Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 2 Issue: 20

In light of the prospect of the Assistance Group’s imminent return to Chechnya, considerable interest attaches to a lengthy essay entitled “Chechnya’s Endless War,” which appeared in the May 18 issue of the Neue Zurcher Zeitung (posted in English translation by The author of this essay is Alfred Missong, an Austrian diplomat who headed the Moscow-based OSCE Assistance Group from early 2000 until February 2001. The essay outlines a detailed program for action written by a knowledgeable expert.

“A Russian intervention to restore normal, orderly conditions [in Chechnya],” Missong wrote, “would probably have been accepted as the lesser evil by a majority of Chechens, if it had been conducted in a civilized manner. Instead, the Russians chose to employ a style of warfare perfectly calculated to make enemies of the general population. The ruthless bombardment of cities and villages in which rebel fighters were thought to be holed up…and especially a lack of troop discipline in which soldiers not only harass civilians but systematically commit the crudest violations of human rights, have profoundly shaken any trust the Chechens may have had in Russia as a force for order.” And Missong continued: “Those responsible for human rights violations have not been called to account. Not a single guilty verdict has been pronounced to date, despite the presence of overwhelming evidence…. Most [Chechen] refugees live in miserable circumstances…. Without foreign assistance, the refugees could not have survived, because Russia does not do enough to care for them.”

A negotiated settlement, Missong insisted, constitutes the only feasible resolution to the conflict: “The fundamentals of Putin’s position,” on the other hand, “are that a military solution to the problem is possible and that there can be no question of negotiation with the rebels, who are all categorized as ‘bandits.’ That idea is also applied to Chechnya’s elected President Maskhadov because, according to Russian officials, he has absolutely no authority. [But] the war there cannot be ended without talks with Maskhadov.”

What, then, should be done? Missong briefly outlined a plan of action. A first step would be “a serious offer to major countries to really collaborate with Russia in the fight against international fundamentalist terrorism” and to support Russia “in its battle against genuine bandits such as Basaev and Khattab.” Then, “since Russia is really not in any position to provide the funds for a reconstruction of Chechnya’s economic infrastructure, a general international aid program should be offered–implementation of which, however, would have to be strictly supervised by international monitors…. Of course, international assistance for the reconstruction of and repatriation of its refugees must be conditional on an end to the war and the restoration of at least minimal security.”

“Without the aid of impartial third parties,” Missong emphasized in conclusion, “talks between the two sides are virtually inconceivable. More than ever, international mediation is needed, not in the sense of a recognition of the international character of the conflict but rather as moral and psychological aid for both sides, which otherwise may not find a way to come together.”