Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Chechnya

7.51 p.m.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what representations they have made to the Russian Government to end their repression of Chechnya; and whether they will urge the Russian Government to respect the right of the Chechen people to self-determination.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, perhaps I may first thank in advance those noble Lords who are to speak in this short debate as I shall not have an opportunity to do so later.

In speaking of Chechnya, we are indeed speaking of a far country of which, until recently, most of us knew very little. Therefore, if your Lordships will bear with me, I shall begin by giving a brief resumé of the history of the country over the past 200 years.

The area of the country is about the size of Slovenia or about two-thirds the size of Wales. Its original inhabitants are not Russian or Slav. They speak a Caucasian language and they are Moslem by religion. They had little contact with Russia until they were threatened in the late 17th and early 18th century by the expansionist policies of Peter the Great.

The threat became real in 1818 when, under the Russian General Yermolov, Grozny was established as a fortified base and used for punitive expeditions against

18 Apr 1995 : Column 461

Chechens and other Caucasian mountain people. Grozny is named after Ivan Grozny—Ivan the Terrible—and it is clear that that name was deliberately chosen.

One saying of General Yermolov has come down to us. He remarked that he would not rest while one Chechen was left alive. Thus was Chechnya taken into the Russian Empire, or the Russian Federation as it is today.

The history of the 100 years or so between the Russian occupation and the Russian revolution is an appalling story of bloodily suppressed uprisings which amply proves the point that at no time past or present did the Chechen people submit willingly to Russian rule. If that makes Chechnya an integral part of the Russian Federation, we should reclaim Southern Ireland immediately.

The coming of the Russian revolution gave the Chechens and their neighbours an opportunity to declare their independence, which they did. However, in 1922, after the Bolshevik victory in the civil war, they were tricked by Stalin, who was not yet in complete power but sent there to head a Soviet delegation, into agreeing to be part of the Soviet Union. They were given all kinds of guarantees in relation to religion and so on which pleased them greatly at the time, but the good times did not last for very long.

Time does not allow me to describe the unceasing atrocities, murders and uprisings in the Soviet period from 1922 to 1937. Again, all I will say is that after a very brief honeymoon at no time did the Chechens submit voluntarily to the Soviet system.

The climax came in 1937 when the NKVD—the forerunner of the KGB—carried out:


    "The general operation for the removal of anti-Soviet elements".

Thousands were arrested and deported or shot, including the entire regional government. It never ceases to surprise me that in the West the Russians seem to be allowed to get away with such behaviour, whereas all the weight of international disapproval is brought against Germans, Turks, Serbs and others when they behave in a similar way.

During the Second World War the Chechens and their neighbours, the Ingush, were not allowed to enlist in the Red Army. The official reason was that they did not eat pork, which may or may not have been the real reason. However, they were allowed to form two divisions of what one might call auxiliaries which were ill-armed and which suffered heavy casualties at Stalingrad.

On 23rd February 1944, all Chechen males were invited to meetings at village Soviet buildings. When they were all gathered, a decree of the praesidium of the Supreme Soviet was read to them. They were then loaded into Studebaker trucks supplied by the US lend-lease programme. With their families and only 20 kilograms of baggage per family, they were deported to Kazakhstan in Central Asia. It is estimated that the entire Chechen and Ingush population of approximately 425,000 people were deported. I believe that that is about the size of the Catholic population of Ulster.

18 Apr 1995 : Column 462

Your Lordships should note that the trucks in which they were transported were supplied by the United States. The object of supplying those trucks was to assist the Red Army to win the war against Germany and not for carrying out mass deportations. The Chechens were not the only people to be deported. There were the Crimean Tartars, the Volga Germans and many others. In that context, it is pertinent to ask how much of the recent financial aid by way of loans and handouts to Russia has gone to finance the military operation in Chechnya. Last Thursday, The Times estimated that a recent IMF loan was about enough to finance the Chechen operation.

One could ask also what the situation would have been had we deported the Ulster Catholics or the Welsh to, for example, Canada or Australia in 1944. That is not merely to the country next-door. Does anyone imagine that those people would thank us for that? On their return, could they be expected to nurse feelings of loyalty and affection for the British Crown? I put it to your Lordships that it is far more likely that they would wait with longing for the time to come when the United Kingdom collapsed and they could cut their ties with a state and nation which had treated them so atrociously.

In any event, that is more or less what did happen in Chechnya when the Soviet Union collapsed. They established the Chechen Republic, with its own flag, government and parliament. It is interesting to note that the fairly large Russian population of the area did not seriously oppose that. Relations between Russians and Chechens were quite good before the invasion, although it is true that many Russians left because they feared for the future, and not without reason.

The question arose as to whether the government in Moscow would accept the new state. We all know that it did not. Instead it insisted that Chechnya was an integral part of the Russian Federation. It all sounds quite sensible until one remembers the history of the region and, indeed, the history of the whole vast area of Europe and Asia which had fallen under Russian and then Soviet domination.

Time does not permit me to go into the complicated and frequently tortuous negotiations between the Russian Government and the Chechens, led by President Dudayev. It is true to say to their credit that many Russian politicians and much of the Russian media oppose the use of force. Perhaps I may quote Mr. Yeltsin's words in August 1994, less than a year ago. He said:


    "An armed intervention in Chechnya is out of the question. We in Russia have uniquely succeeded in avoiding inter-ethnic conflicts because we refuse to use force. Should we violate this principle in Chechnya there will be a general uprising in the Caucasus. There will be so much chaos and bloodshed that no-one will forgive us".

That is a strange source for such a prophesy.

The tragedy is that what happened happened. The Russian Government, acting out of fear of the dissolution of the remains of its empire and for other reasons, ordered an invasion. The brutal results of that order will be familiar to your Lordships and were reported widely both on television and in the responsible newspapers. I have to say to your Lordships and to my noble friend the Minister that the repercussions of that

18 Apr 1995 : Column 463

barbaric action by Russia have been to reactivate all the fears of Russia's neighbours and former client states. The Tsars and the Soviets may have departed but the Russian bear has not changed. That is the message that has gone out far and wide. I know that to be the case.

I do not believe that the efforts apparently being made by western governments—although my noble friend Lady Chalker denied this—to brush the affair under the carpet are very wise. From what I have seen, it seems quite possible that the Russian policy is now one of genocide. Successive Russian Governments, from General Yermolov in the early 19th century until Stalin, have seriously considered genocide as a way of solving the Chechen situation. It ought to surprise no one if the present regime—or what passes for a regime—has now decided finally to implement the policy. If there are no Chechens in Chechnya, there will ipso facto be no problem. The West can then be invited to do business as usual.

After all, they may say, why not? The West made a temporary fuss over Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Finland, Poland and goodness knows where else. It did not even bother to notice the Ukrainian famine of the 1930s or the deportations of the 1940s. Given a lot of vodka and a few twangs of the balalaika, the West will conveniently forget Chechnya and the show can go on. Large and expensive loans will shore up the military after its painful experience in suppressing a nation of 1 million people who no longer exist anyway. If we react in that way, we shall be doing a profound disservice to the future of all mankind, not just to the Chechens but to the Russians as well.

There are those in Russia—not presently in power—who implore us not conveniently to forget what has just happened and what is still happening. There is an evil genius in the Russian polity which is reasserting itself. It must not be encouraged. The idea that British and Russian troops should be employed side by side in peacekeeping anywhere in the world must, in the light of events that have just taken place, be considered to be obscene.

We have witnessed on our television screens and with our own eyes what the present leadership of the Russian Army considers to be peacekeeping. The bombardment of Grozny and the systematic destruction of towns and villages in Chechnya are supposed to be the restoration of law and order. The Chechen fighters are dismissed as bandits, as, incidentally, were the fighters in the Polish Home Army in the Warsaw uprising. I would say to your Lordships that bandits do not fight like that—day after day, street by street and village by village. Those who are defending their homeland do exactly that. What profit could a bandit possibly derive from such a resistance?

I do not ask Her Majesty's Government to send an army to help the Chechens, but I do ask them to uphold the true tradition of this country by making it plain beyond peradventure to the Russian authorities that the barbaric behaviour that they are indulging in is not acceptable. I would also urge Her Majesty's Government to consider very carefully their support for the integrity of the Russian Federation. I can see no

18 Apr 1995 : Column 464

reason whatever to justify the forcible inclusion of a whole people in a state which is abhorrent to them and which they have consistently resisted for 200 years.

It has recently become fairly obvious that the Russian military is anxious to finish the Chechnya operation before the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of VE Day. Their method of doing that appears not to be to negotiate a permanent cease-fire but to burn and destroy and kill as much as possible. To some extent Her Majesty's Government hold in trust the conscience of the British nation. I believe that they should now consider very carefully what message they are sending to the peoples of Europe and to the peoples of the world by attending the celebrations in Moscow next month.

8.3 p.m.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, very warmly on his able and persuasive account of Chechen history and of the developments since the declaration of independence by President Dudayev on 29th October 1991. At that time, the Russians, after making a half-hearted attempt to arrest the president, withdrew from the territory leaving their weapons and ammunition behind them. As the noble Lord described, for the next three years the Russians tried to bring Dudayev to heel by coercion. They imposed an economic blockade; they armed the opposition to Dudayev and sponsored the terrorism of those people, including attempts to assassinate Dudayev; and they conducted a vigorous campaign to label the Chechens as criminals.

What happened in the three years following the declaration of independence is seen rather differently by Mr. Douglas Hogg, who has said:


    "Unlike other leaders of ethnic regions in Russia, including those with a muslim population such as Tartarstan, General Dudaev refused to negotiate on the status of the republic within the Federation. Under his rule, the economy was allowed to collapse, crime dramatically increased and democratic opposition was stifled. Over 100,000 people fled the republic".

That is the view of the Foreign Office. It is an analysis which is economical with the truth. Chechnya did not secede from Russia but from the Soviet Union, which allowed for secession in its constitution. It was neither a party to the original treaty which formed the Russian Federation at the end of March 1992, nor did it subsequently enter into treaty negotiations with the federation as Tartarstan did, probably against the wishes of the majority of its own inhabitants.

Dudayev tried to negotiate without preconditions, but the Russians demanded that Chechnya first accept that it was part of the Russian Federation. It is possible that a compromise could have been reached if the West had not acquiesced in treating the problem as purely an internal one for the Russians. If we had tried instead to promote talks under a neutral chairman, as we did with the discussions between Georgia and Abkhazia, the loss of 24,000 civilian lives and 2,000 Russian servicemen, the permanent disablement of thousands of men, women and children, the creation of over a quarter of a million

18 Apr 1995 : Column 465

refugees, and the destruction of hundreds of millions of dollars-worth of economic potential might have been avoided.

The economy collapsed because of the Russian blockade, the general decline which occurred all over the former Soviet Union after 1991 and—a smaller factor—the stoppage of pensions, which were not paid by the Russians to retirement and other pensioners in Chechnya. But, in 1994, there was some recovery in the Chechen economy, which the Foreign Office chooses to ignore.

Crime statistics are not available for Chechnya, but those who know both capitals say that Grozny is not nearly as dangerous as Moscow. According to Police General Vladimir Kelesnikov, contract killings in Moscow rose from 289 in 1993 to 562 last year. People forget that the Chechen mafia, as it is called, is largely Moscow based and that it supports the opposition, together with people like the defence minister of the puppet opposition, who became a millionaire out of bank frauds.

Dudayev did dissolve the Parliament in April 1993, but that was at least partly because the Russians had armed and supported the opposition who were then seen as quislings. With regard to the exodus from Chechnya, Russians also left the Baltic states and other former colonies of Moscow. So Mr. Hogg tells only a fraction of the story. He concludes that,


    "the authorities in Moscow were reluctant to allow this situation to continue unchecked",

as if to say that the Russians had at least the semblance of an excuse for using military force.

Not only is the war in Chechnya continuing, as the noble Lord described, but new atrocities are being perpetrated almost daily. On 7th April, following a night of bombardment by artillery and warplanes, Russian troops, allegedly high on drink and drugs, moved in to massacre 300 people hiding in their cellars in the village of Samashki, using grenades and flamethrowers. That was followed by a massive artillery attack on the neighbouring village of Belmut last Sunday, 16th April. Women and children fleeing the bombardment of Samashki were arrested and sent to detention centres in North Ossertia and Russia, a new development, as up to now only men had been detained.

That follows the promulgation of a new law by President Yeltsin on 3rd April extending the power of the Federal Security Service into internal policing and giving it unspecified,


    "broader rights and possibilities to carry out our duties".

So the KGB has been reactivated, with unlimited powers to operate against the citizens of the Russian Federation. Not only may Chechen civilians now be detained arbitrarily for indefinite periods, but critics of the operation like the human rights commissioner Sergei Kovalyev and former chairman of the Duma defence committee Yushenkov may be next on the list.

There can be no justification for the use of military force in Chechnya. Claims to self-determination must not be dealt with by the imposition of solutions at the point of a gun. Such disputes between peoples and states have to be solved within the framework of law. We

18 Apr 1995 : Column 466

cannot play down the slaughter of tens of thousands of human beings by saying that it is within the internal competence of the state concerned. Still less can we subscribe to the appalling doctrine which was promulgated by President Shevardnadze in his recent address at Chatham House that,


    "all prompt and necessary measures, heedless of the cost and criticism",

should be taken against what he described as the "epidemic of disintegration". He was the only head of state in the whole of the former Soviet Union to have supported Russian military action in Chechnya up to the hilt.

Throughout recorded history, borders have changed, states have come and gone, empires have risen and declined. The only new feature in the 20th century is that imperialism is universally condemned, but, while the empires of the western European states have been dismantled, the Russian empire has only been partially freed.

Within the Russian Federation, Tatarstan was blackmailed into signing a treaty with Russia in February 1994, Chechnya is being ground to pieces by the millstone of Russian military power, and the other republics of the north Caucasus have little choice but to submit for the time being. But in the long term, changes in the configuration of states and their boundaries will continue, and the question is whether this process is to be accompanied by armed violence or achieved through peaceful mechanisms, developed in the context of the United Nations.

In the meanwhile, as the noble Lord said, Russia must be called to account for violations of international agreements to which it is a party. General Pavel Grachev, the Defence Minister, has announced that Russia cannot honour the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, which limits the number of troops and tanks it can station in the Caucasus. Will the Minister say what action the Government are taking over this deliberate and brazen violation of the treaty?

The Budapest Declaration, agreed by the OSCE in December 1994, commits participating states to limit the use of armed force in internal security missions to a level,


    "commensurate with the needs for enforcement".

If for three years there had been no need to use any armed force in Chechnya, what justification can there be for the blitzkrieg launched against Grozny in December, and now being extended to other towns and villages?

The Budapest Declaration provides that,


    "the armed forces will take due care to avoid injury to civilians or their property".

The total destruction of Grozny, and the indiscriminate use of artillery, mortars and jet bombers against villages, is a deliberate violation of this provision, and of common Article 3 of the Geneva conventions, which applies to internal armed conflicts.

The capability of the OSCE to tackle human rights problems was significantly enhanced at Budapest, according to the Foreign Office Minister, David Davis MP. The Chairman in Office now has the right to put issues on the agenda of OSCE's Permanent Committee,

18 Apr 1995 : Column 467

which can then make decisions on the monitoring of alleged violations, though it still has no power to impose material penalties on guilty states. The Minister observes that,


    "the effectiveness of ... the OSCE generally, will always be governed by the willingness or otherwise of the participating states to live up to their commitments".

No one could argue with that.

In the case of Chechnya, the OSCE sent a mission to the republic on 27th January and it made a flying visit to Grozny. Mr. Hogg said they met,


    "representatives of General Dudaev's administration",

but the leader, Ambassador Istvan Gyarmati, told Russian news agencies that he intended to meet only the leaders of the Chechen opposition, but not the Dudayev side because,


    "it was hard for technical reasons".

He said that,


    "Dudaev cannot lay claim to the role of legitimate leader of the Chechen people, since no free elections have yet taken place in Chechnya".

Mr. Gyarmati said that, despite the shortness of the visit and the limited range of people he met, he had seen everything he wanted to see and had got a full picture of the situation. He did not mention that Sergei Kovalev, the Russian human rights commissioner, was prevented from accompanying the mission, or that he failed to visit Nazran to meet the Ingush President, Ruslan Aushev, who had offered to mediate, and, in a press conference in Moscow on 30th January, he claimed that foreign mercenaries were fighting on Dudayev's side—information he could only have got second hand. He described Russia's attitude as "very positive".

Not surprisingly after that, the OSCE Permanent Council, which of course includes Russia, passed a milk and water resolution at its meeting of 1st February. It expressed deep concern over the disproportionate use of force by the Russian armed forces but failed to demand that indiscriminate bombing and shelling cease immediately. It expressed concern over the atrocities committed by unspecified parties, but made no call for war crimes to be investigated, and those responsible brought to trial, as in Bosnia or Rwanda. If the criminals know they are not going to be tried, the offences are likely to be repeated.

The Permanent Council did call for an immediate cease-fire; for the ICRC, UNHCR and other humanitarian organisations to be given free access to all areas of Chechnya, and for the ICRC to be given access to detainees. None of these things happened. The ICRC was kept out of Samashki before, during and after the massacre of last week. In the second OSCE mission, from 22nd to 26th March, Gyarmati was more critical in Grozny, but reverted to appeasement in Moscow. There he welcomed the "constant improvement" in the dialogue with the Russian authorities, despite the fact that neither the mission itself, nor the European Parliament delegation, was allowed to visit the areas not under Russian control. He insisted that,


    "the OSCE and Russia understand each other better and better".

18 Apr 1995 : Column 468

These statements were made just after the Russian bombing of refugee camps in the south-east—an action denied by the Russians but which has been confirmed by Sebastian Smith of AFP, who counted 20 bomb craters in the camp of Elistanzhi alone.

The agreement to establish a permanent OSCE mission in Grozny, which was to have been signed on 6th April, has now been deferred. Sergei Stepashin, head of the Federal Security Service, the new KGB, said that,


    "peace will be established before the end of April",

in the west of the republic. Perhaps they do not want observers to see that process. Only yesterday there were reports of a fresh assault, this time on the village of Damut, near Samashki. That shows the need for the OSCE mission to be on site now and to have access to all parts of the country.

The conflict in Chechnya now threatens to spread to Ingushetia, where there are at least 130,000 Chechen refugees added to the native population of 350,000 and the 45,000 people who are displaced from North Ossetia. Even worse consequences may follow the lack of any concrete measures to bring home to Moscow the unacceptability of its conduct in Chechnya. The noble Lord mentioned that the IMF has just agreed a massive 6.8 billion dollar loan. He quoted The Times as saying that that was about equal to the cost of the Chechen war so far. The Russians may well be encouraged to believe that any military adventures that they undertake will attract no more than a slap on the wrist. To counter this impression, and to avert a whole series of aggressions being added to those in Tajikistan and Afghanistan as well as in Chechnya itself, the question of Chechnya ought to be raised in the United Nations Security Council. I know that Ministers say that only resolutions which are certain to be passed are ever tabled, and in this case no doubt the Russian veto would be exercised. But does that mean that the United Nations is permanently emasculated and prevented from considering atrocities which are committed by one of the permanent members of the Security Council?

There is one other lever that we have, and the noble Lord referred to it. On 9th May the Prime Minister together with President Clinton and other leaders are due in Moscow for the fiftieth anniversary celebrations of the ending of World War II. Unless the Russians stop all offensive military action in Chechnya forthwith; unless they allow humanitarian agencies to operate throughout the republic and the ICRC to visit places of detention, including those outside Chechnya; and unless they permit the immediate deployment of the OSCE mission, democratic leaders ought not to be part of the Russian celebrations. If the Russians, having been asked very politely by the OSCE Permanent Council on 3rd February to accept their legal obligations, continue to ignore them, it would be wrong for us to join them at their party and pretend that nothing is wrong.

8.18 p.m.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, for raising this Question tonight. It seems a serious omission that your Lordships' House has not since December debated this very unsatisfactory situation. It is sad that it has taken the

18 Apr 1995 : Column 469

tragedy of Chechnya to remove many illusions. We can now see that in dealing with Russia we are dealing with a semi-barbarous state and a society that only knew a measure of democracy for a few years before the First World War. Russia has therefore had to start from scratch in trying to establish a new culture of democracy. It has been doing so under almost impossible conditions of economic change, accompanied by the break-up of an empire.

It is clear that in Chechnya there has been a totally disproportionate use of force. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, indicated, well over 24,000 Chechens have been killed and many wounded. I should not be surprised if many of those wounded had subsequently died. Grozny and other towns have been totally destroyed.

Given the history of wartime deportation of Chechens by Stalin, it was surely incumbent on Russia to proceed cautiously, perhaps by mediation, arbitration or third party conflict-resolution process. Instead, the unilateral declaration of independence had been largely ignored since 1991 until excessive force began to be used last December. It continues to this very moment. As I indicated, we are observing the operations of a barbarian state capable of massacring not only its Chechen citizens but also ethnic, native Russians.

What, therefore, should be the western response? I suggest that we should withdraw economic aid from Russia and grant no new loans. We should continue to block the admission of Russia to the Council of Europe. On the other hand, we should encourage to the maximum extent possible dialogue, cultural contacts, visits and exchanges. Normal trade and investment in Russia should continue. The provision by our Government and other governments of know-how and training is more delicate and questionable. I should like to see such offers of technical assistance being made subject to solid guarantees that democracy will be allowed to continue to develop within the Russian Federation.

What should we do with those resources that will be released by ceasing to aid and grant loans to Russia? I suggest that those could be very well employed within the Ukraine, for example, in the making safe of the nuclear power station at Chernobyl and any other dangerous installations. Massive investment is also required in the Ukraine to replace and bring up to date obsolete and military industries. There is considerable scope for agricultural development. If that is not enough we could also well have in mind both Georgia and Armenia where timely assistance is likely to lead to a greater measure of independence for those states.

The Question on the Order Paper raises the issue of self-determination in Chechnya. Your Lordships are no doubt by now familiar with the notion of Matrioshka nationalism: each doll has a smaller one inside it, as one discovers as one unpacks them.

I want to argue that self-determination does not necessarily mean independence or secession. That is well explained in an article by Professor Rosalyn Higgins, of London University, in the bulletin of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe,

18 Apr 1995 : Column 470

volume 2, no. 3, of 1994, stating that self-determination is a right of peoples freely to determine their internal and external status in accordance with the United Nations covenants on civil and political rights of 1966 and the Helsinki Final Act. One can think of many such free choices that have already taken place; for example, in Newfoundland, Puerto Rico, Gibraltar, Cyprus, Namibia, the Czech and Slovak republics and, indeed, in Tartarstan. Such choices are often impossible under one party or military rule.

I agree with Professor Higgins that,


    "no legal right of secession exists, where there is representative government".

She goes on to say:


    "Minorities, as such, do not have the right to independence or secession".

I deduce from that that the Chechens, in common with the Trans-Dneistrians, the Abkhaz and, as has been mentioned, nationalists in Northern Ireland, do not have a right to secede provided that their social, economic, cultural and religious rights are protected and respected. That is a major proviso, and it is one that falls strictly in line with Article 27 of the 1966 convenants. If and when the Chechens achieve autonomy it will be incumbent on them to respect the human rights of the Russian and other minorities on their territory.

Autonomy has been negotiated in Tartarstan, an equally Moslem and equally strategic republic 600 miles to the east of Moscow. I ask Her Majesty's Government to press for a similar solution together with compensation to the Chechens for the wanton damage and destruction they have suffered.

8.25 p.m.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, has done this House a service. I have been moved this evening by the interventions of all noble Lords on what is a most distressing situation.

Russian affairs have come before this House recently. Concern was expressed at that time over her application to the Council of Europe. We are now faced with human rights violation in Chechnya of monumental proportions. It is a deplorable state of affairs. We must send a clear signal that a reaction of this nature is not the way civilised peoples of the world behave.

Chechens have paid a heavy price for Russia misunderstanding their commitment to independence. The question before us is clear: does the right of self-determination, to include independence, apply to the people of Chechnya?

Can we realistically encourage Her Majesty's Government to take a tough stance? I fear not. We in the United Kingdom recognise the right of self-determination. Our position on the Falkland Islands is evidence of that. Indeed, self-determination is a legal principle in international law, and discussions and decisions when the principle is in issue should not be impeded.

A UN resolution of 1976 upholds:


    "the principle of self-determination of all peoples and nations",

18 Apr 1995 : Column 471

but it was left deliberately ambiguous as certain colonial powers were against that ruling. That has meant that the principle of who constitutes a "people" has not yet been determined, or what constitutes the "self" of self-determination and what self-determination amounts to: full independence; the freedom to operate politically and economically within the framework of a sovereign nation; or the right to secession. All those ambiguities apply to Chechnya.

It appears that Chechnya does not have international support for independence. The United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union have all declared the conflict to be an internal matter in which they cannot therefore intervene. Since nearly all conflicts engendered by calls for self-determination are internal, that would seem to indicate that the international community is unable to cope with tensions between governments and their peoples. It has been easy for the international community not to intervene. Russia has always maintained that it launched its assault in the name of territorial integrity. It is when a case such as Chechnya arises that a gap in international law, with all the shades of self-determination, is exposed. Clarification is urgently required.

The Chechens were also ill advised. Tartastan, which in 1991 was in exactly the same position as Chechnya, finalised an agreement with Russia giving it associate status with the Russian Federation. That permits them to sign trade agreements with other countries, hold elections and have their own flag and anthem. I am bound to say that a similar agreement could possibly have been negotiated giving the Chechens enough independence to be able to determine their political future but yet satisfying the Russians. Such an agreement might still be a possibility.

In conclusion, while not ruling out independence for Chechnya, given the instabilities within both governments, associate independence is, I believe, the most practical solution. I would urge Russia to address this situation with all haste.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, this has been an interesting short debate on an issue of the most profound importance not simply for Russia and Chechnya but for the international community. A telling indictment of what has occurred was made by the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, and by other noble Lords who have contributed to the debate.

I cannot help feeling—I do not intend to repeat the earlier discussion—that it is a somewhat bitter irony that this massive indictment of actions wholly in breach of human rights should take place on the same day that the Government chose to put before the House a partnership deal with Russia. I drew attention to the inconsistency of that earlier. With great respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, for whom the whole House has a high regard, I feel that many elements of that proposal are inconsistent with the situation which has arisen, and which will arise over the next few weeks, in connection with the meetings which are to take place between President Yeltsin and western leaders.

18 Apr 1995 : Column 472

I do not depart for one moment from the charge that I made earlier. I believe that entirely the wrong signals will have been given to the Russian Government by the unnecessary step of pronouncing on the need for Britain to ratify the partnership agreement. There was no urgency. The Government themselves admit that it is impossible to go on to ratify formally so long as the Russian Government persist in their actions in Chechnya. Therefore, one has to wonder why the Government brought the matter forward today. They must have known that this debate was to take place. Perhaps they felt that if they were to withdraw, it would be seen as a sign of weakness on the part of the Government. With great respect, I believe that the contrary is the case. It would have been more telling if the Government had indicated that they were not prepared to go ahead with that business in the light of the debate that would occupy your Lordships' attention tonight.

I question some of the arguments raised earlier by the noble Baroness. I hope that the noble Lord who is to reply to the debate will not take refuge in the argument that it has all been discussed before. We have not had an opportunity to digest what the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, said earlier. What she said was quite extraordinary. She said that to refuse to go ahead with the agreement would have been disproportionate having regard to Chechnya. Disproportionate, my Lords? What has been wholly disproportionate is the way in which Russia has reacted to the situation in Chechnya.

The noble Baroness went on to say that within hours, or perhaps a day or so, flagrant violations of human rights in Shali had been reported. That is disproportionate. Yet how can she complain about that and then in the same breath go ahead with the agreement upon which the Government have chosen to embark?

She stated that now is not the time to slow down our support for Russia; that it would be counter-productive. I understand the argument. Of course no one wants the ordinary people, the mass of Russian people, to suffer for one moment longer than they have already suffered and are suffering at present. But the fact is that the Government will not actually go ahead with the agreement with Russia at the present time. So why is there haste in the light of what has been said in your Lordships' House tonight?

Let me make this absolutely clear. I believe—I assume that most of your Lordships would believe—that in the long term a deal along the lines of that agreement has to be struck to ensure that Russia can go down the democratic route and to sustain those forces genuinely believing in the democratic process so that the many will benefit and not simply the few who currently exploit the chaos in Russia to their singular advantage. But it is a two-way partnership. If President Yeltsin subscribes to the doctrines of democracy and wishes to draw aside from the embraces of those neo-fascist forces which are yapping at his heels, then he has to give some further thought to what is happening. It is imperative that those who wish Russia well make clear that in practical, demonstrable terms Russia must understand that what is happening is unacceptable in a civilised community.

18 Apr 1995 : Column 473

The breaches of human rights which have occurred were amply demonstrated by noble Lords who spoke so eloquently tonight. It does not help if I repeat those charges. Perhaps it should be said that the Chechens themselves cannot emerge from the situation totally with credit. There are reports of manifest breaches of human rights on their side too. It is a war situation; and war begets terrible excesses. It may well be, too, that the Russians have been drawn into the conflict for a variety of misguided reasons. Perhaps there has been collusion on the part of some in Moscow who do not intend well so far as concerns President Yeltsin and who have encouraged the demands mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, which he felt might have been handled somewhat better by the Government of Chechnya. However, that does not alter the fact that what has happened is a blight on humanity.

Not only do we have a situation where the population was decimated. As the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, put it, perhaps thousands more may have subsequently died. We do not know. There has also been vast destruction of property. Grozny has been virtually destroyed. All that will cost a great deal of money to restore—money which the Russians simply do not have.

There is a continuing problem because people are trying to survive in appalling circumstances. They are without running water, electricity and the proper means of sewage disposal which is likely to endanger life. We do not know the entire cost—whether 40,000, 60,000 or 100,000 civilians have been killed. Large numbers of young Russians have been sacrificed in the conflict.

Words of condemnation come readily to the lips of Ministers, but I believe that they are not enough. Ministers genuinely feel anxious about the situation, and of course they have great anxiety. They are not bad people. They would not wish the situation to persist. However, even though I do not go so far as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, I believe that more is required from the Government than words of condemnation. To withdraw economic aid from Russia is not likely to be the right course, for the reasons that I explained. However, blocking Russian membership of the Council of Europe at this stage is a desirable course which ought to be taken. It is right to continue normal trade, but it is not right to start fresh agreements. The Government have conceded the point, so why bother at this stage?

I turn to the situation of the Chechen Government. In these circumstances it is difficult to know who is speaking the truth and whether it is being uttered by anyone. Mr. Dudayev says that he wants a real cease-fire, with no preconditions, monitored by international observers. He wants the creation of safe havens in non-occupied territories where people can receive medical treatment and food directly from international humanitarian groups. Mr. Dudayev says that he wants direct negotiations at any mutually agreed level between the legitimately elected Chechen Government and representatives of Russia under the auspices of international mediators. He says that he wants parliamentary and presidential elections this year under international supervision. He ought to be put to the test. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, it is not enough simply to rely on arguments about the internal

18 Apr 1995 : Column 474

affairs of a country disqualifying anyone else from some form of intervention. We do not argue for military intervention there but for some form of intervention along the lines I mentioned earlier and stated at least in part by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton.

If the situation is allowed to persist, the repercussions will be enormous for Russia itself. Day by day the probability of a classic guerrilla war emerges, continuing for a long time. There might be a declaration of a Moslem jihad. It is abundantly plain that extraordinary incompetence has been displayed by Moscow, coupled with the sheer brutality that has also emerged, perhaps because of that incompetence and because certain elements of the Russian army are outside the control of Yeltsin. Who knows?

I do not trust the words of President Yeltsin, as I would hope in such circumstances. He has promised over and over again that there should be a peaceful end to the conflict. Yet virtually within days the evidence has been forthcoming of exactly the opposite. There are certainly problems for President Yeltsin in the current domestic situation. He fears that he will not be re-elected. I fear that those doubts may be compounded by what is happening in this unfortunate and disastrous situation. It is an explosive mix. It has resonance with the situation which occurred in Afghanistan and which led to so much unhappiness, doubt and anxiety in Russia.

Dialogue is critical. Surely, we can do more than we have been doing to promote that dialogue. It must be genuine; it must not assume that the Chechen people can be likened to brigands and then expect progress to be made. Neither the Russians nor the Chechens are free of Mafia influence and those mafioso-like gangs which betray Russian society so manifestly today. Human rights campaigners in Russia like Sergei Kovalyev are astonished that the West has been relatively compliant with the Russians. Yet Russian extraction from the position is vital in her own interests. Russia will be humiliated in international circles if the brutality continues. It can do the Russian people no good. There is no future in enabling the neo-fascist potential dictators of Russia to be pacified. Their appetites are insatiable. The cost is likely to be unbearable. There must be an end to it and surely we can do more than we have been doing hitherto to try to gain that objective.

Finally, once again I thank the noble Lord who initiated the debate. It was worth having.

8.47 p.m.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Belhaven and Stenton for the opportunity to debate this topic and to all other noble Lords who have contributed. Chechnya is sadly back in the news again. The overall destruction may have been at a reduced level since the levelling of Grozny, but the military operation continues and with it the suffering inflicted on a civilian population who desperately want a return to peace and normality. Worryingly, there have been further recent reports of atrocities. It is casting a shadow over Russia's relations with the international community. For that to change, a solution has to be found, and found soon. The Russian Government must know that, but nevertheless

18 Apr 1995 : Column 475

fighting and human rights violations continue. The international community stands ready to help resolve the conflict.

There are some positive signs. The Russian Government's recent decision to support the establishment of a permanent OSCE mission in Chechnya is an important step forward. It offers a real opportunity for progress which must be fully exploited, but there is still more to be done. Her Majesty's Government have consistently—


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page