BRUSSELS, Belgium -- A hesitant but increasingly worried Western Europe took its first substantive action against Russia yesterday to register disapproval of Moscow's efforts to crush resistance in breakaway Chechnya.
Speaking to a committee of the European Parliament here, European Union Foreign Affairs Commissioner Hans van den Broek announced that the EU would delay implementing an important partnership agreement with Moscow that would open the prospect of an eventual Russia-EU free trade agreement, improve the investment climate in Russia for EU-based private companies and establish regular political dialogue between Moscow and Brussels.
Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin traveled to the Greek island of Corfu last June to sign the accord at an EU summit.
Union officials at the time said they planned to implement the provisions as soon as possible.
Yesterday, however, Mr. van den Broek said the agreement would be shelved pending consultations with each of the EU's 15 member states.
"It's a signal that cannot be misunderstood," Mr. van den Broek declared.
"We don't dispute that Chechnya is part of the Russian Federation, but we do have serious concern -- verging on indignation -- at the way a political problem is being addressed by military means."
Although a comparatively minor step, the move marks an escalation in the so-far cautious reaction of Europe's democracies to the Chechen crisis.
After an initial period of inaction motivated mainly by worries that any sharp condemnation of Mr. Yeltsin might make matters worse, Europeans have begun some gentle diplomatic prodding.
As Mr. van den Broek made his statement here, the Moscow-based ambassadors of France, Germany and Spain, acting on behalf of all 15 EU states, lodged their second urgent request in less than a week for an explanation of Russian activities in Chechnya.
As diplomatic actively increased, the rhetoric level also intensified yesterday.
German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who professes a strong personal friendship with Mr. Yeltsin, issued a statement demanding "the Russian leadership and the Russian Parliament" agree on a solution with the Chechen resistance.
Added French European Affairs Minister Alain Lamassoure:
"Russia must know that the bombing of civilians with aircraft and hundreds of tanks is not a concept included in the European democratic model."