Yeltsin draws bitter wrath of Chechens

April 22, 1996
Web posted at: 12:15 a.m. EDT (0415 GMT)

From Correspondent Eileen O'Connor

GROZNY, Russia (CNN) -- Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who met with U.S. President Bill Clinton Sunday, has asked for help in bringing a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Chechnya, according to White House sources.

Yeltsin reportedly wants Clinton to ask other world leaders to help negotiate a peace agreement with Chechen leaders.

It may take an outsider to negotiate such a peace. Many in the separatist republic hold Yeltsin personally responsible for their pain.

Among them is Valentina Vasilyeva, a doctor at the hospital in Budyonnovsk. On June 14, 1995, Chechen rebels took her and nearly 2,000 others hostage.

Russian troops stormed the building. Almost 150 people died in the raid, including Vasilyeva's husband. The rebels went free. The troops were blamed for killing more hostages and bystanders than rebels.

"The storming was useless," Vasilyeva said. "In the long run, the Russian government had to resort to negotiations. Certainly, I'm insulted. My son is left without a father."


"Certainly, I'm insulted. My son is left without a father."

-- Valentina Vasilyeva

Not just in Budyonnovsk but all over Russia, Yeltsin is condemned for starting a war that he cannot seem to finish. The trouble with Chechnya is, it will not go away.

Many wonder why the West remains so silent. Villagers in Samashki tell stories of the shooting of innocent women and children hiding in basements at Sernovodsk. Relief workers and journalists were denied access for days, access aid organizations say would have saved innocent lives.

Yet Western governments barely react.


Sergei Kovalyov thinks he knows why the West has done so little. The former head of Yeltsin's human rights commission, he resigned over Chechnya. He calls the West's inaction, the politics of pragmatism.

"For me and for many in Russia, the West's position, which allows the present administration and our president to do as they want is very distressing and alarming, to put it mildly," he said.

The use of force in Chechnya has cost over 30,000 lives. While the West legitimately fears such separatist movement could endanger all post-1945 borders, such brutality often used against a civilian population is usually more roundly condemned.

Russian democrats say the silence is due to a blind support of Yeltsin in the face of Communist opposition, a support they say will cost Russia its democracy.


"This fear of communism leads the West to God knows where," says presidential candidate Grigory Yavlinsky. "The Western partners of Mr. Yeltsin are trying not to touch his main trouble, but I don't think that that makes for Yeltsin a good perspective in Russia." (160K AIFF sound or 160K WAV sound)

The thousands of refugees displaced by this war question the West's choices more fiercely.

"Why does the West give millions of dollars in aid to Russia when they just buy more bombs, more bullets to destroy us?" asked one woman.

Despite the peace plan, the fighting goes on in Chechnya, and some say, the ultimate victim could well be Russian democracy.

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