Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 3 Issue: 34

Due to the “Chechen question,” Russia’s relations became strained, not only with Denmark, but with a host of Western and Central European states as well. As journalist Dmitry Gornostaev underlined in the November 6 issue of the pro-Putin website “The background for the European tour of Vladimir Putin, which is to begin next week, has clearly worsened. As is well known, the President of Russia intends to visit Norway and then Belgium, whose capital also serves as the capital of the European Union and where the Russia-EU summit is to take place.” However, Gornostaev continued, “recent events connected with the Chechen problem have clearly cast a shadow over the forthcoming negotiations at the highest level which will take place at both destinations of the presidential trip.” Because of the Zakaev affair, the site of the Russia-EU meeting has already been shifted from Copenhagen to Brussels. “But it subsequently emerged that Zakaev had been issued a Shengen visa precisely by the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Moreover, it is possible that precisely Belgium will have to decide the question of offering Zakaev political asylum, if he should make such a request to the Danish authorities (inasmuch as a noncitizen of the EU must be granted asylum by that country which admitted him on a Shengen visa in the first place).”

In addition to Russia’s “Danish problem” and “Belgian problem,” Gornostaev went on to note, it now has a serious “Norwegian problem” as well. “Norway is not a member of the EU but nonetheless is a European country and, incidentally, in relation to the Chechen problem its position is very close to that of Denmark.” In strange fashion, Gornostaev concluded, the recent hostage incident in Moscow “has served to elicit an upsurge of pro-Chechen sentiment in European countries.”

“They Want to Try Putin for Electric Shock Torture” read a headline in the 8 November issue of the website “For the time being,” the website reported, “Vladimir Putin does not intend to call off his visit to Norway, which is scheduled for November 12. However, in the Kremlin, they are attentively watching the actions of the Norwegian courts, which will have to decide a lawsuit entered against the President of Russia by a group of Chechens.” “Literally on the eve of Putin’s flight to Norway,” remarked, “a serious problem has emerged in [Russian-Norwegian] bilateral relations. Activists of the Norwegian Committee for the Support of Chechnya have gone to the courts with a demand that the Russian president be brought to justice. In the words of the committee, egregious violations of human rights are taking place [in Chechnya], and it is precisely Putin, as the commander of chief, who bears responsibility for them.” The suit was brought “in the name of Chechen refugees living in Norway. These people have recounted the acts of torture and the mockeries to which they were subjected in Chechnya, after they had been taken into custody during cleansing operations. According to the Chechens, they were subjected to electric shock torture, were beaten with the butts of automatic weapons, and were held in earthen pits filled with water. All of them subsequently were ransomed by relatives.” The committee charged Putin “with having infringed the UN Convention on the Inadmissibility of Torture as well as a number of the Geneva Conventions which concern human rights.”

On November 9, the newspaper Aftonbladet, which has the largest circulation of any daily in Sweden, published a statement (“Vi maste satta press pa Putin”) directed against Putin’s conduct of the war in Chechnya which had been signed by influential politicians representing virtually the entire political spectrum of the country. “President Putin,” the signers wrote, “cannot renounce his responsibility for what is happening in Chechnya. He has the ultimate responsibility…. The world together has a responsibility to put pressure on Russia and not to let the coalition against ‘terror’ be prior to [the defense of] human rights” (translated into English by Mikael Tykesson and posted on the Discussion List about Chechnya, November 8).