly said.

The focus originally was supposed to be European security including differences with Moscow over plans for NATO expansion eastward. However, the situation in Chechnya now is certain to be high on their agenda.

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