Lavrov Scolds France for Allowing in Zakaev

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 27

Russian officials continued to denounce the appearance of Akhmed Zakaev, the London-based foreign minister of the separatist Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI), at a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg, France, on June 27 (Chechnya Weekly, June 28). Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Zakaev’s appearance in Strasbourg raised “serous questions,” Interfax reported on June 29. “We have approached the relevant French authorities for an explanation,” Lavrov said at a news conference following talks with his Dutch counterpart Maxime Verhagen. Lavrov also said that “the situation surrounding Zakaev’s freedom of movement in Europe is worrying,” claiming that Zakaev is on an international wanted list.

Russian Deputy Justice Minister Vladimir Kolesnikov accused the French authorities of holding double standards for allowing Zakaev to enter France, Interfax reported on June 29. “This is a pure double standard,” Kolesnikov said. “We have doubts about the objectivity of European institutions and the sincerity of their desire to see the situation in Chechnya and a number of other regions stabilized. What matters are not words, but deeds. Unfortunately, we don’t see them.” The European community should be principled when it comes to issues related to the fight against terrorism, Kolesnikov said. “We are talking about the Strasbourg court, human rights, and the problem of Chechnya, which needs to be resolved,” he said, adding that European institutions should “properly assess” what is happening in Chechnya. “Only then will I believe in the sincerity of their desire to see optimal democratic processes in Chechnya.” According to Interfax, Kolesnikov called on European countries to take a closer look at countries in which terrorists and their instructors are receiving training. “If they condemn those countries from which militants, thugs, demolition experts, and instructors have been coming and continue to come to us, and if they properly qualify the states that refuse to extradite people who are wanted and who face official charges, in that case I will believe in the sincerity and impartiality of those institutions,” Kolesnikov said.

Deputy Chechen Prime Minister Ziyad Sabsabi, who is also Kadyrov’s envoy to Moscow, also condemned France for allowing Zakaev to attend the PACE session in Strasbourg, Interfax reported on June 29. “Surely, this is a manifestation of double standards in the fight against terrorism,” Sabsabi said. “An individual wanted for crimes committed in Chechnya is allowed to travel as he wishes, and this happens in countries that pretend to hold dear the rule of law.” He also said that the West should not exaggerate Zakaev’s significance. “Who does Zakaev currently represent?” Sabsabi said. “[The late Chechen president and rebel leader Aslan] Maskhadov is no longer alive. Zakaev is someone with no authority.” Sabsabi called on Russian authorities to seek Zakaev’s extradition.

The separatist Chechenpress news agency, for its part, commented on July 2 on the Russian reaction to Zakaev’s Strasbourg appearance. “The reaction of the Russians in the PACE and the Russian Foreign Ministry was in line with the tradition adopted in Putin-ite Russia – hysteria with the aim of distracting attention away from accusations and avoiding responsibility for crimes,” Chechenpress wrote. “During the course of its customary hysteria, the Russian side again voiced baseless accusations against Zakaev, which were long ago rejected by an independent court.”

Agence France-Presse, on July 3, quoted French foreign ministry spokesman Pascale Andreani as saying that France’s interior ministry had been consulted in response to Russia’s demand for an explanation for Zakaev’s appearance in Strasbourg. “I can say quite clearly that no Schengen visa (permitting travel in most European Union countries) was issued to Mr. Zakaev,” Andreani said. As AFP noted, Moscow claims Zakaev took part in terrorist acts, but the British authorities have refused to extradite him, citing the lack of evidence and concerns about the integrity of the Russian judicial system. Zakaev, who has had political refugee status in Britain since 2003, said that the British document granting him political asylum in Britain had allowed him to travel to Europe without any problem.