Following a meeting on May 27 with Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Alvaro Gil-Robles, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov declared that the issue of Chechnya “is dropping off the politicized agenda of our relations with the Council of Europe just as it has for the U.N. Human Rights Commission.” Lavrov was referring to the rights body’s rejection last month of a European Union-sponsored resolution condemning human rights violations in Chechnya, including disappearances, extra-judicial executions and torture. The Russian foreign minister also said he appreciated Gil-Robles’s “businesslike, unprejudiced approach” and praised “the practical steps on the part of other international structures — UNESCO, in particular — which is carrying out a number of educational and cultural projects in Chechnya” (Itar-Tass, May 27; MosNews, April 15).
Shortly after Lavrov made his remarks, Gil-Robles diplomatically took issue with them, telling Ekho Moskvy radio that Chechnya “was a important topic” in his discussions with Russian officials in Moscow, including President Vladimir Putin. “I have been a witness to the suffering of the Chechen people that resulted from the war and developments after the war, which are still continuing,” the European human rights commissioner said. “We must admit that the suffering which has befallen the Chechen people has decreased in severity. Nonetheless, crimes continue to be committed on the territory of Chechnya and human rights are being violated, which is inadmissible. It is necessary to guarantee the safety of all residents of Chechnya, including both Chechens and Russians, and to take those responsible to court.” Gil-Robles said President Putin agreed on this point (Ekho Moskvy, May 27).
Meanwhile, one of Lavrov’s subordinates was casting doubt on the activities of non-governmental organizations operating in Chechnya. Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said many of these organizations “are involved more in monitoring, and not in providing real humanitarian aid, although the declared goal of these organizations is humanitarian aid.” Yakovenko’s comment, which seemed to imply that some NGOs in Chechnya are involved in espionage, came in response to a question from a journalist about President Putin’s criticism of NGOs in his annual state of the nation address to the Federal Assembly on May 26. The Russian head of state said that, while thousands of “civil associations and unions have existed and work constructively” in Russia, others have the goal of “getting financing from influential foreign and domestic foundations” rather than “defending the real interests of the people” (Moscow Times, May 27; see also EDM, May 27).
The comments by Gil-Robles, Lavrov and Yakovenko about Chechnya coincided with the publication of Amnesty International’s Report 2004, which documents human rights abuses worldwide during 2003 and strongly criticizes Russia for its actions in Chechnya, among other things. “Russian security forces continued to enjoy almost total impunity for serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed in the ongoing conflict in the Chechen Republic (Chechnya),” the report states, alleging that federal troops and pro-Moscow Chechen police killed or “disappeared” a large number of Chechens, particularly men and boys, and engaged in torture as well as rape. The report also accuses separatist fighters of targeting civilian members of the pro-Moscow administration and carrying out bombings that caused “indiscriminate harm” to civilians. (Amnesty International Report 2004 can be found at .)
Meanwhile, a poll by Yuri Levada’s Analytical Center suggests that, in the wake of the May 9 assassination of Akhmad Kadyrov, Chechnya’s pro-Moscow president, a significant minority of Russians harbor doubts about the effectiveness of the Kremlin’s policy in Chechnya. Fifty percent said the attack demonstrated the “terrorists’ animosity and inhumanity,” 24 percent said it demonstrated the “lack of prospects of the current Russian policy toward Chechnya” and 18 percent said it demonstrated both. Sixty-seven percent of those polled said that their main feelings about the bombing that killed Kadyrov and other Chechen officials were “outrage” and “indignation.” Twenty-two percent said the terrorist attack aroused no feelings, 5 percent said it elicited “understanding” and 2 percent said “satisfaction.”
Asked how the government should react to Kadyrov’s assassination, 42 percent said it should take harsher actions against the Chechen rebels, 25 percent said it should explore the possibility of negotiating an end to the conflict, 12 percent said it should work more actively to rebuild Chechnya’s economy and housing and 8 percent said it should continue the policy it has been carrying out. Asked who they thought should now lead Chechnya, 40 percent said an elected ethnic Chechen should govern; 12 percent said Kadyrov’s son Ramzan; 10 percent said they supported direct rule by the Russian president; 7 percent said a governor-general named by the Russian president; 6 percent said an elected ethnic Russian president; and, 6 percent said a coalition government. Asked whether Ramzan Kadyrov is a suitable candidate to lead Chechnya, 27 percent said he is not very suitable; 16 percent said he is completely unsuitable; 13 percent said he is more or less suitable; and, 9 percent said he is completely suitable (Levada.ru May 26).