Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Window on Eurasia: British Appeal to Putin a Measure of How Bad Things Are in Chechnya

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 8 – More than 100 members of the British establishment have called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to intervene in Chechnya to end war crimes and human rights abuses by that republic’s pro-Moscow regime – the latest indication of how bad things have become under Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin’s handpicked leader there.
A summary of the contents of their open letter appeared in “The Independent” yesterday (http://www.news.independent.co.uk/europe/article2519041.ece), and that story was picked up by a small number of Russian-language news agencies and websites, including Kavkaz-Memo (http://www.kavkaz.memo.ru/printnews/news/id/1185940).
The open letter, whose signatories included former British Foreign Minister Malcolm Rifkind, the leader of the Liberal Democrats Menzies Campbell, and playwright Tom Stoppard said that “we can no longer remain silent in the face of the persistent human rights abuses and war crimes in Chechnya.”
“Despite [what the authors of the appeal described as] overwhelming evidence from human rights organizations about war crimes in Chechnya and the silencing of human rights defenders and independent journalists, the international community has remained silent,” the letter continued.
And consequently, the authors said, they hoped both “to bring the horrific situation in Chechnya” under the Kadyrov regime “to wider public attention” and simultaneously to “exhort President Putin to take whatever action he can to restore peace and the rule of law in Chechnya.”
That is especially important now, the letter continued, because the current Kremlin-installed president and government in Grozny is “little more than a regime of fear and oppression.”
According to “The Independent,” the letter was the idea of the Chechnya Peace Forum whose leadership was close to Anna Politkovskaya, the Russian journalist whose murder many believe was the result of her efforts to shine the bright light of publicity on developments in Chechnya and elsewhere in the North Caucasus.
What makes this appeal particularly noteworthy is that many of its authors earlier had spoken out in defense of Chechen liberties and against the human rights abuses and war crimes committed by the Russian security forces that Putin himself dispatched to Chechnya seven years ago.
Not surprisingly, its authors did not make that point directly in its text. But two of the signatories did in comments to the London paper. On the one hand, former foreign secretary Rifkind said that even those who accept that Chechnya is an “internal” Russian problem cannot but be appalled by “the methods” being used in that war.
He further noted “Putin sought to use the US-led war on terror as a reason why he expects the US and the West to turn a blind eye to what he’s doing. But it is difficult to see the credibility in the claim that the Chechens are part of al-Qa’ida.” He noted that earlier the West had not been reluctant to raise “human rights issues with the Kremlin.”
And on the other, Peter Tatchell, a British gay rights leader, denounced the situation in Chechnya as “a murderous war on Europe’s doorstep,” a conflict that continues to take place “with barely a word of protest from either the US and UK or the European Union.”
Tatchell, according to the “The Independent,” added that “President Putin and the hand-picked pro-Russian Chechen President had done nothing to address the root causes of the conflict, while the Russian President had ‘direct responsibility for much of the bloodshed’” in that North Caucasus land.
This appeal clearly reflects the desperation that many in Russia and the West feel about the current direction of developments in Chechnya: After all, its authors are asking the very man they hold responsible for what has taken place to intervene to end precisely the abuses and crimes that his policies have produced.

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