Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 220

Moscow’s relations with the international community continued to be dominated over the American holiday weekend by the escalating conflict in the Caucasus. Russia’s crackdown in Chechnya was the cause of an angry exchange between Moscow and Prague and a major point of discussion during visits to Paris by former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and to Tehran by Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. Growing Western frustration with Russia’s war plans was likewise evident in remarks by outgoing IMF managing director Michel Camdessus, who warned that adverse international reaction to the conflict could endanger an IMF loan package to Russia (Washington Post, November 28). All of this came, moreover, as Knut Vollebaek–chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and Norwegian foreign minister–prepared for talks in Moscow today. Those talks are expected to focus on Western demands for greater humanitarian assistance to Chechen refugees and for the beginning of political talks aimed at ending the Chechen conflict.

Vollebaek’s visit is a result of an agreement made at the October 18-19 OSCE summit in Istanbul which committed Moscow to invite the OSCE chairman to visit Chechnya. According to Western officials, who hailed the summit results as positive, it also committed Russia to allow the OSCE both a humanitarian and a political role in dealing with the North Caucasus conflict.

Moscow downplayed the import of the OSCE agreements on Chechnya, however, claiming that they afforded the OSCE no political role in resolving that conflict (see the Monitor, November 19). Russian officials also suggested that, because the OSCE agreements stipulated no specific date for the visit by the OSCE chairman, they were to likely to be in no hurry to fulfill the obligation. There were even hints that Russia might wait until another Western official assumed the rotating OSCE chairmanship before allowing the visit. Vollebaek’s tenure is set to expire at the end of December. Austria will assume the chairmanship at the beginning of January.

On November 24, however, Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov agreed to meet with Vollebaek in Moscow today. A spokesman for the Norwegian foreign minister told reporters that Ivanov had also agreed to allow a visit by OSCE representatives to the Chechen region in the first half of December. Reflecting Moscow’s continuing reluctance to allow Western representatives to visit Chechnya itself, Vollebaek was quoted in Oslo on November 24 as saying that he intends to “insist” on a tour of those areas of Chechnya under the control of Russian forces. He suggested that the OSCE was also continuing to exert pressure on a reluctant Moscow to seek a political solution to the Chechen conflict (Reuters, November 24; Itar-Tass, November 25).