Knut Vollebaek, acting chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and Norway’s foreign minister, began his visit to the North Caucasus yesterday. He has called on the Russian authorities to call a ceasefire in their military campaign in Chechnya and insists that the OSCE must have a political role in solving that conflict–which, he believes, requires a resumption of the work of the OSCE’s assistance group in Nazran, Ingushetia. He also called for the start of negotiations between Russian and Chechen authorities. At the same time, Vollebaek conceded that the situation concerning Chechen refugees in Dagestan is being handled by the local authorities there. Vollebaek is scheduled today to visit Ingushetia and regions of Chechnya under federal control. Chechen Vice Premier Kazbek Makhashev said that Vollebaek’s planned itinerary will not give him even the remotest sense of what is really going on in Chechnya. Indeed, the Russian authorities plan to allow the Norwegian diplomat to visit only the Nadterechny region of the republic, where combat is no longer taking place, meaning that he will get no sense of the true dimensions of the destruction in Chechnya (Nezavisimaya gazeta, December 15; Radio Liberty, December 14).
According to Nezavisimaya gazeta, the Russian Foreign Ministry is very unhappy about Vollebaek’s mediating initiatives, which it likely sees as meddling in Russia’s internal affairs. In general, the Kremlin is extremely unhappy about the international community’s criticism of the destruction of Chechnya’s civilian population by the Russian military. Yesterday, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin charged that the West was increasingly using “the language of force” with Russia, and that Russia would use all the levers at its disposal to resist this. It is worth noting that Putin made his comment during a visit to the Plesetsk missile launching site in Russia’s Arctic North, where he came to see a test launch of the Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missile.
Moscow’s annoyance is hard to understand, given that the new OSCE charter–adopted during the recent November Istanbul meeting and signed by Russia–states that internal conflicts can threaten the security of OSCE members as much as interstate conflicts. Thus, in agreeing to the charter, Russia recognized the right of the international community to act as mediator in resolving the Chechen conflict. The Russian government’s current position is similar to that of the leaders of the Soviet Union, who, having signed the Helsinki Accords, immediately began violating them, but insisted that they were not persecuting dissidents, but simply isolating psychologically disturbed and criminals.
Meanwhile, Adolf Shayevich, Russia’s chief rabbi, expressed fears yesterday that the military campaign in Chechnya was turning into a persecution of the Chechen people. “I cannot sleep well when Chechen children are being slaughtered,” Shayevich said. Likewise, Vladimir Gusinsky, founder of the Most business empire who also heads the Russian Jewish Congress, said: “A fight against terrorism should not be turned into bullying one people, because the right to live is fundamental for all nationalities” (Reuters, Russian agencies, December 14). Rather ironically, a group of top Russian officials, including Prime Minister Putin, Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov (who oversees the military-industrial complex), Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and Colonel General Vladimir Yakovlev, commander of the strategic rocket forces, yesterday laid flowers on the grave of human rights leader Andrei Sakharov, who died ten years ago.
PRO-LUZHKOV RALLY PASSES WITHOUT VIOLENCE.