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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

OSCE's Chechnya Mission Packs Up

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is closing its mission in Chechnya after some of the OSCE's 55 participating states refused to endorse a limitation of the mission's mandate as insisted upon by the Russian government.

"The Russian Federation wants the OSCE mission in Chechnya to concentrate on humanitarian assistance and to stay away from politics," an OSCE official said Wednesday on condition of anonymity in a telephone interview from Vienna. "This is not acceptable for some participating countries."

The OSCE mission began closing up on Jan. 1 and should be completely out of Chechnya by March 21, the official said. The OSCE has a six-person office in Znamenskoye.

As a further sign of Russia's displeasure at outside interference in Chechnya, three Germans, including a former labor minister, who had planned to visit Chechnya to look into the human rights situation there were turned back when they arrived at Sheremetyevo Airport on Tuesday, The Associated Press reported.

The original OSCE mandate, which was set down in April 1995 and expired on Dec. 31, 2002, stipulated that the mission would, along with humanitarian activities, "pursue dialogue and negotiations, as appropriate, through participation in 'round tables,' with a view to establishing a cease-fire and eliminating sources of tension."

The OSCE played a significant role in the negotiations that ended the 1994-96 war and in the elections that followed.

But now, with President Vladimir Putin refusing to negotiate with the rebels, portraying them as international terrorists who must be eliminated,

Russian officials say the OSCE's mandate in Chechnya is obsolete.

"That mandate was accepted in 1995 in an absolutely different situation," Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Chizhov said in an interview posted Sunday on the ministry's web site. "Now the situation in the Chechen republic has radically changed."

However, this does not mean the curtailment of cooperation between Russia and the OSCE in Chechnya, he said, as the OSCE is welcome to monitor the constitutional referendum in Chechnya in March and elections to be held at the end of the year.

"The OSCE can monitor the situation even without having its assistance group there," Chizhov was quoted as saying.

Chizhov's office referred calls for comment on the OSCE's departure to the Foreign Ministry's press office, which said Chizhov's statements on the web site represented the ministry's position.

The OSCE official at its Vienna headquarters said a new mission could be sent to Chechnya if member nations can reach a concensus on a new mandate.

U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow urged the OSCE to accept a new mandate, saying the presence of international monitors would be useful during the Chechen referendum, Interfax reported Wednesday.

Boris Makarenko, an analyst with the Center of Political Technologies, said the issue, however, is not the OSCE. "Actually, this is not a conflict between the Russian government and the OSCE, which is a rather weak and uninfluential organization," Makarenko said. "This is a conflict between the Russian government and such European values as human rights."

The referendum and elections are part of an effort to consolidate Moscow's grip on the republic. The proposed constitution would be subordinate to federal law and would ignore the separatists' independence claims.

Jorma Inki, the former head of the OSCE mission in Chechnya, said the plans for the referendum were premature.

"Such a referendum is needed, for it is necessary to legitimize local authorities, but it is too early to hold it in the current circumstances," Inki was quoted by Interfax as saying Sunday.

"The presence of 80,000 servicemen from the Russian armed forces and Interior Ministry, the large number of displaced people inside Chechnya and outside its borders, and the basically unstable situation that persists -- all this does not make quite suitable circumstances for a real referendum," he said.

Chechnya's election commission on Wednesday began examining the 13,200 signatures collected by the referendum's initiative group, Interfax reported. Should the commission, which is to check the authenticity of 2,500 signatures, find that more than 25 percent are forged or invalid, the referendum cannot be held.

Murat Nashkhoyev, co-chairman of the independent Council of Public Organizations of Chechnya, told Ekho Moskvy radio Tuesday that signatures were collected in violation of the law. Troops based in Chechnya took an active part in the campaign, and many non-existent people were put into the lists, he said.

During the first war, the OSCE mission, led by Swiss diplomat Tim Guldiman, helped bring about the peace talks in Khasavyurt in August 1996, from which Chechnya emerged de facto independent.

Throughout the current conflict, Putin has said there will not be another Khasavyurt.

The OSCE mission in Grozny virtually organized the January 1997 presidential and parliamentary elections in Chechnya, the results of which, including the election of Aslan Maskhadov as president, were accepted by the Russian government.

It then promoted the treaty on mutual relations signed by Maskhadov and then-President Boris Yeltsin in May 1997.

In March 1999, the mission's activities were frozen due to kidnappings and other dangers. The OSCE office in Chechnya was reopened in June 2001.