There May Be More Consensus Between Russia and the PACE, But Moscow's Delegates Still Want More Recognition of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov's "Positive Role"
A report and resolution condemning Russian policy in the North Caucasus got unanimous backing at the Parliamentary Assembly for the Council of Europe (PACE) on Tuesday and was even approved by top Russian officials. This is the first time such a resolution has been approved without any objections in the 14 years of Russia’s membership on the Council of Europe. No one doubts this is a signal from the Kremlin, but deciphering it is another matter. Is it all just a PR smoke screen, or are there fresh political winds blowing in the Kremlin?
The June 22 PACE resolution on the North Caucasus was approved almost unanimously by various delegations including top Russian officials, even though it condemns “systemic human rights violations and the climate of complete impunity.” This is the first time consensus across the board has been reached at a PACE session on rights issues in Russia’s troubled Caucasus region. Activists and politicians alike are hailing the breakthrough as “unprecedented.”
Two members of the Russian delegation, including State Duma Deputies Sergei Markov and Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the International Affairs Committee, abstained from the vote along with four other non-Russians. Other Russian delegates such as Ivan Melnikov, another State Duma deputy, voted in favor, and others such as Ingush President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov gave it full backing.
“What is unprecedented is that the resolution was approved by everyone: the Parliamentary Assembly, human rights activists, Akhmed Zakayev, and the Russian delegation,” said Oleg Orlov, the head of human rights at Memorial, who was at the conference.
Akhmed Zakayev, a Chechen emissary wanted in Russia but supposed to be living in exile in London, caused a big stir when he burst into the Strasbourg conference uninvited, having apparently duped his way in with a fake pass. PACE’s plenary session had already been strained as the Estonian delegation in particular vilified Russia’s policy on the volatile region in Russia’s south, but even Zakayev gatecrashing did not prevent overall consensus on the resolution and report. Ingush president Yevkurov called the findings of the PACE report “unbiased” and “objective.” Orlov said both the report and the resolution were “excellent.”
The resolution starts positively by praising Russia’s “impressive efforts…to rebuild towns often reduced to heaps of rubble, and to restore and improve the country’s infrastructures,” after the two bloody Chechen wars. But the report goes on to castigate developments in Chechnya with increasingly emotive language. “The climate of impunity…and the passiveness of the authorities…seriously undermine the population’s trust in the security forces and the state institutions generally, and thus feed the nefarious spiral of violence,” reads the resolution.
In a press statement after the plenary session, Zakayev was even more barbed in his appraisal of Russian policy: “I would state that no window dressing about the so-called ‘rejuvenated’ Chechen Republic can serve as compensation for 250,000 lives of our countrymen, sacrificed on the altar of freedom and independence of our motherland – or for the ongoing violence.”
The republics of Ingushetia and Dagestan both came out relatively well from the report. Ingushetia’s president was commended for fomenting “constructive dialogue” with civil society, despite the increase in violent insurgency. Meanwhile the Dagestan security forces were mildly criticized after they “were not always lawful and productive” in their response to the recent increase in violence.
So have the Russians changed tack? Orlov said the unprecedentedly positive reaction of the Russian delegation had to indicate a clear change of policy. “It’s clearly a signal, and must have come from the Kremlin. It’s a good signal of course. But what it means is another matter. Is it the case that the Russian authorities have finally recognized that they need to fight human rights abuses in the North Caucasus, and that these abuses are impeding the situation stabilizing? This we can only hope,” said Orlov. “We will have to wait and see if this is just a Potemkin village.”
Sergei Markov told Russia Profile there had been no change in the position of the Russian authorities. “This new report simply moved closer to the Russian position,” said Markov. “It’s not a change in Kremlin policy – the results reflect a change of policy from the Parliamentary Assembly for the Council of Europe.”
Russia has never simply “ignored” that the human rights situation in the North Caucasus is “far from ideal,” as previous PACE resolutions have stated, said Markov. “This report actually paid tribute to the attempt of the Russian authorities to make improvements, but with one exception: this report does not recognize the positive role of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov,” said Markov.
The resolution says that “the current [Chechen] authorities continue to nurture a climate of pervading fear, despite the undeniable successes in the sphere of reconstruction and the appreciable improvement of infrastructure in this region, torn by two cruel and devastating wars.”
It continues: the Assembly “was deeply saddened by the violent death or the disappearance of personalities such as Anna Politkovskaya, Natalia Estemirova, Stanislav Markelov, Magomed Yevloyev, Maksharip Aushev, Zarema Gaisanova, Zarema Sadulayeva, Rashid Ozdoyev and many others, and expresses its perplexity and anguish at the fact that to date none of these cases has been elucidated by the investigating system.”
Five out of eight of these cases are linked specifically to Chechnya. The report also found that there are “strong indications” that the Chechen authorities, or “at least circles close to them,” were responsible for the murder of Kadyrov’s bodyguard-turned-critic Umar Israilov in Vienna in January 2009.
A case was opened yesterday against the two Chechens charged with gunning down Ruslan Yamadaev, an old rival of Kadyrov, in 2008. Since then Yamadaev’s brother was assassinated in Dubai, and a third brother narrowly escaped being murdered by his bodyguard. The bodyguard publically claims that Kadyrov offered $1 million for the third brother’s murder.
A press release posted on Ramzan Kadyrov’s Web site the day of the conference reads: “Everything must follow the letter of the law in the Chechen Republic.”
- Caucasian Consensus, by Tom Balmforth - Russia Profile
- Related issues
- Human rights in the North Caucasus: the most serious situation in the geographical area of the Council of Europe
- Russia Approves PACE Resolution On North Caucasus For First Time - RFE/RL
- PACE resolution discussion on North Caucasus turns sour - paper - Ria-Novosti