Kovalev: I believe there is no clearly formulated strategic standpoint on this. The role of Russia in politics of the CIS provinces is being dictated by the current situation in those countries, their current state of affairs. That doesn't mean, however, that there are not constant factors influencing Russia's position.
There is a growing understanding in present-day Russia that the upcoming presidential elections will not only ratify a change of the guard an act of routine political succession from the old leader to the new one but also mark a clear watershed dividing the different historical epochs. In their search for an ideological framework for the future, many in Russia are looking to the past.
Also on March 13, the Russian plenipotentiary human rights representative, Oleg Mironov, acknowledged that Russia's membership was in danger. Although Mironov said the Council of Europe should provide assistance, as well as criticism, he admitted Russia had made policy mistakes, such as prohibiting UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson from visiting Chechnya.
Moscow's military campaign in Chechnya is a source of friction in Russia's relations with Western European nations The European Union has been critical of the conduct of Russia's assault. On March 20, for example, EU foreign ministers issued a statement that faulted Russia for not establishing an adequate humanitarian aid infrastructure in Chechnya.
Tensions in Dagestan have receded somewhat since last week, when overwhelming Russian force compelled a group of rebels led by Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev to withdraw from villages they had occupied in southwestern Dagestan. The new government of Vladimir Putin has portrayed the episode as a decisive victory for Moscow over Islamic separatism, and this is true to a certain extent.