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Lord Chesham: My Lords, it is a time-limited debate. Twelve minutes are allocated to each person. If the noble Lord speaks for longer than that it will reduce the amount of time available to others.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I can help the noble Lord by saying that I have no intention to speak for anything like 12 minutes.

Lord Rea: My Lords, this is a brutal war. Some may have seen television pictures of the weeping women of Samashki when 260 defenceless older men, and women and children, were killed in April last year. This was a "My Lai" style massacre. I heard testimony of mass graves and of "filtration" camps where beatings, torture and death took place.

My noble friend Lord Judd received a letter the other day from a Russian girl living in this country aged 12 who had recently been in Russia for a holiday. She wrote:

That may sound fanciful but it is true.

We heard of a child of nine who was in detention. He was in detention because he had seen his mother and two children killed in front of his eyes and had then picked up a Kalashnikov and killed the five soldiers who had been involved.

I should like to have asked the noble Baroness many more questions, particularly with regard to whether Russia should be admitted to the Council of Europe at next week's meeting. I very much hope she will advise that at the moment that is not appropriate. There are many more comments I could make but because of the time factor I shall now sit down.

10.6 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, the only good thing about the terrible events in Chechnya which began in December 1994 is that the world knows they are happening and the Russian media are playing a brave part in making them public. Otherwise there is little difference--with some honourable individual exceptions such as Sergey Kovalev, the chairman of the Human Rights Commission, and perhaps Anatoly Volskyz, and, in the previous hostage situation, Mr. Chernomyrdin--between the way Russian power is being used today and the way it was used in the Soviet

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time. Then the OMON forces, the KGB's strong-arm men, killed without restraint in Nagorno-Karabakh, and in 1990 in the Baltic States, and in the streets of Tbilisi. Now they and the MVD's own dear thugs, the ALPHA group, are the Speznaz forces who are to the fore in Chechnya.

Operations ever since December 1994 have been principally carried out by the KGB and the MVD's troops under their own generals; at present the MVD General Kulikov, whom his army colleagues fear--he is, after all, now Minister of the Interior--and Mikhail Barsukov, head of the new KGB, the Federal Security Bureau. I have gone into that detail because, unfortunately, the Chechnya conflict is yet another indication, if not proof, that the leopard has not changed his spots and the KGB and the party are still running Russia. One of Dudayev's commanders, speaking about the recent projected agreement on special status for Chechnya, said that peace would never be established there,

    "until Russia finds common ground with the legitimate authorities".

But Russia has preferred to put in her own Moscow-backed man, Doku Zavgayev, who--surprise, surprise--received 99 per cent. of the vote of the Russian military in Chechnya, and subsequently claimed that, of the 68 per cent. of the electorate (another official figure was 87.6 per cent.) who voted, 98 per cent. cast their votes for him as candidate.

As the OSCE team, who knew all the personalities, left Chechnya during the period of the election, and as throughout Russia 700,000 Interior Ministry officers, of whom some were presumably in Chechnya, were detailed to "monitor" the elections, and as the percentages have the familiar ring of the old Soviet statistics, it is perhaps not surprising that the Chechens can put little faith in the political process. Sergey Kovalev warned well before the elections that they would lead to renewed fighting as,

    "in spite of bloodshed, and by hook or by crook, somebody wants to appoint his man in Chechnya as the boss".

The conditions were not, he warned, in lodging a complaint to the Supreme Court, in any way suitable for elections, given restrictions on movement, curfews and the presence of both illegal armed formations and Russian military units.

I hold no brief for Dudayev, but who among the Chechens could believe that the Russian state has ever seriously contemplated any solution but the use of force? A Radio Russia poll in December showed that 92 per cent. of those polled in Moscow and St. Petersburg wanted a peaceful settlement, but that view is not heard in what are known as the "power ministries".

Grozny is in ruins, although some money is now being spent on the all important oil installations. Gudermes, the second largest city, has been shelled by heavy artillery continuously so that the damage, including schools, hospitals and over 33,000 houses, is reckoned at 1,600 billion roubles. So far there are 15,000 to 20,000 refugees from the town, some of whom have been killed on the road as they tried to flee. According to the federal migration service there are now

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290,000 refugees in Dagestan and in Ingushetia, many of them ethnic Russians, and there are 25,000 such refugees living in the 68 holding units scattered through the north Caucasus.

So long as the operations in Chechnya are carried out by the KGB and MVD forces we can, I fear, be sure that the safety of hostages and of the civilian population will be the last thing in their minds. It is not part of their culture.

Meanwhile, the Communist Party, after the Russian elections, is the largest single group in the Duma and its avowed policy is to restore the Soviet Union. That will not encourage the Chechens, if they have any trust left, to trust Moscow. Meanwhile, too, the CIS at its January summit will be discussing a statute on collective peacekeeping and drafting a document on the prevention and settlement of conflicts in the territory of the CIS. The UN, which has allowed the Russians to describe themselves as UN peacekeepers in Abkhazia, just down the road in the Caucasus, will no doubt be solemnly investing those peacekeepers, too, with UN status.

And what of the OSCE, which was so conspicuously not there, it seems, when the Chechen elections took place, despite having been there to mediate for nearly a year? Naturally, I bow to what the noble Lord, Lord Rea, said about the good work of the OSCE, but it has not been especially effective in Nagorno-Karabakh. The Russians, of course, love it all the more for its well-meaning ineptitude. It poses no problems; it embarrasses no one.

The Chechen problem is an internal problem, and the difficulties are great for any central government in dealing with determined and well-armed guerrilla action in guerrilla country--and in country where the central government ardently wish to protect and develop their oil pipelines (especially now that Kabardino-Balkaria, Chechnya's neighbour, is becoming an oil producer). However, we are surely free to refuse to regard Russia as a fit member of any European security or political organisation while her present disregard for human rights continues. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to tell us what the OSCE has put on the public record about all this and what it proposes to do.

We should not go on for ever considering whether we should refrain from comment for fear of endangering the present administration. That is something against which Sakharov warned us in the past. We can do them no harm by openly expressing our deep concern. We shall, on the other hand, damage democracy within Russia--and it is there--far more by failing to follow the courageous lead of such people as their own human rights commissioner.

10.12 p.m.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rea, for raising this matter at such a timely moment. I salute his courage and commitment in visiting the scene of action. I thought that he was particularly modest in the way he underplayed his role as an eyewitness.

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I feel very strongly that it is up to all of us to emphasise strongly tonight the extent of the violence, the deaths, the injuries and the damage that have been inflicted in the past year or more. All concerned have suffered. The noble Lord, Lord Rea, drew a striking parallel between the appearance of Grozny now and that of Hiroshima in years gone by. He also gave the casualty figures or the best estimates so far made.

The water supply of Grozny, I understand, has been severely damaged. Proposals have been put forward by a British non-governmental organisation for its repair and restoration. One hopes that that will happen one day. I understand that Her Majesty's Government have at least expressed some desire to help. The consequences have been the total impoverishment of a very large section of the population which previously was at least some little way above the poverty line.

I encourage the noble Baroness who will reply for the Government to say something tonight, if she can, about displaced people. Perhaps she can include those who suffer through being displaced by earlier Caucasian conflicts.

The noble Lord, Lord Rea, touched upon the history of the country. I would only add that after a very difficult 19th century, when Chechen resistance lasted for some 30 years, there were continuous uprisings during the 1920s and 1930s in the Soviet period. We need to be aware of the fact that even Stalin's deportations of almost the entire population during the Second World War failed to break the Chechen national spirit and consciousness. It is also worth noting that for 35 years, from 1943 to 1978, all Chechen mosques were totally closed and abolished, but such measures failed to uproot the Islam and Sufi brotherhoods. With that kind of history, it is not surprising that any degree of trust by the Chechen people towards the Russian leadership and Russian military forces is almost entirely lacking.

We have also to be very aware of the location of the country. Its position is highly strategic. It straddles the oil and gas pipelines from Azerbaijan where large new reserves will fairly soon be brought into production. Those will be reinforced and enlarged by further production possibilities in Kazakhstan on the east side of the Caspian. Chechnya has borders with Ossetia, Georgia and the Russian Federation, which again make it a strategic place.

We also need to be well aware of the susceptibilities and interests of Russia. There is a strong degree of fear within Russia that any recognition of Chechen independence could pave the way to a break-up of the Russian Federation. The very difficult historical background and the various attempted but unfortunately failed negotiations that have taken place since 1991 further complicate the issue. In addition, there are the interests of the Russian element in the population which is quite considerable. Against that we have to remember, as the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, mentioned, the marvellous efforts of Mr. Kovalyovs and others who take his point of view. Nor should we forget the impact on Russian thinking which the mothers of servicemen had at an earlier stage and possibly will continue to have.

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What I suppose we are all looking for, hoping for and longing to see come about is a degree of moderation on the part of all those involved in this conflict, whether Russian or Chechen. If that could begin--I fear that it may not be all that likely--then there may indeed be a clear role for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. It is the only international, intergovernmental body that is in any way acceptable to the Russians. It also happens to be the only intergovernmental organisation that has a special brief to look after the interests of minorities. Therefore, it seems to me that it is particularly well suited for the task in hand. It is possible that there may be a slight window of opportunity for it, given that the duma elections are now over and that the Russian presidential elections will not happen until next summer.

Therefore there may possibly be scope for the organisation to try to achieve a new cease-fire to be followed by demilitarisation and disarmament, as was previously proposed and semi-agreed, followed in turn by negotiations on the future status of Chechnya. Whatever that future status may be, I feel that it is likely to require guarantees from outside countries or bodies to ensure at least a start on a new status. Equally important, in my view, will be the planning of reconstruction, technical aid and supervision of the use of any funds that may perhaps be internationally contributed. That constitutes a far larger and more important task than has been undertaken by any previous OSCE peace mission; for example, in the Baltic states, Kosovo or Moldova. I hope that if such an enlarged mission can be put in place, it will concentrate very much on both community development and conflict resolution.

Such a major opportunity will depend very much on the political will of the members of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. If that is lacking, I cannot see such an initiative starting. I wish to ask the Government to do their maximum to try to inspire the other members of the organisation to be far more positive about such a venture than they have been up to now.

10.23 p.m.

Lord Kennet: My Lords, I too wish to thank my noble friend Lord Rea for raising this subject and having been to the country. I wish to put in a word of praise also for the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, which plays an enormous role and has done so over the years in getting Members of both Houses of Parliament to places where the balloon has gone up, in order to bring back realistic reports of what is going on. We can be particularly pleased that its chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, will speak in the debate from the Liberal Benches.

It seems to me that various crises are going on at different levels. The most obvious is the bloodshed, to which I shall come in a minute, but there is also the crisis of Russian democracy. That democracy is extremely young. It has by now roundly outlived the first attempt at democracy in 1917, but it is not at all home and dry yet. The Russians are making a rather

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poor fist of it. That can hardly be surprising, given that they were sent off to an entirely false start by an invasion of Western ideologues and profiteers who wholly distorted the natural development of what could have been a more fortunate new democracy.

Therefore, the Russian Government are entitled to all forbearance from the West. Such forbearance has to be limited, but the first presumption must be to try not to kick them too hard; they have bigger problems than we can dream of. It is my guess that there are concurrently 17 problems bigger than we can dream of, of which Chechnya is only for the moment the gravest.

It is also necessary to balance that consideration by remembering that Russia has no better right to rule the peoples of the North Caucasus, or indeed other non-Russian peoples, than we should have in this day and age to rule the Indians and Africans, rule over whom we gave up 30 and 40 years ago. The Russians acquired dominion over the North Caucasus between 1780 and 1820, soon after Warren Hastings but long before the Indian Mutiny and the Macaulay reforms in India. It is a big, outstanding historical anomaly that there should still be, even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a thumping great white European empire in Asia. Bits of it will rebel; bits of it are rebelling. The natural course in the long run is for the imperial power--Russia--to do what all 11 European imperial powers have done; namely, to retire as peacefully as possible and build up good relations with new, independent states.

I want to ask the noble Baroness certain questions: the situation is so complicated that it is easy to be baffled by it, and Foreign Office Ministers have a head start in this sort of thing. If she can throw any light into the darkness, I think the House will be grateful.

The Chechens are fighting with modern weapons. Where do those weapons come from? The Chechens themselves tend to say: "We captured them from the Russians because we are such brilliant fighters". But other pictures can be traced if one has one's ear to the ground. Through what channels are they getting the weapons? In whose interest is it to arm them? I do not see why we should not speak fairly bluntly about this matter. I hope that the noble Baroness will speak fairly bluntly; I cannot, because I do not have the least idea.

What is the situation in regard to the pipeline? Who owns that pipeline? How many pipelines are there? I hope that the noble Baroness will find time to sketch that in. It could be quickly said. Few in this country have much notion. We probably know more about arrangements on the east coast of the Caspian than on the west--but there again, that could be just my ignorance.

What is British national interest there? The oil is an obvious interest. How big is our interest in the oil compared with that of other Western countries? That would be interesting to know, too. Do we have any other national interest there, beyond the obvious and always deserving one of the restoration of peace and the saving of life?

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Lastly, can the Government see any point in thinking of an arrangement--it might even be a federal arrangement--for some sort of bloc or association of Moslem states down the West Coast of the Caspian: Dagestan, Chechnya, Ossetia, the Ingush and others? Would they live at peace among themselves if they were liberated? If they did not, would the consequent wars be soon over, or is it possible to think of a series of completely independent countries there? All those things look far beyond the immediate humanitarian imperatives and far beyond immediate diplomatic possibilities. But, after all, what is this House for, if not to air such matters?

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