Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 53

Amid the diplomatic scuffling between Russia and the Council of Europe over the war in Chechnya, Moscow also found itself this week in yet another wrangle with Paris over the same issue. On March 13 the Russian Foreign Ministry officially protested a symposium conducted earlier in the day by French lawmakers which included Chechen government speakers and focused attention on Russian misdeeds in the Caucasus. Moscow was affronted what it called “highly anti-Russian statements” and the Russian embassy in Paris lodged a written protest with the French Foreign Ministry (Russian agencies, March 14). Moscow has denounced several Western countries for pro-Chechen, anti-Russian activities allegedly taking place on their territories, and has been especially critical of meetings between Western officials and Chechen government representatives.

Organized by left-wing French forces, this week’s symposium was reportedly addressed by both Chechen Foreign Minister Ilyas Akhmadov and foreign affairs spokesman Akhiad Idigov. The president of the French parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Jack Lang, used the occasion to criticize Western governments for their unwillingness to confront Moscow over its behavior in Chechnya. He also called for the Council of Europe to follow through on its threat to suspend Moscow’s membership. A Greens party representative, also addressing Russia’s war in Chechnya, urged that the European Court open an investigation into “war crimes and crimes against humanity” (AFP, Reuters, March 14). The pro-Chechen meeting, it is worth noting, came during an official visit to Paris by Russian Federation Council chairman Yegor Stroev. In a March 13 meeting with President Jacques Chirac, Stroev reportedly explained Moscow’s Caucasus policy and assured Chirac that military operations there will soon end (Russian agencies, March 14).

France had earlier been among the harshest international critics of the Chechen conflict. As early as November of last year Moscow and Paris wrangled diplomatically over a decision by the French government to receive a first visit by Akhmadov. Then, in December, the French were reported to be especially outspoken in demanding an end to the war in Chechnya during a meeting of G-7 foreign ministers and Russia in Berlin (New York Times, December 18). The trend continued into the new year. In mid-January Acting Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly called Chirac with a request to tone down French criticism of Russia’s operations in Chechnya (Russian agencies, January 18). On March 1 the Kremlin demanded apologies from the French newspapers Le Monde and Liberation for their critical coverage of the Caucasus war (AFP, March 2).