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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechen Referendum Will Solve Nothing

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The issue of regulating the situation in Chechnya is now being discussed within the context of a constitutional referendum for Chechnya, to be held on March 23.

It is clearly unrealistic to expect a referendum can be held in just over a month that will foster a political process which will put an end to the bloodshed -- given the existing situation in Chechnya and the time constraints.

How many checkpoints will people have to pass to reach their polling station? What are the chances of remaining alive? And is it really possible to set up polling stations in conditions of war?

Even more important is that a majority of the Chechen population does not understand what the referendum is about. There's a huge gulf between the views of people living in Chechnya and the text that is proposed in the referendum. Half the population still regards Aslan Maskhadov as its president. People feel far removed from the referendum. As far as I know, few people in Chechnya have seen the draft constitution and even if the required number of copies is printed in the immediate future, I very much doubt there will be a proper debate over it or an opportunity to make amendments.

However, the draft Chechen constitution should be thoroughly discussed both within the republic and at the national level, since Chechnya is a part of the Russian Federation. But I doubt there is more than a handful of Russian politicians familiar with the document.

Removal of the recommendation to postpone the referendum from the resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is clearly a cause for concern. The recommendation was removed not because the Russian delegation was able to prove that the Russian authorities would be capable of ensuring appropriate conditions for holding the referendum. In the adopted version, the resolution states PACE's concern that the necessary conditions for holding the referendum cannot be created within the scheduled time-frame. PACE simply refused to get involved in the issue of the referendum date and refused to send monitors or to recognize the results of the referendum.

There exists a danger that discussion about regulating the situation in Chechnya will be completely curtailed. Lord Judd's resignation was used as a pretext for disbanding the PACE-State Duma working group on Chechnya. The disbanding of this working group, following the refusal to extend the mandate of the OSCE Assistance Group to Chechnya at the end of last year, means the complete exclusion of European organizations from resolution of the situation in Chechnya.

Now, PACE has not only washed its hands of responsibility for the Russian authorities' actions, it has also created the conditions for a serious aggravation of the situation. Without international recognition, the referendum in Chechnya will be a long-term source of serious instability, and will spur on the rebels and the foreign structures supporting them.

If the referendum could bring an end to the "mop-up" operations, restore the legal order in Chechnya, especially vis-a-vis law enforcement officers' treatment of civilians, bring an end to torture and executions, forced disappearances, robbery and violence of all kinds -- then it would clearly be worthwhile.

However, the above-mentioned are all necessary conditions for the conducting of a referendum in the first place, but those conditions have not been put in place and are unlikely to be before the end of March.

An ill-prepared referendum and the ensuing decisions may aggravate the situation in Chechnya. Efforts will be made from many different quarters to wreck the referendum. Today, on all sides there are forces that have an interest in civil war and there are people who benefit from it.

An ill-prepared referendum will result in social tensions spreading beyond Chechnya's borders to the rest of Russia. We must be ready to prevent and repulse further potential terrorist acts.

And yet, in spite of all this, the referendum will most likely take place as scheduled. The funds have already been allocated, and no one involved in preparations for the referendum is likely to hand in their resignation.

We need to think about what should be done next. In any case, at some point we will have to return to the starting point -- the peace process. Putting an end to zachistki and restoration of the legal order in Chechnya are tasks that need to be achieved no matter what. The federal authorities are obliged to avert conflict inside Chechnya, because the genuine threat of civil war in the republic is the fault of the federal authorities, which are responsible for the situation that has taken shape in Chechnya in the past 3 1/2 years.

Will this be done? Will Russian law enforcement agencies and the armed forces work toward this? These are questions that require constant debate.

It is crucial to encourage negotiations between all warring and potentially warring parties -- in other words the development of a peace process mediated by Moscow.

Sooner or later, all this will result in the organization of a peace conference chaired by President Vladimir Putin, with the participation of all the conflicting and interested parties. Only specific individuals, proven war criminals, should be excluded from the peace process.

International organizations should and must be used to deter violence, and to work out regulations and procedures that will ensure long-term stability. Excluding international organizations from participation in a Chechen peace process would be to go down the wrong path.

It will not be easy to get to the point of organizing such a conference, but it is the only way. The federal authorities can and should do everything within their power to prepare a conference and prevent the conflict burgeoning in Chechnya.

A conference on a political settlement would mark the start of a new era for Chechnya.

Grigory Yavlinsky is leader of the Yabloko party. This comment first appeared in Novaya Gazeta.