AFTER A TWO-AND-A-HALF YEAR HIATUS, OSCE ASSISTANCE GROUP RETURNS TO CHECHNYA.
Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 2 Issue: 24
On the afternoon of June 15, the Romanian foreign minister, Mircea Geoana, who also serves as the chairman-in-office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for the present calendar year, arrived in the Chechen village of Znamenskoe in Nadterechny District to reopen the official representation of the OSCE in the war-torn republic. During the opening ceremony, the ribbon was cut by President Putin’s official human rights representative in Chechnya, Vladimir Kalamanov, whose bureau is also based in Znamenskoe. While in the village, Geoana visited one of the camps for Chechen forced migrants and acquainted himself with the conditions there.
The OSCE Assistance Group to Chechnya, whose mandate dates back to 1995, had, it should be noted, been forced to quit the republic in December of 1998 due to pressing security concerns. Since the outbreak of the second Russo-Chechen war in the summer of 1999, however, the OSCE had been pressing the Russian authorities to permit the Group’s return to Chechnya. As the online daily Gazeta.ru recalled: “Moscow had been particularly infuriated by the attempts of the  chairman of the OSCE, Knut Wollebek, to become an intermediary in negotiations with Aslan Maskhadov. In May [of 2000] the Austrian Ferrero-Waldner, who had replaced the Swede Wollebek, made a trip to Znamenskoe to examine the office and had even said that the group would take up residence there in a few days. But only nine months later did the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Igor Ivanov, give his approval for the move” (Gazeta.ru, June 15).
The events of June 15 were preceded by an inspection trip within Chechnya conducted by Putin’s human rights representative, Kalamanov, and by Gerard Stoudmann, director of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. On June 13-14, the two officials were scheduled to visit almost all of the districts of Chechnya, including the capital. On their itinerary were meetings with: Akhmad Kadyrov, head of the pro-Moscow administration in the republic; Stanislav Il’yasov, prime minister of the republic; the chairman of the Supreme Court of Chechnya, Ziyavdi Zaurbekov; the chief procurator of the republic, Viktor Dakhnov; representatives of the twelve departments of Kalamanov’s bureau based in Znamenskoe; the heads of district administrations in Chechnya; and representatives of Chechen law enforcement bodies (Itar-Tass, Russian agencies, June 13; RIA Novosti, Russian agencies, June 14).
One noteworthy disagreement emerged between Gerard Stoudmann and his Russian hosts on June 14. Stoudmann, according to the Interfax News Agency, “declared that the mass return of forced migrants to Chechnya can begin only after the creation of real conditions of security to protect their lives.” This, Stoudmann said, is “borne out by many years of practice in many conflicts of the world.” Stanislav Il’yasov, the pro-Moscow premier of the republic, took vehement exception to Stoudmann’s conclusions. “According to [Il’yasov’s] figures, the population of Chechnya has today reached 700,000, which bears witness to the fact that, in Il’yasov’s opinion, the security of the people is ensured.” Conditions have already been created, Il’yasov continued, for the return to Chechnya of 70,000 persons, who will be housed in the private sector. In addition, five centers of temporary housing have been created in cities, and they will be opened in the coming days.” The pro-Moscow authorities also asked Stoudmann to provide assistance in transferring humanitarian organizations from Ingushetia to Chechnya. Conditions to ensure the safety of persons working for those organizations and of their cargo have already been created, Il’yasov pledged (Russian agencies, June 14).
To return to the June 15 opening ceremony in Znamenskoe, a village located thirty-six miles northwest of Djohar (Grozny), it should be noted that the size of the OSCE representation is at present rather tiny. OSCE sources informed Reuters that the representation, which is to be headed up by Romanian ambassador Aleksandru Cornea, will consist of six persons (Reuters, June 13). Other reports, however, mentioned as few as two or three persons. Several Russian and Western press accounts emphasized the remarkably atypical nature of the situation in Znamenskoe. “Here,” Gazeta.ru wrote, “there are thick concentrations of the special services and [Russian] military. They will watch to make sure that the activity of the Western mission does not go beyond the boundaries of what is permitted.” Znamenskoe is also the site of a three-person representation of the Council of Europe, one that works closely with Vladimir Kalamanov’s bureau. In addition, several OSCE workers are already present in Znamenskoe aiding refugees who live in a tent camp there. In short, Znamenskoe represents a kind of peaceful and isolated island in the midst of a turbulent Chechen sea.
The elaborate arrangements made for the protection of the OSCE assistance group have attracted media attention. The Russian authorities had originally wanted the group to be protected by forces of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, but that proposal had been declined. A compromise had then been reached under which the delegation will be guarded by twenty-five Russian spetznaz soldiers attached to the Ministry of Justice. The OSCE has agreed to pay approximately 13 million rubles (US$450,000) a year to support this force. Among the equipment to be purchased for these spetznaz are armored vehicles (890,000 rubles) and special communications equipment (1.78 million rubles). The spetznaz will be permitted to keep this equipment once their mission ends (Reuters, June 14; RIA Novosti, June 15).
Several Western diplomats, who asked not to be named, told Reuters that they were skeptical of the entire OSCE Znamenskoe mission. “Will two or three guys holed up in a bunker under Russian guard make the Chechens sleep more easily in their beds?” one of them asked. “I doubt it” (Reuters, June 14).
In an article entitled “Maskhadov’s Last Chance,” appearing in the June 15 issue of Izvestia, journalist Aleksandr Chuikov took note of the fact that Znamenskoe represented an almost ideal location for the Russian leadership to conduct negotiations with Aslan Maskhadov, since it is the current place of residence of the Chechen president’s wife, Kusama. “The fact that Kalamanov and [Kusama] Maskhadova are neighbors is not accidental,” Chuikov wrote.
Remarking that Russian news agencies had, just the day before, reported that former Chechen acting president Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, a radical, had met in Afghanistan with the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, and that the two had agreed that Maskhadov should be deposed in favor of Shamil Basaev, Chuikov commented that this report seemed to be an attempt by “the [Russian] special services to rehabilitate a possible participant in the negotiation process. Despite all the official declarations by the authorities, the Kremlin has never lost contact with Maskhadov, considering him the most sane man in the separatist camp.”
And Chuikov continued: “The beginning of a negotiation process with the legitimate–in the Chechen view–President Maskhadov would not be a bad way out for the federal center. It would permit it to keep face when de facto all the measures aimed at curbing the partisan war have brought no results.” The village of Znamenskoe, Chuikov concluded, might thus feasibly serve as the site of another Khasavyurt Accord and of an end to the war. Reflecting the views of the leadership of the Russian military, Chuikov thought that this would represent a terrible result, one that might eventually precipitate “a third Chechen war.”
To conclude, a miniscule OSCE Assistance Group has, after several years of grueling negotiations, been established in a peaceful and isolated northern village near the Terek River. Will this group be able to accomplish anything of significance? Most likely it will not, unless Chuikov’s suggestive speculations should happen to be based on something other than rumor.