Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 12

Russia has been buffeted from all sides in recent days by a new volley of criticism over its military campaign in Chechnya, but the unwillingness of Western countries to back up their criticism with punitive measures suggests that it will continue to have little or no impact on Russian policy in the region. A kinder, gentler Vladimir Putin nevertheless emerged in talks with a high-level delegation of European leaders yesterday which were devoted to discussion of the conflict in Chechnya. Russia’s acting president, who has overseen the brutal Russian military operations in Chechnya and garnered political rewards for his tough-talking approach to the conflict, yesterday told his visitors that Russia “understand[s] the concern of the international community over the events in the North Caucasus.” But he also called on the “international community to show an understanding of our position, by relying on facts about the real situation from truthful information and not from propaganda.”

Putin’s remarks came during a three-hour meeting with a delegation of representatives from the Council of Europe headed by Lord David Russell-Johnston, president of the Council’s parliamentary assembly (PACE). Russian sources reported that Putin had agreed to extend the originally scheduled one-hour meeting to three hours in order to explain to the European delegates the reasons for Moscow’s actions in the Caucasus. Afterwards, Russell-Johnston said that Putin had shown flexibility during the discussions and had indicated he was “open to suggestions for a change in his policy from the Council of Europe.” Russell-Johnston also said that he had won Putin’s agreement to the establishment of “an international presence… in Ingushetia and parts of Chechnya” to facilitate the flow of information to the world’s media.

Upon his arrival in Moscow on January 16, Russell-Johnston had warned that Russia could be suspended from the Council of Europe because its actions in Chechnya are not consistent with the council’s human rights standards. But despite asserting that many Council members were “appalled” by Russia’s handling of the war in the Caucasus–and particularly what he said was Moscow’s indiscriminate bombing and shelling of towns and villages–Russell-Johnston appeared to back off the suspension threat yesterday (Reuters, AP, Russian agencies, January 17; Agence France Presse, January 16).

The issue is nevertheless expected to be raised again during an emergency debate on Chechnya scheduled by the Council’s parliamentary assembly for January 27. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov indicated yesterday that he was prepared to attend the emergency session in order to defend Russia’s actions in Chechnya. The debate will apparently be conducted on the basis of information gathered by the thirteen-member Council of Europe delegation during its current one-week visit to Russia. The delegation is set to travel to the North Caucasus region today (AP, Russian agencies, January 17).

The forty-one nation Council of Europe was established in 1949 to promote democracy, human rights and European cooperation, and has been among the Western world’s most outspoken critics of the Russian crackdown in Chechnya. The council has called repeatedly for an end to Russia’s military operations in the North Caucasus and has demanded a negotiated end to the conflict. Russia became a member of the Council of Europe, and of its parliamentary assembly, in February of 1996. Moscow’s entry into the human rights body came, ironically, after the council had agreed to resume consideration of Moscow’s admission application. The admission application had been suspended on the basis of the Council’s objections to Russia’s first war in Chechnya (AP, Russian agencies, January 17).