#21 - JRL 7059
February 10, 2003
CHECHNYA: WHAT LIES AHEAD?
The referendum may aggravate the situation in Chechnya
Author: Grigory Yavlinsky
[from WPS Monitoring Agency, www.wps.ru/e_index.html]
IT IS UNREALISTIC TO EXPECT TO HOLD A REFERENDUM IN MARCH, GIVEN THE TIME CONSTRAINTS AND THE CURRENT SITUATION IN CHECHNYA. A CONFERENCE DEDICATED TO POLITICAL SETTLEMENT WOULD MARK THE START OF A NEW COUNTDOWN FOR CHECHNYA.
The issue of settling the situation in Chechnya is now being discussed in the context of a referendum on a constitution for Chechnya, scheduled for March.
Clearly, it is unrealistic to expect to hold a referendum in March with successful voting, achieving positive results, heralding a political process leading to the end of bloodshed - given the time constraints and the current situation in Chechnya.
There's a large gap between the views on the life of Chechen people and what is proposed for the referendum. Half of the population still regards Maskhadov as their president. The people are far from the referendum; it is not perceived as a common cause. I think few people in Chechnya happened to see the draft constitution and even if the required number of copies is printed in the immediate future, no normal discussion will be obtained and there will be opportunity of amending the document.
In the meantime, draft Chechen constitution should be thoroughly discussed both in the republic and on the federal level, since Chechnya is Russia's federal subject. Nowadays there's hardly likely to be a politician in Russia familiar to this document.
Removal of the recommendation to postpone the referendum from the PACE resolution causes anxiety alone. The recommendation was removed not because the Russian delegation proved ability of the federal and local authorities to ensure the tolerable conditions for holding the referendum. The resolution adopted still has: "The PACE is concerned about the fact that the conditions required to hold a referendum can hardly be ensured by the scheduled date." The PACE simply refused to take part in setting the date for the referendum, as well as sending monitors and recognizing results of the referendum.
There's a danger that the discussion dedicated to the settlement in Chechnya could be ceased at all. Lord Judd's resignation was used as a pretext for dismissing the Duma-PACE commission, which is handling the Chechen problems. Taking into account the fact that the OSCE assistance group has discontinued its mission in the republic, liquidation of this commission leads to complete elimination of the European structures from the sphere of the Chechen settlement.
Nowadays, PACE has not only disclaimed responsibility for actions of the Russian authorities, but also created prerequisites for a serious aggravation of the situation in the future. Internationally unrecognized, the Chechen referendum is a source of long-lasting and severe instability, an incentive for the guerrillas and foreign structures supporting them.
If the referendum could promote an end to clean-up operations, restoration of the legal situation in Chechnya, especially as regards to actions of the law enforcement officers toward civilians, an end to torture and executions, disappearance of people, robbery, violence of all kinds, it would be really beneficial.
However, everything mentioned above are the preliminary conditions required, which should be ensured before the referendum. Such conditions are not created at the moment and they are unlikely to be created by March.
Inopportune and unprepared referendum and the decisions made afterwards may aggravate the situation in Chechnya. Efforts aimed at breakdown of the negotiations will be omnipresent. Nowadays, all parties without exception are taking the course toward aggravation of the situation; each party has those who are interested in the civil war, those for whom it may be favorable.
An unprepared referendum will provoke spread of the social strain outside Chechnya; it will be felt in Russia on the whole. We must be ready to avert and retaliate the possible terrorist attacks.
Still, the situation is so that the referendum will, to all appearances, be held within the scheduled timeframe. The money has already been allocated and none of the participants in he preparation for the referendum have an intention to abandon it.
We need to think what to do further on. We shall anyway have to go back to the starting point, the peaceful process. Cessation of the sweeps in Chechnya and restoration of the legal order in Chechnya are the tasks which should be accomplished anyway. The Russian authorities must avert conflicts inside Chechnya, since a real threat of the civil war is partly the guilt of the federal authorities, which have been forming the situation in the republic over the past 42 months.
It is necessary to stimulate negotiations between al the belligerent and potentially belligerent parties, inside Chechen society as well, i.e. development of the peaceful settlement through mediation of the federal center.
Sooner or later, all of this will cause initiation of a peace conference under the chairmanship of the Russian president, all the conflicting and concerned parties involved. Only some individuals, war criminals, whose guilt is ascertained should remain uninvolved.
International opportunities could and must be used to deter violence, elaborate special regulations and procedures, ensuring long- term stability. Elimination of the international participation from the Chechen settlement is a wrong course.
It is very uneasy to come to the conference, but this is the only serious sector of work. The Russian federal authorities could and must do their best to prepare the conference, prevent growth of the civil war in Chechnya.
The conference dedicated to political settlement will earmark the new countdown for Chechnya.
(Translated by Andrei Ryabochkin)