Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 202

Annan’s initiative last week is part of a broader Western effort aimed at bringing humanitarian aid to Chechen refugees in Ingushetia and Dagestan while simultaneously increasing pressure on Russian leaders to move from the war room to the negotiating table in order to resolve the Chechen conflict. Indeed, Annan reportedly coordinated his policies vis-a-vis Russia and Chechnya with Finnish Foreign Minister Tarja Halonen, who was in Russia over the weekend to examine the situation in the Caucasus as a representative of the European Union.

Halonen, who had earlier urged Russia to reopen to Chechen refugees a border crossing on the Ingush-Chechen border, visited refugee camps in Ingushetia on October 30. In a statement released that same day, Halonen deplored harassment and intimidation of refugees trying to flee the conflict and underscored the “urgent need for a concerted national and international aid effort to alleviate the crisis” in the Russian Caucasus. She also said that the EU would hold “the Russian Government to its word that it is not seeking a military solution” to the Chechen conflict and underlined the need for a “rapid de-escalation of the conflict.” She pledged US$1.25 million for refugees from the EU and additional assistance from Finland and Germany (Reuters, EU Press Statement, October 30).

The push by the UN and the EU for the delivery of humanitarian aid to Chechnya–not to mention their calls for an end to the fighting–leaves Moscow in a quandary. For obvious diplomatic reasons, the Russian leadership would prefer not to be seen refusing offers of humanitarian aid from the world community. That is particularly true of assistance from the UN, whose leading role as a mediator of international conflicts has been constantly touted by Moscow. At the same time, Moscow fears any internationalization of the Chechen crisis–for at least two reasons. One is because the dispatch of international aid workers to the Caucasus would make it more difficult for Moscow to keep secret the human cost of its military operations in Chechnya. A second reason is that Moscow fears international involvement of any sort could ultimately undermine its claim that Chechnya is a purely Russian affair, and one which it should be allowed to resolve without outside interference.

Moscow’s embarrassment over suggestions that it has been trying to keep the UN out of the Chechen conflict were evident in a Foreign Ministry statement released on October 29. It depicted a remark attributed to Annan by the October 28 Washington Post–the one which described the proposed UN humanitarian mission “as the eyes and ears of the international community in the North Caucasus”–as a gross distortion of Moscow’s willingness to work with the UN in the region (Russian agencies, October 29). The Russian spokeswoman of the UNHCR’s Moscow office, meanwhile, was equally adamant that the proposed UN mission would be purely humanitarian–that is, it would “not have any political goals.” She and others also made it clear that the mission’s activities would not extend to the territory of Chechnya itself, but would be limited to humanitarian problems in the surrounding regions (Russian agencies, October 29).