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PACE Vote Mirrors Shift In Russia's North Caucasus Policy

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (right) with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov on their way to a Chechen village in June
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (right) with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov on their way to a Chechen village in June
On June 22, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe approved without a single vote against a resolution critically assessing the human rights situation in Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Daghestan. For the first time since the Russian Federation became a member of the Council of Europe in February 1996, none of its Parliamentary Assembly delegates voted against a resolution on the North Caucasus. Five voted in favor and three abstained, including Russian State Duma International Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachyov, who had earlier described the resolution as "objective and balanced."

By contrast, the Russian delegation had opposed three earlier resolutions on Chechnya passed in January 2003, October 2004, and January 2006 respectively. Those resolutions also incurred objections of bias from leading Chechen officials.

Last week's PACE resolution is based on a report by Swiss parliamentarian Dick Marty summarizing a fact-finding trip he and other PACE lawmakers made to the region in late March.

The resolution describes the situation in the North Caucasus as "the most the entire geographical area encompassed by the Council of Europe in terms of human rights protection and the affirmation of the rule of law." It recalls that the PACE resolution of January 2006 warned that ongoing violence and human rights violations in Chechnya risked fueling a spillover of extremism beyond the borders of the Chechen Republic, and expresses regret that those fears have proven well-founded.

It lists human rights activists, journalists, and others murdered for their principled investigation of and opposition to crimes committed by local officials and security forces against the civilian population. It also stresses the grief of the families of thousands of persons who have vanished without trace after being abducted by police or security services, and whose fate remains unclear.

The resolution differentiates clearly between the situation in Chechnya, on the one hand, and that in neighboring Ingushetia and Daghestan, on the other. With regard to Chechnya, it acknowledges the "undeniable success" of the republic's authorities in rebuilding Grozny. At the same time, it notes that the human rights sphere "continues to arouse the keenest anxieties: recurrent disappearances of government's opponents and human rights defenders still remain widely unpunished and are not elucidated with due diligence, reprisals are taken against the families of persons suspected of belonging to illegal armed factions (setting fire to their dwellings; the close relatives of the suspect or suspects are abducted or receive dire threats), there reigns a climate of continuous intimidation of the media and civil society, and the judicial organs plainly do nothing about the misdeeds of the security forces." It specifically deplores the "disgraceful" personality cult surrounding Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov, and efforts by his envoys to persuade Chechens living in exile in Europe to return to Chechnya.

In contrast, the resolution pays tribute to Ingushetian President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov's efforts to promote a "constructive dialogue" with civil society and notes the "brutal" assassination attempt against him in June 2009. Marty's report goes into greater detail, praising the crackdown Yevkurov has launched on corruption and his acknowledgement that he is "fully answerable for the actions of all the law enforcement agencies on the territory of his republic."

Marty characterizes Daghestan's President Magomedsalam Magomedov as appearing "strongly committed to improving the living conditions of his country's inhabitants and combating religious extremism." At the same time, the PACE resolution noted the recent upsurge of violent attacks by Islamic militants in Daghestan and the frequently indiscriminate brutality with which police seek to counter such attacks.

Why the Russian delegation did not vote against an assessment that reflects so badly on the Chechen leadership can only be guessed at. The failure to do so suggests a tacit acknowledgement that former President Vladimir Putin's insistence that the only way to counter the North Caucasus insurgency is by brute force (what the PACE resolution refers to as "the use of illegal, even downright criminal, methods against terrorists") has proven counterproductive.

In that respect, the Russian vote may reflect a dawning realization that Kadyrov is part of the problem, rather than the solution.

Certainly the Russian PACE delegates' vote mirrors the clear shift in policy towards the North Caucasus over the past two years. True, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has no compunction about calling for the harshest possible reprisals against those militants who commit acts of terrorism against civilians. But at the same time, he clearly sees the need to temper the use of military force with more energetic and effective approaches to tackling the social and economic problems that fuel support for the armed Islamic resistance by impelling embittered and disaffected young men to "head for the forest."

In his presidential address in November 2009, and again during his three-hour meeting in mid-May with human rights activists, Medvedev acknowledged that the "the situation in the North Caucasus would not be so difficult if social-economic development...were more productive." He singled out among the most pernicious tendencies the "unprecedented" level of corruption and the indiscriminate use of force against anyone perceived as even abetting or sympathizing with the insurgency.

Medvedev's belated realization of the complexity of the situation, and the extent to which it varies from one republic to another, is certainly to be welcomed, as are his pledges of increased funding for and investment in the North Caucasus.

But it remains unclear whether Medvedev has made any serious attempt to curb the excesses committed by the security agencies. As Marty wrote in his report to the PACE, "Without clear, personal and firm action by the top echelons of the Russian Federation to regain control over the law enforcement agencies and guarantee discipline and professionalism in their ranks, the situation is liable to deteriorate even more dangerously."

In the absence of such action, cash infusions alone will not bring about the desired stabilization. As Marty's report notes, "repression and money alone will not bring peace to the region. Without a political approach, without restoring a judicial system worthy of the name and without rebuilding confidence in the institutions, there will be no way out of this quagmire."

But even the optimum combination of reining in those security forces that continue to use indiscriminate force against civilians, increasing investment to galvanize economic development and rebuild obsolescent infrastructure, and intensively promoting measures to redress the democracy deficit, eradicate corruption and improve the work of the judiciary, will take months, if not years to bear fruit.

Meanwhile, the insurgency does not appear to suffer from a lack of either manpower or resources. Last week's ruling by the U.S. State Department designating self-styled Caucasus emirate leader Dokka Umarov the head of a terrorist organization is unlikely to impact the situation on the ground. Indeed, there has been no reliable indication that Umarov is still alive since an interview posted on the Internet dated late February. Experts have cast doubt on the authenticity of the video footage in which Umarov apparently claimed responsibility for the March 29 Moscow metro bombings. Moreover, Umarov did not convene the traditional spring meeting of field commanders to discuss strategy, and the most recent video statement in the name of the North Caucasus insurgency was by Amir Aslambek, one of Umarov's most senior deputies.

As for the related prohibition on providing financial support for Umarov, that may prove irrelevant in light of the clandestine payments the Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkar-Karachai jamaats reportedly extort from local businessmen and even government officials.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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