Secretary of State Warren Christopher warned Wednesday that Russia will lose its chance of winning a place at the annual summit meeting of the world's leading industrial nations unless it ends its bloody war in its breakaway republic of Chechnya.
"The evolvement of their participation in the G-7 will be affected by world opinion and the judgment that the world as a whole makes about their conduct," he told a news conference before a private three-hour dinner with Russian Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev. They plan to continue meetings today.
Russia's military effort to suppress Chechen separatists is "tragically wrong . . . really quite foolhardy," Christopher said. "The Russians are paying a very high price internationally. They are certainly paying a very high price in terms of American public opinion."
A senior State Department official said Kozyrev told Christopher over dinner that Russia wanted an "expanded role" in the G-7, one of the world's most exclusive clubs.
The official said Christopher replied brusquely that such a step was impossible under current circumstances, though Russia can participate in the June summit scheduled in Halifax, Canada, on the same limited basis as in recent years.
"Russia began a relationship with G-7 because it was a democratic, reformist state," one official said. "To the extent that the premise is not there, it will affect the progress of the relationship."
The G-7 members are the United States, Japan, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Canada. Russia has been invited to recent summits but has not yet been asked to join.
Christopher also made it clear that he believes there should be a limit to the price Moscow must pay for its current policy.
He said efforts by the Republican-controlled Congress to cut off U.S. economic aid to Russia because of the conflict in Chechnya or Moscow's announced intention to sell nuclear technology to Iran "would hurt us as much or more than it would hurt the Russians."
Washington's relationship with Russia "should not be held hostage to any single issue," he said, adding that U.S. aid is earmarked for dismantling nuclear arms and for supporting democracy and free-market economics, all objectives that serve U.S. interests.
Christopher was asked if he felt embarrassed by the latest Russian military offensive in Chechnya, which began the day after President Clinton accepted Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin's invitation to a May summit in Moscow and on the eve of Christopher's meeting with Kozyrev.
"The embarrassment of the timing is not nearly as important to me as the substance of the positions," Christopher said, indicating that Washington would object to the offensive, regardless of when it began.
In Russia, the government reported that it had succeeded in encircling and cutting off Chechen rebels in the town of Argun. Russian Defense Minister Pavel S. Grachev issued an ultimatum to the Chechen fighters to surrender or face annihilation.
For his part, Kozyrev said the West should ignore the situation in Chechnya.
"What's important is that nobody makes any artificial linkages or tries to exercise any political pressure on each other," he said. "But I don't see any issue which can't be discussed or examined between the two of us because, after all, that's what partnership is."
Times staff writer Carol J. Williams in Moscow contributed to this report.