Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 128

Russia suffered another diplomatic defeat over Chechnya at the hands of the Council of Europe yesterday, as the European human rights organization’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) reaffirmed an earlier decision which suspended Russia’s membership in the body on the basis of the ongoing war in the Caucasus. Unfortunately, despite the strong language contained in yesterday’s PACE resolution, it seems unlikely that the assembly’s action will have any real impact either on Russian operations in the Caucasus or on the policies of European governments toward Moscow. Indeed, the Council’s decision seems unlikely to get much international attention in general.

Instead, yesterday’s events in Strasbourg appeared only to highlight deepening differences between PACE representatives on the one hand and European governments on the other. Only two days before yesterday’s PACE debate, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers–a body made up of foreign ministers from the Council’s member countries–rejected the assembly’s earlier call for Russia’s suspension and even called for increased cooperation between Russia and the Council of Europe (Reuters, June 28).

The action by the Committee of Ministers had been foreshadowed during a visit to Russia last week by a Council of Europe delegation which included Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini. In the course of a press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on June 24, Dini adopted what news reports described as a “remarkably conciliatory tone” in his comments about the war in Chechnya. The Italian foreign minister said that he had been convinced by Russian officials that Moscow was seeking peace in the Caucasus and that “a process has been set in motion to try to find a definitive solution in the course of time to this conflict.” And despite ongoing Russian airstrikes and continued fighting in Chechnya, Dini was also quoted as saying that Russia had “declared what I could call a de facto cease-fire” in the region (Reuters, June 24).

It is perhaps worth mentioning in this context that Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this month chose Italy as the destination for his first official trip to the West following his inauguration. Rome was chosen at least in part, some observers had said, because of Italy’s earlier restraint in criticizing the Russian military operations in the Caucasus (see the Monitor, June 6). But if Italy earlier distinguished itself with its readiness to accommodate Moscow on the issue of Chechnya, that is no longer the case. A willingness to brush the Caucasus war under the rug so as to mend fences diplomatically with the new Putin administration in Moscow is now standard policy for all the major governments in the West.

Despite the prevailing diplomatic winds, however, PACE representatives have remained dogged in their determination to hold the Russian government accountable for its actions in Chechnya. Indeed, in the wake of the Committee of Minister’s June 27 decision not to sanction Russia over Chechnya, PACE representatives appeared as eager to turn their guns on the European ministers as on Moscow. On June 28 the assembly’s political committee approved a draft resolution declaring it to be “totally unacceptable that the Committee of Ministers has neither denounced Russia’s conduct of the military campaign in the Chechen Republic… nor seriously considered the implications for Russian membership of the Council of Europe.” It also regretted the fact that none of the Council of Europe’s member governments had chosen to take Russia to the European Court of Human Rights over its conduct in Chechnya (AFP, June 29). Those were but two of the recommendations that PACE had made this past April when it began proceedings to suspend Russia from the Council of Europe.

Reports yesterday suggested that the final resolution which PACE passed kept up the verbal onslaught against Russia’s military operations in Chechnya. The parliamentarians reportedly expressed their concern about “continued aerial attacks and bombardments in Chechnya, arbitrary arrests of noncombatants, [and] continued harassment and ill-treatment of civilians by Russian federal forces.” The resolution also pointed to some steps which Moscow had taken to satisfy the demands set out by the assembly, including the “setting up of parliamentary and public commissions to investigate human rights abuses in the North Caucasus, reported opening of criminal cases against Russian servicemen and deployment of three Council of Europe experts to work” in a Russian human rights office in Chechnya. But the parliamentarians also emphasized that such actions had so far failed “to produce convincing and tangible results” (Council of Europe, June 29).

Russia’s Foreign Ministry, not surprisingly, reacted critically to yesterday’s events. A ministry source was quoted as expressing “regrets” over the PACE resolution. He also contrasted it unfavorably to the Council of Ministers’ considerably more accommodating action earlier this week (Russian agencies, June 29). But Russian government and Foreign Ministry officials have repeatedly accused PACE lawmakers of being driven by “emotionalism” in their debates on Chechnya, and can probably be expected to do the same thing this time around. They have also contrasted this alleged “emotionalism” with what they have suggested is the more sober pragmatism of European government officials. That argument too is likely to be repeated in the days to come. Indeed, despite yesterday’s discordant note, Russian government officials–and many observers in the country’s media–seem likely to continue to display the hint of triumphalism which has accompanied not the course of the war itself, which provides little ground for satisfaction or optimism, but rather the West’s seemingly growing resignation to Moscow’s conduct of it.