- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 1999

Russia yesterday vowed to kill all Chechens who don’t flee Grozny by Saturday, prompting evacuations by panicked civilians and drawing a warning from President Clinton that “Russia will pay a heavy price” for its ultimatum.
“You are surrounded, all roads to Grozny are blocked. You have no chance of winning,” read leaflets dropped over the capital as Russian troops closed in. “Until December 11, there will be a safety corridor through the village of Pervomaiskoye.”
The leaflets added: “Those who remain will be viewed as terrorists and bandits. They will be destroyed by artillery and aviation. There will be no more talks. All those who do not leave the city will be destroyed.”
The move prompted Mr. Clinton to denounce Russia in his strongest terms ever, saying the stepped-up assault could transform the country into a pariah of the international community.
“Russia will pay a heavy price for those actions, with each passing day sinking more deeply into a morass that will intensify extremism and diminish its own standing in the world,” Mr. Clinton said in the Old Executive Office Building.
As the president spoke, scores of Chechens streamed out of Grozny in cars and on foot, describing the terrified people mainly the elderly and poor who remained behind.
A woman named Taisa, 37, said she had offered to help her neighbor, an elderly Russian woman, to flee.
“She said she would stay behind because she was too tired to flee,” Taisa said. ” If God wills it, we will live,’ she told me. I left her all the food and water we had.”
Mr. Clinton said, “There is a threat to the lives of the old, the infirm, the injured people, and other innocent civilians who simply cannot leave or are too scared to leave their homes.”
He added, “The whole world is … concerned about the plight of innocent people in Chechnya.”
The president’s remarks came two weeks after he met with Russian President Boris Yeltsin in Turkey during a summit of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Mr. Yeltsin maintains the military offensive is aimed at ridding Chechnya of Islamic terrorists who are blamed for a series of apartment bombings in Moscow.
“I raised the issue directly with President Yeltsin,” Mr. Clinton said yesterday during a human rights speech. “I made clear that Russia’s fight against terrorism is right, but the methods being used in Chechnya are wrong and I am convinced they’re counterproductive.
“The people of Chechnya are in a terrible position, beleaguered by paramilitary groups and terrorists on the one hand and the Russian offensive on the other,” he added.
Russia said its forces encircled Grozny over the weekend. Chechen rebel spokesman Movladi Udugov acknowledged all roads out of the city were blocked, but said fighters could still skirt Russian positions and were gathering to make a stand.
Iran Foreign Minister Khamal Kharrazi, meanwhile, visiting Moscow at the head of a delegation of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, called for a negotiated end to hostilities.
“We believe that it is vital to halt military activity and achieve a political solution to the Chechen problem as quickly as possible,” Itar-Tass news agency quoted Mr. Kharrazi as saying after talks with Russia’s top Muslim leaders.
An unknown number of civilians remain trapped in the Chechen capital. Russia’s migration service said it expected 20,000 to 30,000 people to flee Grozny in the next five days. Nikolai Koshman, Russia’s Chechnya boss, said he believes 40,000 civilians are still there.
Mr. Udugov, speaking by telephone from an undisclosed location in southern Chechnya, told Reuters there were 50,000 to 80,000 civilians left in the city, and “enough fighters to ensure the city’s defense.”
“All [fighters] who are there are prepared for whatever happens, and nobody plans to abandon the city,” he said. As for civilians, “it is practically impossible for them to leave, because [the Russians] have been shelling all the roads.”
Mr. Udugov also said Russians had used aerosol bombs on targets in the center of Grozny and an industrial region yesterday morning, killing dozens and wounding scores. The report, the first of its kind, could not be independently confirmed.
“We’ve seen rocket and artillery attacks on largely civilian areas, with heavy losses of life and at least 200,000 people pushed from their homes,” Mr. Clinton said. “I’m deeply disturbed by reports that suggest that innocent Chechens will continue to bear the brunt of this war, and not the militants Russia is fighting.”
Richard Haas, director of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, said the president’s ratcheting up of rhetoric against Russia does not signal any fundamental shift in U.S. policy.
“He’s essentially saying that what the Russians are doing is, one, morally wrong and, two, counterproductive and both points are right,” Mr. Haas said. “He’s not talking about threats or sanctions, so it sounds to me like a reaction more of sorrow than anger.”
He added that while Mr. Clinton is “critical in word,” the president is “still trying to preserve a relationship.”
Although yesterday’s developments appeared to further degrade the already strained relationship between Washington and Moscow, White House aides refused to say what Mr. Clinton might do if Russia makes good on its ultimatum.
“I’m not going to answer a hypothetical,” said White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart. “We’ve made it very clear that we don’t believe that a military solution is possible, that they need to move toward a political dialogue to resolve these issues. So we’re obviously deeply concerned about this ultimatum.”
c This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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