PACE DELEGATION ARRIVES IN MOSCOW BUT FOREGOES VISITS TO CHECHNYA AND INGUSHETIA.
Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 2 Issue: 33
On September 12, a delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), headed by Lord Frank Judd of Britain, arrived in Moscow. Judd was accompanied by the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, Alvaro Gil-Robles. The purpose of their visit was to prepare the ground for a report Lord Judd is scheduled to present to a session of the Assembly which is to open on September 25 in Strasbourg.
According to the original plan, the PACE delegates, accompanied by a group of elected deputies from the Russian State Duma, headed by Dmitry Rogozin, chairman of the Duma’s international affairs committee, were to visit Chechnya and Ingushetia on September 13-15. Rogozin, a leading Russian “hawk” with regard to the war in Chechnya, however, strongly urged that the joint delegation not travel to the North Caucasus region. “I expressed doubts,” he told Itar-Tass, “about the usefulness of organizing a trip to the North Caucasus because both we and European members of parliament are in a state of shock over the tragic developments in the United States. Traveling to Chechnya in the present conditions would mean looking for unnecessary adventures” (Itar-Tass, September 14). Lord Judd noted that the PACE delegation had hoped to visit both Chechnya and Ingushetia but “inasmuch as their colleagues in the State Duma of the Russian Federation considered such a trip premature,” they had agreed to postpone it to a future date (Strana.ru, September 13).
Unable to travel to Chechnya, the PACE delegation had to limit themselves to discussions with various high-level Russian officials and Duma deputies in Moscow. On September 13, a joint meeting of the delegation and members of the Duma’s committee on international affairs took place in the Russian capital. In addition to the aforementioned Dmitry Rogozin, the meeting was attended by the plenipotentiary presidential representative in the Southern Federal District Viktor Kazantsev, the prime minister of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration, Stanislav Il’yasov, and various unnamed “representatives of the Chechen public” (Strana.ru, September 13).
During the discussion, “the basic contours of the new Duma plan for regulation in the North Caucasus” was unveiled. In somewhat vague terms, it was proposed to create “a public consultative council, consisting of the most respected representatives of the Chechen public, including the Chechen diaspora in Russia” as well as “a special group for regulating the situation in Chechnya.” These two organizations must then “work out constitutional foundations for the convoking of a new parliament of the Chechen Republic.” Viktor Kazantsev said that he was in favor of this approach and also “supported the proposal of [Duma] deputy Aslambek Aslakhanov to hold in the very near future a broad meeting of representatives of the Chechen public in order to regulate disagreements between the Chechen diaspora and Chechens living in the republic” (Strana.ru, September 13).
In an interview with journalist Il’ya Maksakov of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Duma committee chairman Rogozin confided that he was looking forward to the upcoming PACE meetings in Strasbourg. “We feel,” he said, “that the discussion in PACE and in other international organizations is nearing a ‘boiling point.’ I myself am interested in the fact that, at its September session, the Assembly will examine the results of [our] joint working group.” On the question of negotiating with Chechen separatists, Rogozin said that that “one can listen to ‘that side,'” but only to persons who “officially repudiate the support of those who hold weapons in their hands.” Rogozin flatly ruled out any negotiations with separatist president Aslan Maskhadov, saying, “That person is completely uninteresting to me. He is weak. He is directly guilty of the misfortunes of his people…. He should have valued how the Russian authorities behaved toward his family, which was not taken hostage…. I think that Maskhadov is being manipulated by people more serious than himself” (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, September 12).
Also on September 13, Alvaro Gil-Robles of the PACE delegation met with Sergei Yastrzhembsky, President Vladimir Putin’s principal spokesman on issues related to the conflict in Chechnya. Yastrzhembsky presented to his visitor “a list of criminal cases opened against soldiers who have committed crimes against the peaceful population during the counterterrorist operation.” Yastrzhembsky’s apparatus noted that the materials of the Chief Russian Military Procuracy had been presented to the European parliamentarians in preparation for the upcoming September 25 PACE assembly (Strana.ru, September 13).
Perhaps the most significant of the various meetings conducted by the PACE delegates was one on September 13 with Russian Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov. During this session, Ustinov emphasized that for the employees of his agency the chief task on the territory of Chechnya is “ensuring the defense of the rights of citizens and the strengthening of legal order.” According to Ustinov, 393 criminal cases have to date been opened with regards to crimes committed against the peaceful populace of Chechnya, of which thirty-one cases against forty-two persons have already been sent to the courts. Fifteen Russian soldiers, he added, have been found guilty of crimes by Russian military courts (Strana.ru, September 13). One Russian soldier, named Burgov, Ustinov reported, has been sentenced to eleven years of imprisonment for the murder of a peaceful civilian in Chechnya (Interfax, September 13).
The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, Gil-Robles, responded with great enthusiasm to Ustinov’s report. “The law enforcement organs in Chechnya,” he declared, “have worked as they are supposed to.” And he continued his encomium: “We have become convinced that Russia is a law-based state, and that it leaves not one crime unpunished, no matter who has committed [it] and against whom it has been committed” (Interfax, September 13).
Referring to the recent terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington DC, Ustinov revealed that “Russian law enforcement organs have proof testifying to the preparation of Chechen rebels on the territory of other states (including Latvia, Georgia and Azerbaijan) and also the financing of their activity by international terrorist organizations.” “The international terrorist Khattab,” Ustinov continued, “is warring in Chechnya on the money of the international terrorist Osama bin Laden” (RIA Novosti, September 13). Ustinov’s identifying of Latvia, Georgia and Azerbaijan as three states that de facto harbor and abet Chechen terrorists could, at least theoretically–according to a Russian variant of the newly announced “Bush doctrine”–be interpreted as preparing the way for Russian military strikes or other punitive acts against those countries .
On September 17, Vladimir Kalamanov, the special representative of President Putin for “ensuring the rights and freedom of man and the citizen in Chechnya,” was scheduled to fly to Strasbourg for a seven-day visit, during which time he was to meet with Alvaro Gil-Robles, with the general secretary of the Council of Europe, Walter Schwimmer, and with the members of the Council’s committee of ministers. One of the key themes to be addressed during these week-long negotiations, Kalamanov said, “will be the extension of the mission of three experts from the Council of Europe” in his bureau in Znamenskoe [Chechnya], whose powers are to expire on October 4. Kalamanov remarked that he personally considered the work of these experts to be “very important,” but noted that the final decision on extending their mission will be taken by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His comments appeared to contain an implied threat to the effect that, if Russia does not get its way in Strasbourg, then it might decide to discontinue the work of the small Council of Europe group of experts based in Znamenskoe (Strana.ru, September 13).
To conclude, the recent visit to Moscow by a PACE delegation headed by Lord Judd of Britain suggests that the Parliamentary Assembly is chiefly concerned with encouraging the Russian authorities to take more decisive action against military and police personnel who commit serious crimes against Chechen civilians. On the surface at least, PACE seems to be considerably less interested in helping bring about a negotiated end to the current bloody conflict.