Lord Frank Judd, chief rapporteur for Chechnya of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), kept his counsel until returning from his recent visit to Chechnya. Before flying south from Moscow he even made some statements that must have been welcome to the Kremlin. On January 22, for example, the Gazeta.ru website reported him as having said that he “personally liked” the text of the proposed new constitution for Chechnya proposed by the Moscow-appointed administration. (As of mid-January a Chechen translation of this text, composed in the Russian language, had still not been published.)
But just before returning to Western Europe from Moscow, Lord Judd made public a key conclusion from his fact-finding trip. He called on Russia to postpone the constitutional referendum set for March, suggesting that it could not possibly succeed given the climate of pervasive violence and the authorities’ failure to seek the views of grassroots Chechens before writing the document.
As reported by Reuters on January 24, Lord Judd said that “We don’t just want a bit of paper that people say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to. We want a real political solution rooted in the people and the consensus of the people…. This document sets the whole framework for the political future of Chechnya. But countries have never been able to build stability unless the constitution and proposals come out of widespread political discussions.” Prava cheloveka v Rossii (Human Rights in Russia) reported on January 27 that the members of the Judd delegation had been unable to find one ordinary citizen in Chechnya who had actually seen the proposed text.
Even more disappointing for the Kremlin must have been Lord Judd’s statement that Moscow should negotiate with separatist leaders–including specifically Akhmed Zakaev, whom the Kremlin is now seeking to extradite from the United Kingdom as an alleged terrorist.
The member of the British House of Lords also discouraged Russia’s repeatedly expressed hopes that the Council of Europe would send monitors to observe the March voting. “How could we send observers to lend authority to something that we did not think was appropriate?”
The Russian delegation to PACE has reacted with indignation to Lord Judd’s position. Delegation head Dmitry Rogozin told Interfax in a January 27 telephone interview that Russia would insist on amendments to the rapporteur’s draft recommendations. If those amendments are rejected, he said, his delegation would call for Lord Judd to be replaced, and if that does not happen he and his colleagues will probably leave PACE’s special working group on Chechnya. He said that “it has been increasingly obvious recently that Lord Judd has begun to play politics.”
In apparent reaction to Lord Judd’s comments about the public’s lack of information about the proposed constitution, the Moscow-appointed Chechnya administration announced that it was setting up a “hotline” which interested voters could phone with their questions. A July 28 article in the Moscow daily Kommersant reported that newspaper’s futile efforts to reach this hotline, which rang repeatedly without being answered. In any case, noted Kommersant, the new hotline will be useless to all but a tiny minority of Chechens. After years of war there are almost no telephones for Chechens who live outside Grozny, and only 250 in Grozny itself–mostly for high-ranking officials.