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OSCE: Diplomats Say Russia Resents Criticism Of Actions In Chechnya

Diplomats at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), say Russia is unhappy with criticism of its operations in Chechnya and Moldova and wants changes in the way the organization operates. The new Romanian chairman of the OSCE, Mircea Dan Geoana, is expected to travel to Moscow shortly to discuss the problems.

Vienna, 23 January 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's criticisms of the OSCE came to a head at the end of last year when Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov vetoed an official statement due to have been issued after a meeting of OSCE foreign ministers in Vienna.

The draft statement called for an independent investigation of alleged atrocities against civilians in Chechnya. Other parts of the document criticized Russia for making what it said was little progress on the withdrawal of its troops from Moldova.

The Russian veto shocked the meeting. It was the first time that Moscow had vetoed an OSCE statement since the collapse of communism 10 years ago.

In Vienna this week, some diplomats said they feared it could herald a return to the old days when Moscow routinely vetoed statements after OSCE meetings because they were not to its liking.

Russia denies this. Its chief delegate at OSCE headquarters in Vienna, Oleg Belous, says Russia vetoed the statement because it pointed the finger only at the former Soviet Union. He says Russia wants a balanced consideration of international problems, including those in the West.

Belous says Russia also wants a return to the principle that most OSCE agreements and documents require consensus -- that is, the agreement of all the organization's members. Consensus is still the guiding principle at OSCE, but Russia claims it has been undermined and is not properly implemented.

Most of the criticisms in the Vienna statement vetoed by Russia were published anyway. The then OSCE chairwoman, Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner, repeated them in a so-called chairman's statement, which was not subject to a veto. Russia said later her comments did not reflect the consensus of the meeting and Russia was not bound by them.

In a speech before using his veto, Ivanov criticized what he perceived as an exaggerated OSCE focus on problems in the former Soviet Union, particularly the conflict in Chechnya.

He charged that OSCE meetings focused on problems in the Caucasus, Moldova, Georgia, and Central Asia but rarely discussed problems in the West which, he said, was riddled with xenophobia, racism, and crime.

Diplomats said the focus of Ivanov's remarks was the statement's language on Chechnya. The proposed declaration said foreign ministers "urge Russian authorities to facilitate the provision of humanitarian aid to Chechnya." It deplored the continued loss of life and material damage in Chechnya and called for a "prompt and independent investigation and prosecution of all alleged atrocities against civilians and other violations of human rights."

Diplomats in Vienna say they are reluctant to comment on the matter because negotiations are underway with Moscow to end the dispute. But they agreed that Russian operations in Chechnya frequently come under fire at OSCE meetings -- although few details emerge because the meetings are closed.

Last year's chairwoman, Ferrero-Waldner, unsuccessfully pressed Russia to allow an OSCE mission to return to Chechnya so it could assist in finding a political solution to the conflict and encourage a dialogue. The mission was forced to leave because of the fighting in the breakaway republic and it is now based in Moscow.

The Russian foreign minister was also critical of a passage in the proposed statement which said there was "growing concern" that Russia was making little progress in withdrawing its military forces from Moldova. At an OSCE summit in Istanbul in 1999, Russia signed a statement which said some forces would leave by the end of this year and that all Russian troops would be gone by the end of next year.

In another comment, the proposed declaration expressed concern over Russia's decision to require visas for most citizens of Georgia. The order came into effect last month.

Russia's dissatisfaction is being taken seriously by the OSCE. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder discussed it with President Vladimir Putin during Schroeder's recent visit to Moscow, but the German Foreign Ministry declines to give any details of the talks. The OSCE's secretary-general, Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis, was in Moscow earlier this month to try to defuse the crisis and the organization's new chairman, Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Dan Geoana, will go to Moscow shortly, probably sometime next month.

In the meantime, Moscow has circulated a paper at OSCE headquarters calling for changes in the way the organization works and the freedom of the chairman to make statements in the name of the organization.

European diplomats say the paper indicates Russia wants closer control of the chairman -- who serves for only one year. The paper argues that when making comments on crisis areas such as Chechnya, the chairman should reflect what it calls a consensus view of the OSCE, including Russia. In Russia's view, if there is no consensus, then the chairman should not speak in the name of the OSCE.

Our correspondent has seen the Russian paper. He reports that it states: "The chairman should comply strictly with the official position of the OSCE as expressed in OSCE documents and decisions." The paper says the chairman should not make what it calls "one-sided statements" in the name of the OSCE or issue statements that do not reflect consensus among members.

In Russia's view, major issues should be discussed in closed meetings of small groups before they come up at the weekly meeting of the OSCE's Permanent Council, which is now its main forum for considering crises and other problems. Moscow wants various opinions on a problem to be identified and followed by political consultations aimed at finding compromises.

The Russian paper suggests that these private meetings should "shun publicity" and not publicize draft documents. Nor, it urges, should statements made to the meeting by individual countries be publicized.