The appearance of Akhmed Zakaev, a deputy premier in the Chechen separatist government and a personal representative of President Maskhadov, created a considerable stir at the PACE meetings. In an interview with Kommersant (January 23 issue), Zakaev noted that, on December 19, Lord Russell-Johnston, then president of PACE, had sent a letter to Maskhadov asking him to resume contacts with PACE. Maskhadov, Zakaev related, had then sent Russell-Johnston a letter of reply, thanking him for his invitation and announcing that he was granting Zakaev “official powers to implement contacts with the European Parliament.” Zakaev noted that, while in Strasbourg, he would not be delivering a report at the session but would have meetings with the PACE leadership. And indeed Zakaev was granted a meeting with Austria’s Peter Scheider, who on January 21 had replaced Russell-Johnston as the new president of PACE.
Discussing Zakaev’s trip to Strasbourg, the online daily Gazeta.ru observed in its January 25 issue: “On [January 24] the newly elected president of PACE Peter Scheider met with Maskhadov’s representative, Akhmed Zakaev. Moreover, Scheider officially asked the Chechen emissary to send ‘best regards to your president Maskhadov.’ Zakaev was invited to sign the PACE honorary guest book, a move that infuriated the Russian delegation. The leader of the Russian delegation in PACE and the head of the State Duma committee for international affairs, Dmitry Rogozin, indignantly remarked that if Zakaev was invited to sign the PACE guest book, then a space should also be left for Osama Bin Laden’s signature…. Angered by the warm welcome extended to [Zakaev] at PACE, some of the Russian delegates called for Russia to terminate contacts with the European Parliament. State Duma deputy Leonid Slutsky [the deputy head of the Russian delegation] said that at the next PACE session the Russian delegation would demand that the Council of Europe stop human rights monitoring in Chechnya and leave the republic.” This point emphasized by Slutsky set up a possible future conflict between Russia and PACE, because, in the resolution officially adopted by the PACE assembly on January 23, Russia was called upon to “ensure a long-term Council of Europe presence” in Chechnya to monitor human rights in the republic (Associated Press, January 24). In an interview published earlier in the January 19 issue of Novye Izvestia, Walter Schwimmer, the secretary general of PACE, had warmly praised the Council of Europe’s small monitoring group located in Znamenskoe in northern Chechnya at the Bureau of the Special Representative of the President of Russia for Human Rights in Chechnya. “The Bureau,” Schwimmer noted, “has registered more than 20,000 complaints. It succeeded in achieving the freeing of several hundred people, who were in prison without any foundation. A search for persons gone missing without trace is also being conducted…. We will insist that the [pro-Moscow] procuracy in Chechnya do its job, and we will help it in this.”
Writing in the January 25 issue of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, journalist Il’ya Maksakov reported that two of the leaders of PACE, Bruno Haller and Lord Judd, had proposed to Dmitry Rogozin, the aforementioned leader of the Duma delegation to PACE, that he meet in Strasbourg with Zakaev, Maskhadov’s representative. “Rogozin,” Maksakov continued, “did not in principle decline to do so, but he did get assurances from the leadership of PACE that, in the future, invitations [to the separatists] would not be sent without the knowledge of the Russian side.” In an interview appearing in the January 25 issue of Kommersant, Zakaev noted that he had met only with Sergei Kovalev from the Russian Duma delegation. “But as for Dmitry Rogozin, who, in his words, had many questions for me, for some reason he did not meet with me. I, in any event, was prepared for a conversation with him,” Zakaev said.