It was against the background of these charges and refutations that a high-level European Union “troika” arrived in Moscow on May 16. The three EU envoys were Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson, who currently holds the rotating chairmanship of the EU, EU foreign policy representative Javier Solona and EU president Romano Prodi (Gazeta.ru, May 16). At the Moscow summit, the envoys were hosted by President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Kas’yanov, Deputy Premier Viktor Khristenko and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. In the official document adopted by the two sides, the necessity for political regulation in Chechnya is underlined, one, however, which respects “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Russia.” The sides also spoke about the need for a speedy return to Chechnya of the Assistance Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) (Gazeta.ru, May 17).
In a press conference held after the summit, Swedish Prime Minister Persson noted that the Chechen conflict had been one of the issues discussed during the meetings. He stressed that interaction between Russia and the EU was impossible without Russia’s observing democratic standards, developing a civil society and guaranteeing media freedom. He also reported that the “troika” had asked Moscow to help the EU in stepping up humanitarian relief in the North Caucasus region. Persson went on to say that analytical reports suggested that the Russian government enjoyed poor confidence among the population of Chechnya. Finally, he revealed that the summit had also discussed the subject of the aforementioned report by Human Rights Watch (Russian agencies, May 18). Asked by reporters if Putin had given a pledge to investigate the Human Rights Watch allegations, Persson replied: “If I put a positive interpretation on it, I would say that they are aware of the problem. But there was no definite answer or message that [the Russians] will go into this or that” (Reuters, May 17).
Seemingly responding to Persson’s statements, Putin informed an official Russian news agency, RIA Novosti, that he was prepared to admit that “the trust of the Chechen populace toward the central authorities is not on a high level.” He also said that he agreed with the opinion of the European envoys that the federal authorities needed to do more to strengthen that trust. From Putin’s subsequent comments, however, it emerged that he envisaged a decisive Russian military victory over the rebels as the sole way to achieve these ends. Such a victory would “ensure the security of the local populace” and also “reduce to zero all the efforts of destructive elements to destabilize the situation in the region.” Putin also noted that Russia needed to “fulfill our obligations in the socio-economic sphere and to ensure the return [to Chechnya] of temporarily displaced persons to their place of permanent dwelling,” as well as to broaden the “prerogatives, rights and possibilities of the local [pro-Moscow] administration, including in the law enforcement sphere” (RIA Novosti, May 17).
On May 11, several days before the arrival of the EU envoys, the Russian government confirmed that “there are no political obstacles to the return of the [OSCE Assistance] Group’s international personnel to Chechnya.” It was foreseen that the OSCE Assistance Group would “in the very near future” move from Moscow back to Chechnya” (Russian agencies, May 11; Nezavisimaya Gazeta, May 12).