Chechnya: Transcript of press briefing by V.O. Rakhmanin

Unofficial translation

Director of the Information and Press Department
Of the RF Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Press Center of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia,

The Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE, the Foreign Minister of Norway Knut Vollebaek visited the region of the North Caucasus as the guest of the government of the Russian Federation on December 14-16. The possibility of such a fact-finding trip of a humanitarian character was envisaged under the final political declaration of the Istanbul OSCE summit. Knut Vollebaek had meetings with Vice-Chairman of the Government, N. Koshman, the Emergencies Minister, S. Shoigu, as well as the presidents of the Republic of Dagestan, M. Magomedov, the Republic of Ingushetia, R. Aushev and the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, A. Dzasokhov. The delegation was accompanied by First Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia, A. Avdeyev. The OSCE Chairman-in-Office visited the settlements in Dagestan which had become targets of attacks by the Chechen militants (the villages of Karamakhi, Tando and Botlikh), the areas of Chechnya liberated by the federal forces, looked at the camps for displaced persons in Ingushetia and the Nadterechny district of Chechnya and acquainted himself with the work of the checkpoint on the Chechen-Ingush border.

In the course of the trip the Chairman-in-Office, the members of the Norwegian delegation and the foreign media representatives who accompanied it received the necessary cooperation on the part of Russian civilian and military authorities which, as Knut Vollebaek acknowledged, enabled him to get a full picture of the events taking place in the region, including the humanitarian situation. It was pointed out to the Chairman-in-Office that the amount of international assistance coming to the region is still very insignificant and bears no comparison to the means and resources directed by the federal center and the Russian regions. In this connection we regard as positive his call for increased international humanitarian assistance.

Kurt Vollebaek gave a positive assessment of the efforts of the federal authorities aimed at restoring normal life in the liberated areas of Chechnya.

In the opinion of the Russian side the visit of the Chairman-in-Office to the North Caucasus signifies full Russian compliance with Section 23 of the Istanbul summit declaration. Our position regarding the format of OSCE participation in the Chechen settlement remains unchanged: no political mediation of the Organization is acceptable at present because there is no need for it, nor are there conditions for it. We see the role of the OSCE in Chechnya solely in the humanitarian sphere.

As for the return to Grozny of the OSCE group in Chechnya the issue can be solved in the context of the process of normalization of the situation in the region, with due account of considerations of security which, by the way, prompted the Chairman-in-Office to evacuate it to Moscow last year.

An official spokesman of the Qatar Foreign Ministry issued a statement to the Qatar news agency regarding the situation in the North Caucasus on December 17. In this connection we would like to note that the claims contained in the statement do not correspond to reality and distort the true state of affairs.

The federal authorities are fighting not against the Chechen people, but against bandit units which are terrorizing the civilians in Chechnya. Most recently the bandits shot 68 elders and representatives of local municipal authorities. It is the actions of the extremists that caused the exodus of people in the first place.

The delegation of the Islamic Conference Organization which visited the North Caucasus in early December and which included the Foreign Minister of Qatar Hamad bin Jasim, could see for itself that the Russian government is doing everything to provide temporary accommodation for the displaced persons, providing them with housing, warm clothes and food. As the territory of the republic is liberated from the terrorists, the citizens of the republic are returning to their homes.

As for the call of the Qatar Foreign Ministry to "start the negotiating process" our position on that score is well known: there can be no question of negotiating with bandits. At the same time we are ready to cooperate and are already cooperating with the population of the Chechen Republic which has in fact taken the side of the federal authorities, including the elders in communities, representatives of the clergy and the Mufti of Chechnya, A. Kadyrov. A number of field commanders who have decided to break with the extremists have said they are ready for cooperation.

The Russian Foreign Ministry expresses the hope that the official quarters of foreign states, including Qatar, will in their assessments of the situation in the North Caucasus proceed from facts and make more balanced statements.

Moscow, December 21, 1999