Following unsuccessful attempts late last year to meet with Chechen separatist representatives in Belgium, Union of Soldiers’ Mothers Committees (SKSMR) delegation met with representatives of Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov in London on February 24 and 25. The SKSMR delegation was led by the organization’s head, Valentina Melnikova, while the Chechen delegation was led by Akhmed Zakaev, Maskhadov’s London-based representative. The meeting was also attended by three members of the European Parliament (British Liberal Democrat Baronness Sarah Ludford, former Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis and Bart Staes, a member of the Green Party representing Belgium) and two members of the Council of Europe (Britain’s Lord Judd, who is a member of the council’s parliamentary assembly and its former rapporteur for Chechnya, and Switzerland’s Andreas Gross, who is PACE’s political rapporteur on Chechnya).
In the memorandum, the two sides jointly condemned the war in Chechnya and declared that the conflict cannot be resolved by force; stated that the origins of terrorism in Chechnya and the North Caucasus can be found in “the short-sighted and criminal policy of the Russian government that unleashed military actions in 1994”; and called on the Council of Europe, European Union and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to support the peace process.
The memorandum included more detailed proposals by the Chechen side, which stated that the main elements of a political solution to the conflict are: 1) a ceasefire and demilitarization with the participation of peacekeeping forces formed by both sides; 2) a political settlement between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria based on the “Peace Treaty and Principles of Interrelation between Russian Federation and Chechen Republic of Ichkeria” signed by then Russian President Boris Yeltsin and then Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov on May 12, 1997.
More specifically, the Chechen side said it and Russia should develop “a mechanism for an immediate ceasefire without preconditions and that “the Chechen side is ready to cooperate in the fight against terrorism, both in the context of bilateral relations and as part of the international coalition in the fight against terrorism.” Following the ceasefire, Russian troops should be withdrawn from Chechnya, Chechen rebel forces should disarm and the job of providing security should be handed over to “a temporary special peacekeeping contingent.” After this, a “temporary coalition government created under international control” should take over governing functions in Chechnya until elections are held. Direct elections should then be prepared and held “with the participation of all the Chechen Republic’s political forces under the observation of international institutions.” The Chechen side also called on the European Union to provide “large-scale direct economic aid for Chechnya’s reconstruction.”
On March 1, Valentina Melnikova called for “a multilateral dialogue between authorities – Russian and Chechen – and civil society,” the Associated Press reported. Yet despite the relatively cautious approach that the Union of Soldiers’ Mothers Committees representatives took during their first meeting with Chechen separatist emissaries, both the group and its leader have been sharply criticized by pro-Kremlin politicians in the wake of the London meeting. “The actions of the soldiers’ mothers do not produce any emotions in me personally,” State Duma Security Committee First Deputy Chairman Mikhail Grishankov, who is a member of United Russia, told Interfax on February 25. “This is a purely propagandistic step and there is nothing behind it.” Chechen Security Council Secretary Rudnik Dudaev said “in reality, neither the soldiers’ mothers nor Zakaev represent anyone and so cannot come out as [the initiators] of a negotiating process.” Chechen State Council Taus Dzhabrailov told Interfax on March 1: “These attempts to influence the situation have one goal – to emphasize the presence of Maskhadov, [to show] that he is alive and controls something. It is the latest PR campaign of the so-called leadership of the unrecognized Republic of Ichkeria.”
But the harshest comments came from Yakterina Lakhova, who chairs the Duma’s committee for women, family and youth affairs. She told RIA Novosti on February 28 that she regards Melnikova’s activities and statements as outrageous and her meeting with Akhmed Zakaev as “provocations and destabilizing actions toward Russia.” “It is immoral and cynical; there can be no negotiations with terrorists,” Lakhova said, adding: “It looks like Melnikova is carrying out the orders of certain financial groups that may simultaneously be standing behind world-wide terrorist organizations.”
Akhmed Zakaev, for his part, said that “the Russian authorities’ flippant reaction” to London meeting “results from the same attitude to the Chechen problem itself,” Kommersant reported on February 28. “The Russian leadership bears full responsibility for the fate of the truce,” he said. “Russian society has the levers for influencing the Russian regime. We have demonstrated readiness for peace, and this is the chief result of the meeting with the soldiers’ mothers.”