How Europe Views Russia as Election Approache
Moscow's military campaign in Chechnya is a source of friction in Russia's relations with Western European nations The European Union has been critical of the conduct of Russia's assault. On March 20, for example, EU foreign ministers issued a statement that faulted Russia for not establishing an adequate humanitarian aid infrastructure in Chechnya. Meanwhile, the Council of Europe has suggested that Russia could lose its seat in the 41-member organization due to its failure to halt alleged human rights abuses in the renegade province. In late January, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council, which promotes democracy and human rights, called on Russia to resolve the conflict peacefully by April or risk a review of its participation in the organization.
From March 9-12, a delegation led by Lord Judd of Great Britain visited Chechnya to evaluate Russia's progress toward meeting the Parliamentary Assembly's recommendations. On March 13, the delegation criticized the Russian military's "disproportionate" use of force. Lord Judd said: "It is beyond comprehension that, at the beginning of the 21st century, a European city like Grozny could be systematically destroyed by the forces of its own government."
Also on March 13, the Russian plenipotentiary human rights representative, Oleg Mironov, acknowledged that Russia's membership was in danger. Although Mironov said the Council of Europe should provide assistance, as well as criticism, he admitted Russia had made policy mistakes, such as prohibiting UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson from visiting Chechnya.
Various organs of the Council have complained about Russian actions in Chechnya. In December, Council Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer demanded a written explanation from the Russian government about its implementation of the Council's human rights norms in Chechnya. The European Convention on Human Rights allows the Secretary-General to request such an explanation, but no Secretary-General had ever used this right with respect to an individual country. Schwimmer explained the situation in Chechnya merited this unprecedented action. "The war in itself constitutes a human rights violation," Schwimmer said, repeating a statement made by the Council's Commissioner for Human Rights, Alvaro Gil-Robles.
Concurrently, European leaders have sought to establish a good working relationship with acting President Vladimir Putin, the overwhelming favorite to win the scheduled March 26 presidential election. Putin's hard-line approach on Chechnya has been a major factor in establishing him as the presidential front-runner. A significant majority of Russia's population approves of the Putin Administration's handling of the war.
With the approach of the March 26 presidential election, the Central Eurasia Project spoke with Ellen Hasenkamp, a correspondent for Agence France-Presse, based in Brussels, Belgium, about Europe's reaction to Chechnya, the rise of acting President Vladimir Putin and the future of EU-Russian relations. The transcript of the conversation follows:
CEP: What concerns EU leaders most about the Chechnya war?
Hasenkamp: Every European leader is stressing that the EU cannot accept the behavior of the Russian soldiers that the use of force is excessive and the civil population is suffering disproportionally.