On December 10, the Interfax-AVN news service reported that, “The Administration of the FSB for Chechnya has officially informed the [pro-Moscow] administration and government of the republic that the activity of a number of international organizations on the territory of the region bears an illegal character.” The FSB, the report continued, “has established that several employees of international missions are engaged in the collection of information bearing an intelligence character which can then be used to exert pressure on the leadership of the republic through the Western mass media and also for discrediting representatives of the local authorities.”
In addition, the FSB charged that “several humanitarian organizations [operating in Chechnya] are providing food and clothing to the illegal armed formations.” Singled out for special criticism was the Danish Refugee Council, which is accused of having, in Gudermes District, turned over a part of its humanitarian aid to the rebels. The FSB report notes that presently eighteen international humanitarian organizations are active in Chechnya and that they run forty different programs there.
One Russian journalist, Olga Allenova of Kommersant, decided to look further into these charges. During an interview with Allenova, which appeared in the 11 December issue of the paper, General Sergei Babkin, an ethnic Russian who currently heads up the FSB of Chechnya, emphasized that the FSB charges concern only some of the eighteen international humanitarian organizations operating in Chechnya. However, he declined to specify which ones. In response to a request that he prove the intelligence-gathering activity of foreigners working for humanitarian organizations in Chechnya, Babkin riposted with a question of his own: “And do you think that representatives of humanitarian organizations or journalists cannot cooperate with [foreign] special services?” As for the Danish Refugee Council, Babkin did not attempt to conceal his negative opinion of that entity: “We, for example, are against the work of the Danish Refugee Council,” he stressed. “This organization provides help to people who do not need it and creates an unhealthy uproar in society. In Gudermes, they recently gave out aid, and it turned out that among those who received it were the relatives of rebels. This elicited a negative reaction on the part of the populace…. In general, I do not understand what goal this organization is pursuing: to help people, or to sow discord where peace and quiet have only just begun to reign.”
In another interview conducted at the center of the Danish Refugee Council for the North Caucasus region, Allenova heard a spokesperson for that organization say: “Our organization provides help to 310,000 displaced persons who have suffered as a result of the events in Chechnya. All those who receive aid are registered in accord with internationally recognized humanitarian principles and standards. We provide, and we will continue to provide, aid to invalids, orphans and other defenseless groups of the populace, irrespective of their family ties or political convictions.”
What is the goal of the FSB in launching this new crackdown? Recalling that General Babkin had told her, “Presently a checking is taking place, and the fate of certain persons [that is, of certain international humanitarian employees] is being decided at the level of the government of Russia,” Allenova concluded: “This means that a number of the employees of humanitarian missions will most likely be refused further work in Chechnya.” She then recalled the case of a Czech woman, Petra Prohaska: “Such [an expulsion] already happened with the Czech journalist Petra Prohaska, who opened an orphanage in Chechnya in her capacity as an employee of the humanitarian organization Caritas International. Ms. Prohaska opened an orphanage in Grozny in which she collected all the parentless children in the city who were huddling in cellars and also gave out food and clothing to the residents of the destroyed city. But the presence of a journalist there…displeased many. Half a year ago, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied her a visa…She was not told why this had been done. Now the same fate awaits other employees of humanitarian organizations.” Allenova concludes that the net effect of the new crackdown by the FSB will “be felt first of all by the Chechen populace.”
In an incident which could have been related to the crackdown, RIA Novosti reported on December 13 that three employees of the humanitarian mission of the Danish Council for Refugees had been severely beaten by unidentified assailants in Urus-Martan, Chechnya. The head of the relief distribution point in Urus-Martan, Lechi Dadashev, was reported to be in serious condition in the hospital. All of those beaten up were local residents working for the Danish Refugee Council. No one has been charged in the incident.
On December 14, RIA Novosti reported that the military commander of the North Caucasus Military District, Colonel General Gennady Troshev, had met with a representative of the International Committee for the Red Cross in the North Caucasus, Raj Rana. During this meeting, Rana was said to have “admitted that the representatives of its humanitarian mission did not make a distinction between the peaceful populace of Chechnya and the rebels.” This, he added, had been “a mistake.” “During the meeting,” it was reported, General Troshev also expressed an interest “in the methods of work of the representatives of the Red Cross in the Chechen Republic and, in particular, in the question of to whom they provided aid.”
To conclude, one can speculate as to the reasons behind this new crackdown by the FSB and the Russian military, but it is clear that it must inevitably endanger Chechen refugees, and especially children, as they confront a third harsh North Caucasus winter with many of them living in exposed tent camps. Lara Ragnarsdottir, the Council of Europe’s representative for social problems, who accompanied Lord Judd on his visit to a refugee camp in Chechnya last week, has observed: “The accommodation of the people in Chechnya, especially in the refugee camps, is very bad, and it is even worse than we saw one year ago. The children have no shoes. They have no clothing to go to school. They have difficulties in surviving in many ways. The food that the people are receiving is not the food we would like our children to have in order to grow up as healthy individuals.” She added that many of the children are showing signs of malnutrition and noted that there is no medicine, and that hospital care is not available except for certain urgent cases (RFE/RL, December 8). The crackdown on international humanitarian assistance in Chechnya will therefore serve to worsen an already worsening situation.