Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 212

On November 12 UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stepped up his own condemnations of Moscow’s military operations in the Caucasus. A spokesman for Annan, Fred Eckhard, told reporters that the UN secretary general is “disturbed to see that the scope of the [Russian] military offensive in Chechnya seems to have evolved far beyond a campaign with the limited objective of rooting out terrorists, and that it has caused great suffering and high casualties to civilians, including the elderly and women and children.” Annan also said, moreover, that the principle of protecting civilians “should always receive the highest priority” under the Geneva conventions (AP, AFP, Itar-Tass, November 13). That last remark is important because it appears to back up a charge leveled by the Clinton administration last week that Russian actions in Chechnya may not be in compliance with the Geneva conventions. Moscow had rejected that allegation, and a parallel one by Washington that Russian forces in Chechnya may also not be in compliance with standards of conduct set by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) (see the Monitor, November 9).

In what was probably an effort to clarify and elaborate his concerns to Moscow, Annan held a twenty-minute telephone conversation on November 13 with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. There was little information available about the conversation, although the two men did reportedly agree both to maintain contact over Chechnya and to seek a meeting on the sidelines of this week’s OSCE summit. According to Russian sources, Putin told Annan that Moscow is “open for cooperation with the world community” over Chechnya and that–“convinced of the moral advantages on our side”–has “nothing to conceal” on the issue (UPI, Itar-Tass, November 13). In fact, of course, Russia has been anything but open to the world community with regard to Chechnya. Moscow has allowed representatives of the international community to visit the North Caucasus only grudgingly. More to the point, perhaps, Russian authorities have imposed a virtual news blackout on events in and around Chechnya while simultaneously denouncing as disinformation the limited Western reporting from the region.

Moscow’s unwillingness to cooperate with the world community in resolving the Chechen conflict was equally evident in Helsinki on November 12. There, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov reportedly rebuffed an offer by the OSCE to help mediate the conflict. According to Norwegian Foreign Minister and current OSCE Chairman Knut Vollebaek, Ivanov said that he “doesn’t see a political role for the OSCE [in Chechnya] at this stage.” Ivanov’s intransigence led Vollebaek to say later on November 12 that European officials intend to pressure Moscow during this week’s summit in Istanbul to involve the OSCE in efforts to end the hostilities in Chechnya (Reuters, November 12). Vollebaek’s discussions with Ivanov in Helsinki followed the return late last week of an OSCE delegation which had made a brief tour of Chechen refugee camps in Ingushetia. In remarks made on November 11, Vollebaek expressed regret over Moscow’s unwillingness to allow the OSCE delegation to visit Chechnya itself (Reuters, November 12).

Moscow’s efforts to contain international deliberations devoted to the Chechen crisis were also operating in full force last week at the United Nations. Reports out of New York indicate that Russia (with Chinese backing) has used its veto power to squelch demands that the issue be brought before the UN Security Council for discussion. Canada has reportedly spearheaded the effort to bring the Chechen conflict before the Council, with some backing from the Netherlands and the predominantly Muslim countries of Malaysia and Bahrain. Remarks by a Russian diplomat, moreover, suggested that nearly half of the Security Council’s members may have voiced concern with Russian actions in Chechnya. Other Russian diplomats, both at the UN and in Moscow, made clear late last week that Moscow would continue to suppress discussion of Chechnya. Deputy Russian UN ambassador Gennady Gatilov was quoted as saying on November 11 that Chechnya is “not a matter of the Security Council…. It’s an internal matter for Russia, which is fighting terrorism with counterterrorism” (AP, Russian agencies, November 12).

Canada’s efforts to bring the issue of Chechnya before the Security Council mark a shift in policy by Ottawa. On September 27 Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy expressed his support for Russia’s campaign of bombing in Chechnya (September 27). Axworthy’s remarks came only days after a visit to Canada by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, and appeared to reflect Moscow’s own claims that the bombing missions were part of an antiterrorist campaign. Russian diplomats and newspapers subsequently pointed to Axworthy’s remarks as proof that there is some Western support for Russia’s military actions in the Caucasus. The Canadian minister did finally condemn Moscow following the marketplace bombing in Djohar on October 21.