The Russian government has won a double victory in Western Europe for its policies in Chechnya. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), one of the continent’s most important institutions for human-rights advocacy, adopted a resolution on January 29 that failed to ask the Russian authorities to postpone a March 23 referendum on a constitution intended to legitimize the Moscow-appointed Chechen administration. An observer from Human Rights Watch told the Jamestown Foundation that the Russian delegation had put the Assembly under “great pressure,” spreading rumors that Vladimir Putin might cancel his visit and speech scheduled for April.
Russia’s second victory came on January 30, when Lord Frank Judd, the PACE rapporteur on Chechnya, who has also been its most visible and influential critic of Russia’s policies, announced that he would resign unless the Russians postponed the referendum. Because the referendum now seems inevitable, it would seem that Judd’s resignation is also, unless he makes an about face. His statement led to a striking illustration of the close cooperation of the Russian state with the Russian news media. Some (but not all) Russian news agencies published as uncontested fact a false report energetically circulated by the leaders of the Russian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly, to the effect that Lord Judd had already resigned unconditionally.
In what he later acknowledged to have been a “grave and inexcusable” mistake, Lord Judd accepted a “compromise” proposal from the Russian delegation on January 29 that listed some nine conditions necessary for a legitimate referendum and called upon Moscow to “take essential steps to achieve such conditions” before March 23. The final wording expressed concern that these conditions “are unlikely to be met by this date,” but failed to call upon Russia to postpone the referendum to a later date–even though such postponement had been the central point of Lord Judd’s statements since his recent factfinding trip to Chechnya.
On January 30 Lord Judd made a dramatic personal statement to the parliamentary body’s meeting in Strasbourg, which was still posted on its website (www.coe.int) a few days later. He said that on the previous day he had been “so concerned by an amendment moved by the Russian delegation, which suggested that the conditions for a valid referendum ‘might’ not be fulfilled by March 23, that I moved a sub-amendment to change ‘might’ to ‘unlikely to be.’ In doing this, I failed to recognize that by doing so I had lent myself to an amendment whose overall effect was to remove from the recommendation an unqualified and clear call to the Russian authorities to postpone the referendum. I believe this was a grave and inexcusable error of judgment on my part. In the subsequent debate in the full Assembly, while I voted for my sub-amendment, I therefore voted against the substantive amendment. But I now realize that I should never have moved my sub-amendment. My analysis remains absolutely clear. A valid referendum cannot take place by March 23. In the course of three years’ work as the rapporteur on the conflict in Chechnya I have never been so convinced about anything. Were the referendum to go ahead for the planned date, I would have failed to persuade the Russian authorities to accept my analysis. In those circumstances I would have no alternative but to resign both as rapporteur and as co-chair of the Joint Working Group of the Duma and PACE on Chechnya.”
Nevertheless, on January 30 the Russian press agencies RIA Novosti and Interfax stated without qualification that Lord Judd’s resignation was already an accomplished fact, and that his successor would be named on March 5. That report was transmitted uncritically by several other media such as the Rossiski informatsiony tsentr (Russian Information Center) and website. The Gzt.ru website also treated Judd’s resignation as unqualified, and gave as its cause “the refusal of PACE to support his idea about postponing the referendum.”
Especially striking was the triumphant and insulting tone of some of the Russian officials’ reactions to Lord Judd’s statements. Leonid Slutsky of the Russian delegation to PACE said that the rapporteur could not possibly have made a mistake and that his Thursday announcement might have been the result of “overnight consultations” with forces supporting terrorists in Chechnya. Slutsky’s colleague Dmitry Rogozin noted that Russia had long sought the resignation of Judd, who in his visits to Chechnya did not even “try to receive reliable, objective information.” Rogozin said that the joint working group of PACE and the Duma would now most likely disappear, having outlived its usefulness.
In a January 29 commentary for the pro-Putin website Strana.ru–clearly written after the compromise resolution was passed–Yury Alekseev observed: “Perhaps the representative of PACE should not longer conceal his true views? Perhaps he should acknowledge that in fact he favors the secession of Chechnya from Russia, and that he is absolutely unconcerned about the problem of preserving the territorial integrity of the Russian state and about the views of the majority of Russians? Perhaps Lord Judd simply does not love Russia for her historic past, for the fact that she was once the foundation of a great and influential state?” A top Putin aide, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, said during a visit to Washington, “I think the main reason for Judd’s resignation was that political time in Chechnya has gone forward and he can’t keep up.”
It appears that not one Western news organization misreported Lord Judd’s conditional resignation as some of the Russians did. Lord Judd himself tried to set the record straight in a January 30 interview with the German radio network Deutsche Welle, in which he said that the way some of the Russian media had interpreted his words could be seen only as “manipulation” resulting from “political games.”
Citing the Deutsche Welle interview, the Newsru.com website published on January 30 an accurate account in which it noted that the rapporteur had “denied the reports of the Russian media.” The Grani.ru website also gave a correct version. RIA Novosti eventually did take note that according to the BBC there had not in fact been an official resignation, but the Russian agency also stated that “nevertheless, all the Russian representatives at the session in Strasbourg received and commented on his statement as an accomplished fact.”
Puzzlingly, the January 31 issue of Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported the Judd resignation as an accomplished fact even while publishing an interview with Lord Judd himself. The newspaper asked him why he had decided to resign, and he replied that after three years as rapporteur for the Parliamentary Assembly he was convinced that the referendum as currently planned would be a mistake, then went on to give his reasons for thinking that–but did not, in the text as published by Nezavisimaya Gazeta, deny or qualify that he had already resigned. He even said, or was quoted by the newspaper as saying: “If I had not left now, all the same I would have left on March 23. I hope that before that date the Russian authorities will recognize the correctness of my analysis.”
The February 3 issue of Kommersant probed more deeply, offering an interview by Natalia Gevorkian with Lord Judd and referring in its lead to the “scandal about the resignation that did not take place.” (Note that it would be incorrect to say that only elite Moscow media took the trouble to learn and disseminate the truth about the Judd resignation: The mass-market weekly Argumenty i Fakty published an accurate summary of the Kommersant interview.) The Kommersant reporter pointed out that Russian delegation was now saying that Lord Judd had made two diametrically opposed statements–first that he was resigning, and later that he would resign if the referendum were to take place on March 23. Lord Judd replied that he had made only one statement, that it had been published by the Council of Europe precisely as presented to the Assembly, but that in Moscow incorrect information had been circulated. Asked how he would explain how this came to be, he said that if one were to try to give it a decent or charitable explanation, one might postulate that someone had made a mistake in translation. He asked, “You know the English word ‘spin’ as used in politics?” The interviewer answered that in Russian it could be translated as the act of launching a political “utka” or “duck.” Lord Judd said that he belonged to “the old generation of politicians; that is not our genre.”
The Kommersant interviewer asked Lord Judd to comment on Rogozin’s statement of January 31 that he would be resigning as co-chair of the joint PACE-Duma working group on Chechnya. (As reported by Newsru.com, Rogozin had said that he was taking this step so that Lord Judd would be unable to allow himself to be convinced to withdraw his own resignation.) In contrast to the bellicose tone of some of the Russians, Lord Judd said that he regretted this, that he had developed friendly relations with Rogozin and that the latter’s departure would be premature. Asked if he seriously hoped to convince the Russians to postpone the referendum, he said that he very much hoped so. “Since Thursday I have been asking myself: ‘Frank, perhaps you have been too intransigent, too unbending, have expressed yourself too strongly, and perhaps this has repelled people?'”
That would certainly not be the view of Sergei Kovalev, the prominent human rights activist and dissident member of the Duma who was part of the Russian delegation in Strasbourg. In a Grani.ru commentary published on January 30, Kovalev charged that Lord Judd had ended up playing a “negative role” by failing to firmly oppose the Rogozin amendment, which the Parliamentary Assembly then adopted. In Kovalev’s view the entire PACE debate was fundamentally flawed in that it spent too much time merely discussing the precise date of a referendum that in principle was impossible. “I cannot say that I am disenchanted,” he said, “because I never expected much from PACE.” (Indeed, by February 4 the head of PACE was signaling that the body might even reverse its decision not to send observers to the March 23 referendum. Peter Schieder told Interfax that this decision might be reconsidered at an upcoming session.)
Diederik Lohman of Human Rights Watch, who was present at the Strasbourg gathering, expressed a more favorable view of Lord Judd in a February 4 telephone interview with Jamestown. He said that in the past the rapporteur had always tried to balance both positive and negative elements in his reports on Chechnya, but “that really changed” with the report he presented after his latest visit to the republic. At this point, in Lohman’s judgment, the dissolution of the joint Duma-PACE working group would probably be a step in the right direction since the Duma delegation “never intended to make it work.” He said that Lord Judd was not as isolated in Strasbourg as it might appear in some press reports, and that there are definitely efforts underway to persuade him not to resign.
The PACE resolution as finally adopted on January 29 does include some other points not likely to please the Kremlin. For example, it notes that “some investigations of the most high-profile cases of mass killings and disappearances have now been proceeding for more than three years without tangible results,” in view of which one “can only conclude that the prosecuting bodies are either unwilling or unable to find and bring to justice the guilty parties.” The resolution calls upon the Russian authorities to reduce the federal military presence in Chechnya, and to provide an updated, detailed list of all criminal investigations into crimes against the civilian population committed by both federal and separatist forces. It also calls upon the Russian authorities not to use “direct or indirect force or undue pressure of any kind to coerce displaced people to return to the Chechen Republic against their will.”
The PACE resolution included the following conditions for a proper constitutional referendum: “an adequate level of public security for all individuals”… a “transparent and accurate” register of eligible voters, including displaced persons now living outside Chechnya, and “adequate means for their participation”… “freedom of association for political parties”… “fair and balanced composition of the competent election commissions”… and “freedom of political debate through free and independent media.” Not even the Putin administration claims that these conditions exist today. Few independent observers believe that there is any real chance of bringing them into existence before March 23.