On February 7, the Foreign Minister of Romania, Mircea Geoana, arrived in Moscow for talks with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. Geoana introduced the Russian side to the diplomat who is to head the OSCE’s assistance mission to Chechnya: Aleksandru Cornea, the former Romanian ambassador to Ukraine (Kommersant, February 8). Following the meeting, it was announced that a dispute between Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) over the return of the mission to Chechnya had been “successfully resolved.” Foreign Minister Ivanov, however, noted that “a number of technical problems” remained before the mission could in fact travel to Chechnya. Commenting on these words, the online daily Gazeta.ru wrote: “Ivanov is being disingenuous. The OSCE wants to serve as a political intermediary in Chechnya, while Russia needs nothing from the OSCE except humanitarian aid…. As before, Russia considers the situation in the North Caucasus to be a strictly internal political affair” (Gazeta.ru, February 7).
The newspapers Nezavisimaya Gazeta and Novye Izvestia on February 7 published summaries of an article by Lord Russell-Johnston, chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), which had appeared in Le Monde. Nezavisimaya Gazeta termed the PACE chairman’s article “an unprecedented harsh criticism of the acts of Moscow in Chechnya.”
In his article, Russell-Johnston underscored that the civilian population of Chechnya continues to suffer; that Chechens continue to disappear at Russian checkpoints, with no explanation being offered, as well as during “mopping up” operations; and that Chechens are being unlawfully arrested, held in prisons and even murdered, while Russian military and civilian courts are unable to summon the will to bring the authors of these crimes to justice. The result of this situation has been the creation of a “climate of lawlessness” in Chechnya.
Russell-Johnson expressed regret that not one of the forty countries which make up the Council of Europe has chosen to appeal to the European Court for Human Rights, a fact which was, he maintained, “more than simply shameful.” On the subject of the recent return of voting rights to the Russian delegation to PACE, Russell-Johnston affirmed that that delegation “deserves a new chance to show that it will indeed attempt to better the situation [in Chechnya] and is capable of doing so.” He warned that PACE has effectively given the Russian delegation a last chance. If the situation in Chechnya does not significantly improve, then Russia could lose not only the right to vote in PACE but also its membership in the organization.