A delegation comprising 10 EU officials leaves for the North Caucasus tomorrow. It will visit Chechnya, Ingushetia and North Ossetia.
Emma Udwin, a European Commission spokeswoman, told RFE/RL today that the mission will focus on establishing contact with local administrations.
"This evaluation mission will meet the political leaders of the three republics and visit the ministries of the economy, health and education," said Udwin.
Udwin says the mission will try to clarify what the region needs most beyond the humanitarian needs the EU is already helping to meet, having contributed 148 million euros since the beginning of the second war in Chechnya in 1999.
An EU contribution to social and economic reconstruction could take many forms, but officials say it is likely to follow the examples of Afghanistan and Iraq. Once the most immediate humanitarian needs are met, aid effort enters what one official called a "grey zone" between humanitarian assistance and reconstruction work, for example moving from the delivery of water to the reconstruction of pipes and other infrastructure.
Udwin said today the creation of the EU evaluation mission follows lengthy consultations with Russia. Those talks followed a signal last year from President Vladimir Putin indicating EU reconstruction assistance in Chechnya would be welcome.
"We have been discussing the possibility of sending such a mission with the Russians for some time, and in particular it was discussed at the [EU-Russia] summit last December where [the] president [of the European Commission, Jose Manuel] Barroso made such an offer. We wanted to be certain that the security situation would allow the mission to take place. It has already been held up once, and we’re very glad that it is going ahead, said Udwin.
One EU official told RFE/RL yesterdat that an assessment of the security situation in the region will be an integral part of the work of the evaluation mission. The diplomat also said the mission will not raise any issues relating to the human rights situation or the frequent "disappearances" of civilians in Chechnya.
The official also said the mission will play no part in separate European Commission efforts to establish regional offices in Ingushetia for its humanitarian aid arm ECHO.
Udwin said any reconstruction projects eventually undertaken by the EU would be developed in close coordination with the Russian authorities and other international donors of assistance to help avoid duplicating efforts.
But, Udwin stressed, in the final instance, any EU programs would proceed from considerations and priorities defined by the bloc itself.
"These will be our programs, our projects determined by us to fit in with the big picture in the region, but also to meet our own priorities in this part of the world where we very much want to ensure that we help to create a climate in which there could be a return to peace, stability and prosperity," said Udwin.
Officials emphasize the EU has for years argued for a peaceful solution to the war in Chechnya and say the evaluation mission should be seen as another measure within that strategy.