Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 10

At a March 25 policy briefing hosted by the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, a State Department official said that the referendum would not constitute a “turning point” for U.S. policy. Mike Morrow, deputy director of the State Department’s Office of Russian Affairs, said that the United States would continue to recognize Chechnya as an integral part of the Russian Federation–but would also continue to have serious questions about Russia’s human rights record in the republic. Calling that record “atrocious,” Morrow told the audience that “far more needs to be done” despite recent encouraging signs. “There’s a lot to answer for on the Chechen side as well,” he said.

Glen Howard of the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya told the same gathering that U.S. policy in the area has no chance of succeeding as long as Washington is talking with only one side of the conflict. In the past, he pointed out, U.S. diplomats had maintained direct contact with the separatist movement. But this is no longer the case, he said, even though that movement “is very much intact.” Until Washington is willing to “start talking to the people with the guns,” he said, “this situation is going to go nowhere.”

Howard also predicted that the current dispute over Russian supplies of high-tech military equipment to Iraq would be a “watershed” in its impact on relations between Moscow and Washington. “Nobody can accept lightly military equipment going to Iraq to be used against American soldiers,” he said.

Zaindi Choltaev, a former official of the separatist government now doing research on Chechnya as a visiting fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, also took part in the briefing. He told the audience that the recent referendum was illegal according to Russia’s own election statutes, which bar the conduct of elections or referenda if an area is experiencing military conflict. He said that the Kremlin had blocked a parliamentary proposal to declare a formal state of emergency in Chechnya precisely because it wanted to bypass this legal problem.

Also invited to the gathering was Yury Ushakov of the Russian Federation’s Embassy in Washington, but he failed to come.

A recording of the briefing is available on the institute’s website,