On January 25, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) voted 88-20 (with 11 abstentions) to restore Russia’s voting rights in the Council. Russia had been the first country to lose its voting rights over the half-century existence of the forty-three-nation assembly (Agence France Presse, January 26). Official Russian spokesmen expressed keen satisfaction with the vote. Thus Sergei Yastrzhembsky, Kremlin spokesman for issues relating to Chechnya, remarked: “The decision of PACE to restore Russia’s rights in that organization was, unquestionably, good news and, possibly, one of the best pieces of news of the new year for Russia. The work of the federal and [pro-Moscow] Chechen authorities to normalize life in the republic brought its fruits, as did the work of Russian parliamentarians” (RIA novostei and other Russian news agencies, January 26).
Commenting on the PACE vote, Rudolf Bindig, head of the Council’s commission for juridical questions, who had just returned from a fact-finding trip to the republic, told Kommersant daily that he and Lord Frank Judd of Britain had evaluated “the process of creating a system of local administration [for Chechnya]” as a significant positive change. Asked what aspects he remained dissatisfied with, Bindig observed: “The fact that the crimes committed by the representatives of the federal forces remain unpunished.” Both he and Lord Judd, Bindig noted, were opposed to once again depriving Russia of the right to vote in PACE. “Times have changed,” Bindig maintained. “In April  active battles were taking place all over Chechnya. That is not happening now” (Kommersant daily, January 25).
Duma deputy and former Russian human rights commissioner Sergei Kovalev, who attended the PACE meetings as a nonvoting delegate, questioned Judd and Bindig’s assertion that “positive changes” had in fact taken place in Chechnya. “Did Lord Judd,” Kovalev asked in comments he made to Kommersant daily, “deny in his report the fact of the mass disappearance of people and the practice of torture in Chechnya? Does he not understand that reducing the pressure on Russia will de facto encourage the continuation of the terrible deeds taking place there? Judd himself states that the changes have been ridiculously small. For example, out of 30,000 complaints [issued against the Russian military and police] the law enforcement bodies have accepted only thirty for investigation” (Kommersant daily, January 25).
In a commentary on the PACE vote, entitled “Chechnya Is Not Worth $25 Million,” the online daily Gazeta.ru speculated that money could have played a role in the council’s decision: “The representatives of Russia, according to our correspondent, gave to understand to the leadership of the Council of Europe that, in the case of a negative decision, our country would likely be forced to cease its membership in the council and consequently its annual dues payment (one of the largest, US$25 million) would cease. And the Council of Europe is presently experiencing financial difficulties” (Gazeta.ru, January 26).
Gazeta.ru also underscored its opinion that the enthusiasm of Kremlin spokesman Yastrzhembsky and other Russian officials over the results of the PACE vote could be premature. “Although they [PACE] returned the right of vote to us,” the daily wrote, “that does not in the least mean that PACE will not be attentively following the development of the situation in Chechnya…. If one reads the resolution of PACE concerning Chechnya carefully, one gains the impression that voting right was returned to us as a kind of advance…. The situation with regard to human rights in the republic remains unsatisfactory [for PACE]…. All of this provides grounds for PACE to regularly raise the Chechen problem and to criticize Russia at its future sessions.”
On January 22, Human Rights Watch submitted a detailed “Final Update on Chechnya” in advance of the PACE meetings in Strasbourg. The report is available at: www.hrw.org/backgrounder/eca/chechmemo-0122.
On January 24 the newly installed Bush administration called for a political settlement to the Chechen conflict and cited “credible” reports of continuing Russian abuses of civilians. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher commented, “We continue to believe that the only way to bring about lasting peace and stability in the region is to begin a dialogue which will lead to a political settlement.” Boucher went on to express skepticism over whether President Putin’s recent announcement of a reduction of Russian troops in Chechnya had any real meaning. “We’ve seen announcements of troop withdrawals from Chechnya before,” he said, “but, frankly, Russia’s presence in Chechnya remains massive” (Reuters, January 24; AP, January 25).