On June 1, Andreas Gross, PACE (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe) deputy chairman and Special Rappateur on Chechnya, launched an unexpectedly strong critique of Russian policy towards the Chechen republic in an interview with Tages Anzeiger newspaper. Gross insisted that only real autonomy for Chechnya within the Russian Federation would help to restore peace in the region. However, he added, “…autonomy is only possible in a legal and democratic state, where power is not personalized…Being a nuclear power and a member of the Security Council of the United Nations, Russia is still a strong state on the international stage, but inside the country even the most primitive democratic institutes are not functioning.”
Gross’s comments indicated his appreciation of the link between a peace process in Chechnya and democratic reforms in Russia as a whole. He also tried to make the Russian authorities understand that the world community will not regard Russia as a real superpower unless it solves the Chechen issue. In a jab at the Kremlin’s militaristic pride, Gross said he felt “Russia’s position in Chechnya is much weaker then it was five or three years ago.” Gross went on to call Ramzan Kadyrov, first deputy prime minister of the pro-Moscow administration in Chechnya, “the head of a terrorist gang,” stating the Kremlin just did not have enough force to dispose of Kadyrov’s personal army. Talking about the current situation in the republic, Gross described it as a state of fear, where everybody was afraid of each other. He divided the Chechen population into three groups: 5% support Chechen warlord Shamil Basaev, with whom negotiations seem to be impossible; 10-20% support the group of Akhmed Zakaev, a rebel envoy in Europe; and 70% just wanted violence to be over.
Gross proposed Zakaev to the Kremlin as a negotiation partner, saying that he agreed with the demands made by the Council of Europe, i.e., the rejection of terror methods and Chechen autonomy within the Federation, which could grow to full independence in future. Most probably, Gross sees Zakaev as a participant in a second roundtable on Chechnya planned by PACE for October, before the Russian-backed parliamentary elections in the republic set for November.
It is a well-known fact that the Kremlin does not want to see Zakaev as a partner in a political dialogue; however, there has been no official reaction from Moscow to the interview. Instead, Kremlin loyalists, Ramzan Kadyrov and Taus Dzabrailov (head of the pro-Russian State Council of Chechnya) have been pushed forward to react to Gross’s proposals.
“I believe that this is yet another move or attempt to open an information war against the stabilizing factor, against stability in Chechnya, against the peaceful and creative processes that are leading to peace and accord in the Chechen Republic, made by representatives of the parliamentary assembly and led by Andreas Gross’s political commission,” Dzabrailov said to the Russian NTV channel on June 6.
Ramzan Kadyrov commented earlier that, “Federal forces and units of the Ministry of Interior Affairs of the Chechen republic have broken the back of the international terrorism in Chechnya…and Gross does not like it for some reason.” (Newsru.com, June 4).
It is no secret that pro-Russian leaders in Chechnya make all their statements on the Kremlin’s order. In fact, journalist Anna Politkovskaya has reported witnessing Vladislav Surkov, a deputy of the head of the Russian president administration, instructing Ramzan Kadyrov by phone. (Novaya Gazeta, June 21, 2004) This time, Dzabrailov and Kadyrov were used to demonstrate again that the Russian authorities recognize only one political force in Chechnya: the one they created. Commenting on the Gross interview, state-owned Radio Russia said, “Shamil Basaev and Akhmed Zakaev are separatists wanted for terrorist activity, but according to the roundtable criteria, all participants should have a clear position towards the territorial integrity of Russia and the international terrorism.” (Chechnyafree.ru, June 7)
Equally negative was the reaction of Chechen envoy Akhmed Zakaev. Commenting on the interview, Zakaev said “the state sovereignty of the Chechen republic of Ichkeria can not be an issue of political bargaining. The Chechen nation has made its choice once and forever and will defend it until the end. The Chechen leadership can recognize the legitimate economic and geo-strategic interests of Russia, but any form of political integration of ChRI to the Russian Federation is out of the question.” (Chechenpress, June 4) Clearly, the two sides of the conflict are some distance apart.
The Kremlin is keen to continue its policy of a fraudulent “peace process” in Chechnya, accepting no compromises with so-called “terrorists” like Zakaev. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently addressed the issue in a speech to the Federal Council saying, “[I]f [Russia] demonstrate[s] weaknesses and spinelessness only once, we shall have much more losses, and these losses could lead to national disaster.” (yufo.ru, May 19) Such a statement means that the Chechen resistance can expect only violence from the Russian side – whether they agree to be part of the Russian Federation or not. It is little wonder, therefore, that they have been unwilling to budge from their position of total independence. As Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev, Aslan Maskhadov’s successor and the new separatist leader, put it: “[Vladimir Putin] will wage war until we break his back. But we have not weakened, we have not grown tired, we have not lost our strength, for as long as the enemy is on our land, our resources of resistance will not grow exhausted, but merely grow.” (Chechenpress, June 3)
Such uncompromising statements from both sides seem to leave Andreas Gross without much hope of resolving the conflict through negotiations any time soon – that is assuming his offer to broker a peace was genuine to begin with.