Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 68

On April 5, Radio Liberty correspondent Andrei Babitsky gave a speech in Strasbourg to one of the Council of Europe’s largest factions–the Party of People’s Democrats. Babitsky is unquestionably one of the world’s best-informed experts on Chechnya’s realities. His opinion on how the Chechen crisis can be resolved is therefore worthy of attention.

In his speech, Babitsky said that “European leaders bear responsibility for what is going on in Russia, including for the worsening of the situation in Chechnya. The shameful decision of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly to reinstate the Russian delegation’s voting rights was interpreted in Russia as sanctioning the continuation of the bloodshed and the further legalization of numerous human rights violations. Chechnya today has been turned into an ethnic ghetto, on whose territory law and the constitution have been rescinded. A de facto regime of racial segregation for Chechens operates throughout Russia.”

Babitsky also said that “if today, more than a year after serious crimes were carried out in Chechnya, military officials who have been involved in mass murders, torture, ransoming hostages and other serious crimes, were subject to criminal prosecution, this could create the conditions for returning Chechnya to Russia’s legal space. It is not the formation [in Chechnya] of numerous bureaucratic and completely obedient local government organs which should prove to European parliamentarians the good intentions of Russia’s leadership, but rather its [the Russian leadership’s] demonstration that it is adhering to the basic principal of law: that crime will inevitably be followed by punishment.” Babitsky also noted that President Vladimir Putin, in putting forth his plans to resolve the Chechen conflict, said nothing about the need to create effective legislative and judicial branches, law enforcement organs and local self-government organs in Chechnya. This, according to Babitsky, means that the Russian president either denies that mass human rights abuses have taken place in Chechnya or simply thinks such violations are not important. Putin, in Babitsky’s view, does not care about forming a civil society in Chechnya or giving Chechens the right to participate in Russia’s political processes and decide their own fate. Babitsky even called on Europe to grant Chechens the right of political asylum (Radio Liberty, April 5).

Babitsky is a veteran in covering the conflict in Chechnya for Radio Liberty: He traveled there more than twenty times during both wars in the breakaway republic. During the first months of the current conflict there, he was practically the only correspondent who was broadcasting material from territory controlled by the Chechen rebels. In January 2000, he was arrested by Russian security forces in Chechnya, and then “exchanged” for Russian POWs who were ostensibly being held by a Chechen rebel unit. Babitsky has said he believes that the so-called exchange was organized by the Federal Security Service (FSB).