Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 2 Issue: 43

On November 23, the Russian military newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda carried an article that sharply assailed the small Assistance Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) located in the town of Znamenskoe in the northern part of Chechnya near the Terek River. “The renewed activity of the Assistance Group after a three-year hiatus,” journalist Aleksandr Veklich wrote, “is attracting greater and greater Russian public attention due to its scandalous character and odiousness. One can conclude that that activity is being consciously directed not toward stabilizing the situation in Chechnya but toward heating up passions in the republic and toward presenting the actions of the federal authorities in a negative light.” In its various reports, Veklich continued, “the group spreads tendentious and unconfirmed information coming from more than dubious sources in which the Russian military is besmirched. Objective information coming from official [Russian] sources concerning the bestial actions of the terrorists in relation to the local populace and to the military are, on the other hand, ignored and hushed up.” The Assistance Group is also criticized by Veklich for meeting with “dissatisfied representatives of the local population” in Znamenskoe and for hearing them out. “No one stands in need of the services of this group,” Veklich concludes tersely.

This heated attack on a small OSCE Assistance Group, which is living a largely isolated existence in a northern Chechen town teeming with Russian security forces, provides new evidence that key elements in the Russian power ministries want the group removed from Russian soil. What appears especially to grate on those ministries is the OSCE’s persistent investigation of crimes committed by Russian forces against Chechen civilians. If the OSCE Group were to be removed, then the equally small and isolated Council of Europe representation based in Znamenskoe would constitute the only foreign human rights watchdog remaining in the republic, and the Russian side seems to have worked out a modus vivendi with that group. Unfortunately for the Russian leadership, the OSCE and Council of Europe groups appear to communicate with one another. On the eve of important “round-table” meetings sponsored by the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, President Putin’s human rights representative to Chechnya, Vladimir Kalamanov, “hastened to remove impressions created by statements coming from anonymous Russian officials… concerning the activity of the OSCE Group in Chechnya, which allegedly engages in disinformation and is directed toward making unfounded accusations against the federal authorities.” Kalamanov in his comments underscored that “the Russian side is, as before, prepared to have contacts with Western observers and is ‘maximally open and transparent'” (Vremya Novostei, November 27).

It was reported by Agence France Presse on December 3 that Mircea Geoana, the current OSCE chairman-in-office, had, at the beginning of a meeting of the OSCE foreign ministers taking place in Bucharest, praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for his efforts to seek a negotiated settlement in Chechnya. “The measures undertaken by the Russian Federation in Chechnya and President Putin’s initiative to launch a political dialogue with Chechen representatives are welcome,” Geoana is quoted as remarking.