Russia

Chechnya: Britain's strategic relationship with Russia

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EDITED TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW GIVEN BY THE FOREIGN SECRETARY, ROBIN COOK, FOR BBC TV, MOSCOW, TUESDAY 22 FEBRUARY 2000

INTERVIEWER:
Foreign Secretary, the question everyone wants to know is how tough do you think you can be with Mr Putin about Chechnya?

FOREIGN SECRETARY:
We will be frank about Chechnya, as we have been right from the start. We believe the excessive military violence has caused unacceptable humanitarian suffering and also is not producing the result that is needed, which is a situation in Chechnya which is stable and secure. But we do need to have a strategic relationship with Russia, we need to have the ability to have a dialogue that is frank and open when we disagree and we need to have a partnership to work together in areas of common concern such as the Balkans and the Middle East. European security means that we must have that working relationship with Russia.

INTERVIEWER:
Will you have specific demands on Chechnya?

FOREIGN SECRETARY:
What we are putting to the Russian government is that they do need to find a political process which enables them to have dialogue with the Chechens and to find a political solution. This is not going to be an issue that can be won only by a military solution. But we also want to see Russia involved in the international organisations and part of my key message here is that we want Russia playing its full part in the international community and in the case of Chechnya that means the international community playing a full part in trying to find a solution.

INTERVIEWER:
That sort of criticism hasn't made much difference so far though, has it? Russia has gone ahead, it has bombarded Grozny, pretty well flattened it to the ground.

FOREIGN SECRETARY:
I very much regret that Russia has persisted in this course of action in Chechnya, but when we have made strong united criticism, for instance the threat to exterminate the residents of Grozny, Russia has backed off. It is sensitive to the fact that outside Russia there is much criticism of what they are doing and I hope that we will be able to take forward that dialogue and find a solution.

INTERVIEWER:
With what do you think you can make Russia back off now?

FOREIGN SECRETARY:
I think it is important that they do take forward that political process. They are not going to succeed in defeating terrorism by attacking the whole of the population. The only way they can hope to succeed is by making sure that they offer the civilian population something better.

INTERVIEWER:
What do you think are the main unanswered questions about Vladimir Putin that could be troubling?

FOREIGN SECRETARY:
Well I don't know that I would wish to anticipate what may be troubling in the case of Mr Putin. I will be the first member of the British government meeting Mr Putin, it is the first face to face contact, I will be bringing with me an invitation to come to Britain to meet Mr Blair, and also to share thinking among his people and our people about economic reform in Russia, we want to work as a partner together with Mr Putin.