Norway's ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was quoted yesterday as saying that Moscow's war in the separatist republic of Chechnya may not be a strictly internal Russian matter. That quote heated up an old controversy, and suggested that Chechnya could turn out to be an important issue at next week's OSCE summit in Istanbul. Correspondent Joel Blocker spoke today with OSCE officials about the affair.
Prague, 11 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Officials at OSCE headquarters in Vienna are now saying that Russia's military operations in the separatist republic of Chechnya will be a major issue at the organization's summit meeting in Istanbul next week (Nov. 18-19).
OSCE spokesman Mons Nyberg and other officials also say that there is no consensus among the OSCE's 54 member states on a key question concerning Chechnya. That question is whether or not Moscow's military campaign in Chechnya is entirely an internal Russian affair, as Moscow maintains, or one that concerns other OSCE states as well. The OSCE takes decisions by consensus only.
The officials' remarks came in the wake of a controversial statement reportedly made yesterday in the Russian republic of Ingushetia -- where more than 200,000 neighboring Chechens have sought refuge -- by Norwegian diplomat Kim Traavik. Traavik heads a fact-finding mission of seven OSCE diplomats that is mandated to report to the upcoming summit on the humanitarian situation created by the conflict in Chechnya. Norway holds the OSCE's chairmanship until the end of the year.
After visiting two refugees camps, Traavik warned that, with the onset of snow and freezing temperatures, tens of thousands of displaced Chechens will soon face severe conditions. He was also quoted as stating that Chechnya was no longer strictly Russia's internal affair. But within hours he denied making that statement, and then flew to Moscow for talks with Russian officials today.
OSCE spokesman Nyberg -- also a Norwegian -- had this to say today about Traavik's apparent change of view:
"The statement of Mr. Traavik yesterday ... well, first of all, we have to look at his denial of that statement. You know, after having apparently said [Chechnya] was no longer an internal affair of Russia, [he] took back that statement, claiming he had never said that."
In any case, OSCE officials say Traavik's apparent retraction will not change the discussions among OSCE members about whether Chechnya is or is not a strictly internal Russian affair. Those discussions moved today from Vienna to Istanbul, where the organization's 54 permanent representatives have already begun several days of pre-summit talks. Next Thursday, the two-day summit itself gets underway. U.S. President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac are among the many Western leaders due to take part. Officials close to Russian President Boris Yeltsin have said that he, too, may also attend.
Whatever the outcome of the Istanbul meetings, OSCE officials say many member states believe Russia must live up to the commitments it has made to the organization. Spokesman Nyberg puts it this way:
"Of course, there's clearly a feeling, a strong feeling [among member states], that Russia has signed various [OSCE commitments ... for example, the [so-called] Code of Conduct [that all members must sign] and the  Vienna Document that very clearly states that internal conflicts which lead to apparent human-right concerns are not any longer [only the] internal affairs of participating states."
But on this crucial matter, OSCE officials stress there is no agreement among the 54 members. Spokesman Nyberg says flatly: "There is no consensus. Some governments feel that this is clearly no longer an internal affair of Russia. Others think this is an internal affair of Russia. So there is [just] no consensus."
OSCE officials (unnamed) speaking with RFE/RL by phone today from Istanbul stressed that Chechnya is not an item on the summit's official agenda. But they acknowledge that it is sure to be raised in many of the speeches scheduled to be made by summit participants. Equally important, they add, Chechnya will undoubtedly be discussed in the bilateral, trilateral and multilateral meetings taking place during the summit.
In sum, OSCE officials believe Chechnya will be an important --perhaps even a dominant -- issue at the Istanbul summit. But they do not expect the meeting to come up with any quick, easy solutions to the nettlesome problem.