Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 216

Precisely what Moscow had committed to was still unclear at the end of the day, however. Western reports quoting Western officials said that Moscow had agreed not only to a humanitarian role for the OSCE in Chechnya, but a political one as well. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, for example, told reporters that the wording of the declaration would stipulate that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) would take part in both humanitarian assistance and political dialogue in the Caucasus. Russia apparently also will express its readiness to abide by existing OSCE standards of behavior in Chechnya (Reuters, November 18).

If Moscow did indeed make those commitments, it would represent a significant concession from the Russian government. Up to now Moscow has only grudgingly considered Western humanitarian aid offers and has ruled out entirely any Western political or mediating role in the Chechen conflict.

But in remarks of his own to Russian reporters, Ivanov suggested that Moscow had made no concessions in Istanbul on the issue of Western mediation in Chechnya. He said that the final declaration would underscore the OSCE’s support for Russia’s territorial integrity and its fight against terrorism. The declaration will also note, Ivanov said, Russia’s willingness to cooperate with international organizations that are willing to provide humanitarian aid to Chechens. But, he added, “there is no question of any political mediation or interference in Russia’s internal affairs” (Itar-Tass, November 18).

Given the hawkish, anti-Western mood in Russia today, Ivanov’s remarks may have been an attempt to mask the fact that Moscow had caved in to Western pressure and agreed to a Western role in mediating the Chechen conflict. But his remarks may also suggest that the wording contained in the final declaration is ambiguous enough to permit Moscow to continue stonewalling efforts by the West to actually involve itself in the conflict. Indeed, it would not be a surprise if Moscow stepped up its military operations in an effort to rout the Chechen rebels before any real Western presence can be established in the Caucasus.

Other Ivanov remarks, moreover, were characterized by the same air of unreality–or blatant disinformation–which has pervaded so much recent Russian reporting of events in Kosovo and in Chechnya. In a Russian TV interview Ivanov made no mention of the hail of criticism directed at Russia, but instead depicted Yeltsin as the dominant personality at yesterday’s summit talks. He suggested likewise that Yeltsin had more or less set the tone for yesterday’s discussions and that the Russian president’s forcefulness had stymied any intentions of Western leaders to pressure Moscow over Chechnya (Itar-Tass, November 18).