Hearings on the Chechen conflict scheduled for yesterday’s session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), in which Russian Security Council secretary Aleksandr Lebed and Chechen chief-of-staff Aslan Maskhadov had been invited to participate, have been postponed. PACE president Leni Fischer said she received a letter from Lebed on September 21 explaining that he could not come to Strasbourg because he was busy in Moscow with matters concerning Chechnya. Yesterday Maskhadov in turn said he would not be traveling to Strasbourg because he had not received an official invitation. Lebed and Maskhadov reportedly coordinated their actions by telephone. (RTR, September 23)
Russian Duma chairman Gennady Seleznev characterized PACE’s decision to postpone the hearings on Chechnya as "a triumph for reason." (Interfax, NTV, September 23) Indeed, leading Russian politicians had spoken out against the invitation of Maskhadov, who remains a wanted criminal in Russia. The leader of Russia’s PACE delegation, Vladimir Lukin, called the invitation "crude and arrogant interference in Russia’s internal affairs." Lukin stressed that he had cleared his statement with Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Federation Council, and recommended that Lebed not attend the hearings. (Interfax, September 11) That prompted Fischer on September 12 to reassert the Council’s "right to examine human rights issues in all member states of the Council of Europe," and to point out that Russia promised to find a peaceful solution in Chechnya when it applied to join the Council of Europe. (UPI, September 23)
The postponement may be seen as a victory for Russian diplomacy. But although Lebed’s refusal to go to Strasbourg was probably motivated by his unwillingness to quarrel with the Kremlin, it cannot be ruled out that Maskhadov declined the invitation because of increasingly strained relations with Shamil Basayev and those Chechen field commanders who have called for the formation of an Islamic state and accused the chief-of- staff of conceding too much to Lebed. (Argumenty i fakty, September 17) Similar tensions may also underlie the postponement of opposition leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiev’s planned visit to Moscow this week. (Interfax, September 23)
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