Danish-Russian tensions mounting fast

  • 2002-11-28
  • Line Wolf Nielsen

Overlooking Russian protests and only weeks after souring relations with Russia over a previous conference, a public meeting about the war in Chechnya was held in the Danish Parliament Nov. 22, and several Danish companies have ceased exports to Russia in response to deliberately strenuous customs checks upon crossing the border.

The conference took place one week before Russia is required to meet the deadline of providing Danish authorities with evidence for the extradition of Akhmed Zakhayev, the Chechen indepedence movement's foreign affairs envoy who was arrested in Copenhagen Oct. 30 on suspicion that he conspired to organize the theater-hostage crisis in Moscow.

The Chechen dignitary is now awaiting the outcome of an investigation to determine whether he can be extradited to Russia to face charges of civilian atrocities.

Well aware of the conference's political implications, Holger Nielsen, host of the conference and leader of the Socialists People's Party, emphasized that the forum's aim was not to provoke Russia but to inform about the Chechen conflict and to open the world's eyes to what is happening in Chechnya.

Nielsen said he found it unacceptable and very disappointing that the Russian Ambassador to Denmark Nikolai Bordyusya believed the conference was a provocation.

"How can it be a provocation to discuss an issue you find important – that's what you do in a democracy," Nielsen said.

Yury Rybakov, a member of the Russian Duma and one of the leaders of the Liberal Russia movement, who was present at the conference, warned Denmark about extraditing Zakhaev.

Rybakov said that Zakhaev would risk torture and the possibility of capital punishment if extradited to Russia. He added that the Russian accusations against Zakhaev were unreliable.

Ivan Rybkin, former chairman of Russia's Security Council who visited Zakhaev last week, also said there were huge flaws in the evidence provided by Russia, both in translation and factual information.

Last week the Russians submitted new evidence to the Danish Ministry of Justice that supposedly linked Zakhaev to the 1996 kidnapping of two Russian Orthodox priests in Chechnya.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice's international office announced that the ministry would refuse to consider the new material on grounds that it was incorrectly translated.

The Eastern Circuit High Court in Copenhagen recently upheld Zakhaev's detainment, and it still remains unclear what ramifications Denmark's rejection of Russia's most recent bid to prove its case will have for Zakhaev and the Danish-Russian relations.

Bilateral trade appears to have suffered already, according to preliminary reports, due to long waits while passing through Russian customs.

Ole Daugbjerg, a spokesman for Danfoss, a firm that sends several truckloads of goods to Russia weekly, told AFP that the company is losing money as a result of particularly picky examinations on the Russian border. "We have received no explanation, but this problem never arose before this week," said Daugbjerg.