Baltics' resolve not enough to save Chechnya

  • 2000-02-24
  • By Jaclyn M. Sindrich
TALLINN – Grozny is reduced to rubble; a journalist is captured, maybe dead. Eight thousand Chechen rebels hide out in the mountains. The West chastises. Russia does not relent.

Yet Russia announced this week the war will end within a month, causing speculation on the verity of that statement – and what more may transpire until the last bomb has dropped.

A month, for the Chechens, is too long to wait. Head of an inquiry group on Russian war crimes in Chechnya, Said-Hasan Abumuslimov turned to the Baltic nations Feb. 15 to reinforce that sentiment.

The representative wrote an appeal to the parliaments of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland and Ukraine requesting that the countries continue to pressure Russia to stop the war. Russian forces are repressing and displacing peaceful residents, including women and children, according to the appeal.

The Chechens are especially concerned by the marauding, robbery and killing of civilians in the captured city of Grozny, and by arrested Chechens disappearing without a trace, he wrote.

Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic nations, were chosen because they have all been under Russian imperialism.

Abumuslimov pleaded in the appeal for the five countries to send "international observers to the Chechen areas and to organize permanent missions of international organizations in those areas."

The five month-old war has been on the back-burner in the Baltic parliaments until recently. The Estonian Parliament's only resolution was adopted in December. It condemned the war but this condemnation was characterized by Moderate MP Andres Tarand as "not very sharp or aggressive."

Tarand declared firmly that the Parliament is worried, but legal restrictions severely limit what it is able to do.

"[Estonia's] legal status is now a bit different because of our international relations. We are morally obliged, but it is risky to be getting involved when we have our own [legal] troubles," he said.

In essence, the country can make resolutions that may not accomplish much or take the other path: ignore the problem altogether, and Estonia has chosen the former. Taking what it can, a parliamentary statement in response to the Chechen appeal is prepared, according to Pro Patria Vice Chairman Andres Herkel.

"The Estonian parliament is ready to take part in international surveillance regarding the refugee and filtration camps in Chechnya," he said.

This time around, the message to Russia may be decidedly clearer, but will it make a difference?

Herkel, who is also chairman of the unofficial Estonian parliamentary group on the problem of Chechnya, said that Estonia will be appealing to the Council of Europe, the OSCE and the Russian Embassy.

Still: "Of course we can make statements about the human catastrophe. But statements. . .," he trailed off with an uneasy laugh, signaling apparent doubts about actual results from written intervention.

The Lithuanian Parliament has been perhaps more active in its pursuit of speaking out against the war, adopting several more appeals to the Council of Europe and Russia than both Estonia and Latvia together.

Its most recent resolution last week called for an immediate session of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, in response to "the unresponsive attitude of the Russian Administration and cruel behavior of Russia's troops in Chechnya," it read.

Algirdas Endriukaitis is one who is unlikely to be satisfied with words alone, though he often finds himself in that very situation, with no less resolve. A former MP in Lithuania, he is now chairman of the International Group of Parliamentarians on the Problem of Chechnya.

His organization does not mince words when addressing the Council of Europe, accusing it of "failure to adhere to principles, neglect of the norms of law, procrastination, connivance and lack of determination," encouraging Russia to perpetuate a "genocidal war."

The Council of Europe has reiterated itself several times, condemning human rights abuses and expressing concern over the fate of captured Russian journalist Andrei Babitsky.

If indeed the Council does conjoin in an emergency session, the possibility that Russia could be forced to forfeit its voting rights or even its membership remains real, according to Reform MP Kristiina Ojuland, a member of the COE's delegation on the Chechnya problem.

In fact, whatever happens next is "very much in the hands of international organizations," she said.

MP Juris Sinka, MP of the For Fatherland and Freedom party in Latvia, wonders whether anything short of physical intervention can end the crisis and the Council of Europe, as a human rights organization, is essentially powerless in that respect, he reminded.

"Russia might consider [sanctions] humiliating," he said. And sanctions don't typically end wars.

Ironically, Sinka was part of the delegation to the COE on Russia's membership in 1996.

"I remember how Russia pleaded and promised to solve [the Chechnya problem] peacefully. At the end vote, Russia was almost deprived of membership," he said. But Russia was given the go-ahead.

As for the Latvian Parliament, Sinka's estimation of it rings true, perhaps, for the rest of the Baltics as well.

"There has been some dillydallying. . .but we have every sympathy with [the Chechens] and the outrageous acts happening there," he said.