Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin’s twenty-four-hour visit to London–during which he is to meet with Prime Minister Tony Blair, British business leaders and Queen Elizabeth II–appeared over the weekend to be generating considerable controversy in Britain itself. Even before Putin’s arrival in the British capital last night, human rights groups were criticizing the British prime minister and demonstrators were reportedly pledging to be out in force in order to protest human abuses by Russian troops in Chechnya. According to one British newspaper, there is concern that Blair’s decision to welcome Putin–and particularly his inclusion of a symbolic trip to Buckingham Palace for tea with the Queen–would be seen as an endorsement of Russia’s ruthlessness in the Caucasus (The Observer, AP, April 16). Generally similar concerns were expressed last month when Blair traveled to St. Petersburg only a week before the Russian presidential election in order to meet with Putin. It was during that trip–which some saw as a virtual endorsement by Blair of Putin–that the seeds were planted for Putin’s current visit to the British capital.
Aside from the more general protests, the Blair-Putin talks could be further complicated by news that a prominent British solicitor, Gareth Peirce, has filed a claim against Russia with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. According to the BBC, it is the first time that the court has been asked to examine the actions of Russian troops in Chechnya since the latest hostilities began there last autumn. Ms. Peirce is reportedly lodging the claim on behalf of Sasita Khasmagometovna, a nurse who escaped from Chechnya two months ago and has now gone into hiding in the West. She was reportedly witness to an incident in which a medical team and some seventy sick or wounded patients, ordered to leave the Chechen capital of Djohar, were stopped by Russian troops and beaten and abused. Ms. Khasmagometovna’s lawyers are accusing Russia of violating her right to life, of subjecting her to inhuman and degrading treatment and of violating her rights to liberty (BBC, April 16). Similar charges have also been leveled against Moscow by various international human rights groups, who accuse Russian troops of beating and summarily executing Chechen civilians.
TALKS IN CHECHNYA: ON AGAIN, OFF AGAIN.