Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 134

In yet another indication of a willingness among European governments to downgrade concerns over the war in Chechnya in order to rebuild ties to Moscow, foreign ministers from the European Union meeting in Brussels yesterday moved to unblock US$55 million in aid to Russia. The EU had frozen the aid package last December to signal its displeasure with Russia’s indiscriminate use of military force against civilians in Chechnya. The funds released yesterday fall within the EU’s TACIS program, which aims at supporting economic reform in the former Soviet republics. The EU has sent some 4.2 billion euros (US$4 billion) to the region since the program was launched in 1991. EU ministers yesterday called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to make good on his government’s commitment to economic reforms and said that a priority of EU-Russia relations would be to support a “modern economy which benefits the whole of Russian society.”

In order to express continuing concern over Moscow’s Caucasus War, however, the EU ministers also called anew yesterday for Russia to seek a negotiated solution to the conflict and to permit independent inquiries into allegations of human rights abuses in Chechnya. A statement issued by the ministers said that the EU “will continue to bring up the issue [of Chechnya] in its dialogue with Russia.” In keeping with this theme, the newly released EU funds will reportedly go to help improve the human rights situation in Russia. The EU aid is expected to support programs helping Russian citizens to defend their civil rights, to promote interethnic tolerance and the protection of minority rights, and to train journalists to work in the independent media.

In a separate announcement, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has said that it will boost support for Russia as much as possible this year (BBC, AP, Russian agencies, July 10).

Yesterday’s EU action continues a pattern whereby key European governments have pushed the war in Chechnya onto the back burner so that they can pursue friendly relations with Vladimir Putin’s recently installed government. The determination to deemphasize Chechnya, which comes despite continued fighting in the Caucasus and Moscow’s failure to satisfactorily fulfill European demands relative to the conflict, was manifested in a recent Russian-EU summit meeting and during visits which Putin has made to several European capitals over the past six weeks. But the decision of European governments to turn a blind eye to the war in Chechnya was highlighted with particular clarity in Strasbourg at the end of last month, when EU foreign ministers rejected a move by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to suspend Russia from the continent’s leading human rights organization. That move led PACE lawmakers to denounce the ministers and to reiterate its determination to hold Moscow accountable for the actions of Russian troops in the Caucasus (see the Monitor, June 30).

Yesterday’s statement by the European ministers expressing continuing concern over Chechnya will probably be treated by Moscow for what it is: window dressing. Russia’s political elite has repeatedly denounced and belittled PACE while arguing that the organization’s member governments have in fact accommodated themselves to Moscow’s actions in the Caucasus. Yesterday’s decision to unblock the TACIS aid proves once again that Moscow is accurately reading the mood of European governments.