The situation in Chechnya will be one of the topics on the agenda during the summer session of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), which opens on June 26 in Strasbourg. However the issue will be discussed without Russia’s participation: as a sign of protest, the State Duma decided not to send its parliamentarians to Strasbourg. On the other hand, the Russian side was unable to make the boycott a complete one. Two deputies from the Yabloko faction, along with Sergei Kovalev, the well-known human rights activist, decided to attend the PACE session. The tone of the debate over Chechnya will largely depend on the speeches give by Walter Schwimmer, the Council of Europe’s general secretary, and Umberto Ranieri, one of the under-secretaries of state in Italy’s foreign ministry, both of whom recently returned from Chechnya (Russian agencies, June 26-27).
It is already clear, however, that there will be no shortage of accusations against Moscow during the PACE session. In defiance of the demands of Western politicians, Moscow continues to bomb populations centers in Chechnya. On June 26, Russian aircraft carried out more than twenty bombing raids, hitting Chechen rebel bases in the Argun Gorge and Vedeno region. Yesterday, Russian aircraft again hit the same areas, and also the regions surrounding the city of Gudermes. The bombing is continuing despite the announcement that General Gennady Troshev, commander of the Russian forces in Chechnya, and Akhmad Kadyrov, head of the Chechen administration, had reached an agreement to halt military actions. On June 26, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, President Vladimir Putin’s Chechnya pointman, announced that the federal forces would continue to carry out aerial and artillery bombardment of rebel bases in southern Chechnya. Yastrzhembsky said that Troshev’s June 25 announcement that large-scale military operations in Chechnya were over had been misinterpreted. According to Yastrzhembsky, artillery will be used, but only in extreme situations and not in heavily populated regions.
The rebels, meanwhile, have not ceased their activities. On June 26, fourteen police commandos were wounded in the village of Mesker-Yurt in the region of Shali when two mines went off along a road. On June 27, Russian checkpoints were fired on eight times.
The Russian military will probably receive criticism in Strasbourg, but not simply for the bombing raids in Chechnya. According to the group Human Rights Watch, torture has already become a routine phenomenon in Russian jails located on Chechen territory. According to Western human rights activists, the Russian military has come up with new forms of torture, including the sawing of teeth (Reuters, June 26; Radio Liberty, June 26-27).
MASKHADOV ADMITS FIELD COMMANDERS HAVE REFUSED TO OBEY HIM.