Russia has expressed strong concern over yesterday's recommendation by the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly to suspend Moscow's membership in the 41-nation organization because of its conduct of the war in Chechnya. RFE/RL correspondent Joel Blocker reports.
Prague, 7 April 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov says his government "deeply regrets" the decision by the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly to recommend suspending Moscow's membership in the 41-nation organization because of its record in Chechnya.
In the first high-level official Russian reaction to the assembly's action yesterday, Ivanov said the council was misled by what he termed "Chechen terrorists" and by certain assembly members, whom he accused of harboring Cold War stereotypes.
"The Parliamentary Assembly followed those [of its] deputies who -- from our point of view -- still think in Cold-War terms. [The assembly] continues to structure [its] conclusions on information coming from Chechen terrorists."
Ivanov spoke to reporters before meeting this morning with a senior delegation from the European Union that included foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Foreign Minister Jaime Gama of Portugal, which currently holds the EU presidency. The delegation was due to meet later in the day with Russia's acting President Vladimir Putin.
Before meeting with Ivanov, Solana told a reporter (for Associated Press television news) that he intended to urge Moscow to allow international organizations to investigate alleged human rights abuses in Chechnya as a way of preventing a major diplomatic confrontation. Gama said that Russia should see the Parliamentary Assembly's action as both "a warning message" and a sign of increasing international concern over the Chechen war.
Meeting in Strasbourg yesterday, the Council of Europe's 291-member assembly voted by a large majority for an unusually strong criticism of a member-state. The assembly recommended suspending Russia's membership unless Moscow shows progress "without delay" in improving its human-rights record in Chechnya. The assembly also demanded that Moscow agree to an immediate unconditional ceasefire and negotiations with Chechen leaders.
At the same time, the assembly revoked the voting rights of Russian representatives in the chamber. That triggered a walkout last night by Moscow's 24-member delegation.
The half-century old Council of Europe is a consultative body -- with great moral weight -- that monitors human-rights implementation, the rule of law and democratic standards in all its 41 member-states. It has long been concerned about allegations that the Russian military has carried out large-scale atrocities in Chechnya, and has sent two assembly fact-finding missions to the North Caucasus in the past four months.
Today, Russia's main spokesman on Chechen affairs said such fact-finding trips to Chechnya by council delegations should be ended. Sergei Yastrzhembsky strongly criticized yesterday's action by the Council's assembly, but he said Russia would not ban visits to Chechnya by other international organizations.
Yesterday's assembly decision was contained in a recommendation to the council's members to begin immediately the process of suspending Russian membership. The formal decision to suspend a council member can only be taken by the organization's Committee of Ministers -- its chief decision-making body -- after a recommendation from the Parliamentary Assembly.
The assembly action's was widely seen as the strongest reaction yet by a multilateral organization to Russia's conduct of the Chechen war. In the West and in Central and Eastern Europe, the move was applauded by most commentators. In Russia, both politicians and editorial press comment severely criticized the decision as what one politician [State Duma speaker Gennadi Seleznyov] called "a fatal mistake."
In Strasbourg, both Council of Europe officials and diplomats at the organization reiterated their doubts that the assembly's action would be approved by the Committee of Ministers. They again cited considerations of "realpolitik" as likely to prove paramount in the committee's decision. Nevertheless, they all agreed that the assembly's action marked an important turning-point in the international community's reaction to the continuing war in Chechnya.