Helms Calls on World Leaders to Remember Chechnya

WASHINGTON (July 18) - Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), Ranking Republican on the
Senateís Foreign Relations Committee, said today at a committee hearing that G-8
leaders meeting in Genoa, Italy, this week should not "forget Mr. Putinís
unjustified war against the Chechen people." His full statement follows:
 
Mr. Chairman, I genuinely appreciate your accommodating our request to
schedule this hearing this morning. Obviously, I, too, welcome the members of
our panel to this morningís session of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I
am grateful for the enormous amount of research and writing each of you has
contributed to the field of Russian studies and U.S.­Russian affairs.
 
I am certainly aware that some of you have traveled to Washington from all
parts of the country to share with us this morning your views regarding
relations between the Kremlin and the Federationís non-Russian regions.
 
How the Kremlin addresses the cultures, potentials, grievances and
aspirations of its non-Russian peoples is not merely a measurement of the state
of democracy in Russia or lack thereof; what the Kremlin does also affects the
evolution and long-term prospects of democratic reform in that country.
 
Repression and political and cultural heavy-handedness can unavoidably leave
the non-Russian populations of the Russian Federation disenfranchised and
resentful ­ and that is an obvious recipe for unrest and instability both within
and beyond the Federationís borders.
 
Nowhere has this been more evident than in Chechnya, where President Putin
continues to execute a savage, indiscriminate war against the Chechen people.
This blood thirsty campaign includes a systematic, and obvious, effort to strip
Chechnya of its cultural heritage. Russian forces have obliterated Chechen
religious and historic sites in an effort to transform Chechnya into a physical
and cultural wasteland.
 
Since 1999, Russian forces have caused the deaths of more than 30,000
non-combatants, the dislocation of 600,000 civilians, and the illegal
incarceration of 20,000 Chechens of which the Russian forces boast. The
countless reports of rape, torture and summary executions committed by Russian
forces complete this ugly scenario.
 
All this bloody carnage has been imposed upon a population of just one
million people. Today, the vicious Putin war in Chechnya continues unabated,
with no inclination to even try to bring this tragic war to a negotiated and
peaceful end.
 
For a comparative measure of what Mr. Putin has done in Chechnya, one only
has to look to Kosovo were Slobodan Milosevicís ethnic cleansing has caused at
least 10,000 deaths and the illegal detention and torture of thousands of
Albanians.
 
So Mr. Chairman, this hearing is well timed. Three days from now, on Friday,
the G-7 will meet in Genoa, Italy. The G-7 leaders are certain to celebrate the
recent incarceration of Mr. Milosevic.
 
When they do, I prayerfully hope that when they sit across the table from
the Russian President in the so-called G-8 summit, they will not forget that Mr.
Putinís unjustified war against the Chechen people has been far more savage and
devastating than the destruction Milosevic has wreaked upon Kosovo.
 
As todayís witnesses are no doubt aware, the Union of Councils for Soviet
Jews has issued a report documenting official discrimination and mistreatment of
Chechens throughout the Russian Federation. The report makes a simple, but
profound point: If a government mistreats one ethnic or religious group, that
same government is likely to subject other groups to similar persecution in the
future.
 
In light of what is happening in Chechnya today, that is spinechilling. We
have genuine humanitarian and strategic interest in this conflict. The West,
including the United States, should apply all the political and economic
leverage that can be mustered to encourage, and if necessary leverage, President
Putin to peacefully and immediately end the war in Chechnya.
 
This war is not only perpetuating and exacerbating a humanitarian crisis, it
is sowing the seeds of hatred that will poison relations between the Kremlin and
the Federationís non-Russian peoples for generations to come. Each day this war
proceeds, it further harms the prospects for democracy and rule of law in
Russia.
 
For all these reasons, I look forward to the testimonies of our witnesses. I
know they will share with us their insights into what President Putinís
treatment of Chechnya portends for Russiaís struggle to evolve into a stable
democracy.

Contact: Lester Munson
Phone: 202-224-6797
Date: July 18, 2001