Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 202

There appeared to be more than a little confusion in Moscow late last week–and perhaps a bit in New York as well–in the wake of revelations that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was pushing to send a UN humanitarian aid team to the Russian Caucasus. Annan’s plans were first mentioned in an interview with the UN Secretary General published by the Washington Post on October 28. In it, Annan said that he had dispatched an envoy to Moscow to push for a visit to Chechnya by a special UN team. According to Annan, the team would examine the need for humanitarian aid and would also serve as “the eyes and ears of the international community” in Chechnya (Washington Post, October 28; see the Monitor, Octobers 28).

The UN Secretary General’s Office appeared to expand on Annan’s comments in additional remarks to the press later on October 28. In an official statement released to the public, Annan’s chief spokesman, Fred Eckhard, said that the secretary general has been concerned for some weeks “about the severe impact of the conflict in Chechnya on the civilian population, many thousands of whom have been driven from their homes.” Annan has been in touch with the Russian authorities on the matter, Eckhard continued, and has sent a senior official to discuss the possibility of sending a UN humanitarian assistance mission to the Northern Caucasus. Those negotiations were successful, Eckhard said, and the UN mission could leave for the region by the end of October. Eckhard also repeated Annan’s earlier assertion that while the “problem of terrorism is one of legitimate concern to all governments, it is important the response to it should be proportional.” In situations “as complex as that in Chechnya, the solution must ultimately be political,” Eckhard said (M2 Communications, October 29).

Russia’s response to the reported UN initiative was confused–and confusing. In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on October 29 that the Russian side had in fact received no official request from Annan’s office regarding a possible UN mission to Chechnya. Russia was, he said, “working with a number of international organizations” to provide aid to those people temporarily displaced from Chechnya and would welcome additional aid from the UN. But, in what has evolved into Moscow’s standard rejection of all international calls for a negotiated end to the Chechen conflict, Ivanov said that a political settlement could come only after the “elimination of terrorist gangs” in Chechnya. He also repeated Moscow’s equally standard arguments that the world community understands Russia’s reasons for conducting military operations in Chechnya and that reports of deadly Russian attacks on Chechen civilians are part of a “well-orchestrated” disinformation campaign (Russian agencies, October 29).

A press spokeswoman for the Moscow office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) appeared to contradict Ivanov on a couple of key points, however. On October 29 she told reporters that there had been lengthy talks between the UNHCR office and leading officials from Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry, the Nationalities Ministry and the Federal Migration Service. Those talks, she said, had resulted in an understanding. It calls for representatives from several specialized UN agencies, including the UNHCR and UNICEF, to visit Ingushetia and Dagestan “to pinpoint needs of the displaced persons who arrived there from neighboring Chechnya.” Based on the mission’s report, she continued, a decision will be made as to the ultimate scale and forms of UN humanitarian aid (Russian agencies, October 29).