Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 220

Russia’s military operations in Chechnya, meanwhile, have precipitated a major diplomatic wrangle between Moscow and the Czech Republic. The row began last week following the arrival in the Czech Republic of Ilyas Akhmadov, Chechnya’s foreign minister. Akhmadov was in Prague at the invitation of the humanitarian group People in Need. But he also met unofficially with Czech government authorities, including the head of the Czech Foreign Ministry’s Russia department. Talks between Akhmadov and Czech officials reportedly centered on human rights issues. A statement issued by the Czech Foreign Ministry after the talks–and after receipt of an official protest over Akhmadov’s from Moscow–argued that the conflict in Chechnya had “ceased to be an internal affair of the Russian federation” because it is “obviously accompanied by extensive and repeated violation of human rights, and… inflicts suffering on the civilian population.”

Not surprisingly, Moscow was furious. The Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement accusing Prague of persisting “in its support for separatist and terrorist forces in Chechnya.” The statement also charged that Prague’s “policy of interfering in Russia’s internal affairs is not only unfriendly, but also unproductive.” It warned darkly that the Czech government should seriously consider the “profound consequences” that Prague’s actions could have for Russian-Czech bilateral relations (UPI, November 26; Russian agencies, November 25).

Moscow’s angry reaction to Akhmadov’s visit to Prague echoed its reaction to his recent visit to France. On that occasion, Moscow accused the French government both of having interfered in Russia’s internal affairs and acting in an unfriendly fashion toward Russia. Among other things, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov warned Paris against “toying with terrorism” (see the Monitor, November 16).

The same issues were apparently reprised during a visit to Paris this past weekend by former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. On November 28 Primakov reportedly repeated to French President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin Moscow’s standard defense vis-a-vis the Chechen conflict: that it is unable to negotiate with the Chechen side because there is still no one in effective control of the region. Primakov also warned against what he suggested were efforts to use the Chechen conflict as a pretext to erect a new “iron curtain” around Russia. Primakov’s admonishments appeared to have no immediate effect on French policy–at least insofar as it is being expressed in public. Over the weekend French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine again called for a political settlement, criticizing what he called Russia’s “massive, indiscriminate, purely military escalation” of the conflict in Chechnya and warning of its consequences for the civilian population (Reuters, Itar-Tass, November 28).

Chechnya was also one of several key issues discussed during a hastily arranged visit by Foreign Minister Ivanov to Iran yesterday. Reports out of the Iranian capital suggested that Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi had requested permission both to send aid to Chechnya and to dispatch an Islamic delegation to Moscow to discuss the Chechen conflict. Iran has generally muted its criticism of Moscow’s military operations in Chechnya. But as chairman of the Organization of the Islamic Conference–which has expressed concerns over Russia’s actions and aims in the Caucasus–the Iranian government was bound to raise the issue with Moscow. Ivanov reportedly promised to raise Tehran’s requests during today’s session of the Russian cabinet, and Kharrazi said he hoped the Islamic delegation would soon be sent to Moscow (AP, Itar-Tass, November 28).

International protests and foreign condemnations of Russia’s military crackdown in Chechnya appear thus far to have had no effect on Moscow’s military operations in the Caucasus. It remains unclear whether there will be any longer-term diplomatic consequences for Moscow. That may depend both upon whether Russian troops get bogged down in the Caucasus, a scenario under which the bloodshed could continue indefinitely, and whether those governments and international organizations currently criticizing Russia move beyond mere condemnations to more concrete forms of penalizing Russia for its behavior in Chechnya.