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Lord Rea: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, would he agree that, if a political solution could be achieved and friendly relationships established between the peoples of the North Caucasus and Russia, it is much more likely that the oil would flow along those pipelines than if conflict continues, with the likelihood that those pipelines will constantly be blown up in guerrilla warfare?

Lord Kennet: Yes, my Lords, I most heartily agree with that. But it is always possible that there might be non-Russian and non-Caucasian interests who would think it worth risking a little bloodshed in order to make sure that they got a bigger slice of the final oil arrangement, whatever it is. We cannot--at least, I cannot--tell.

10.30 p.m.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton: My Lords, the whole House will be most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rea, for raising this very important subject. As other noble Lords have said, he has shown great courage in going himself to Chechnya and thus has been able to give your Lordships a report at first hand and, if I may say so, not at too great length. It is not often that an Unstarred Question--which it is difficult enough for Back-Benchers to get on to the Order Paper, at any rate--has been so well timed.

In fact, events are moving very fast and I do not intend to make more than a passing reference to what is now happening, except to say that, from what we have seen and heard over the past two days, 150 Chechen fighters are taking on the whole might of the Russian army. It is an astonishing feat, whatever else one may make of it.

On 18th April last, I gave your Lordships a brief history of Chechnya. I shall not go into all that again. It is enough to say, as other noble Lords have said, that the Chechens are not Russians. They have never in their history wanted to be Russian and they do not even look like Russians. It is a very small nation and a very small country, but they want their independence and believe that their country belongs to them. I do not find that unreasonable. However, on the evidence so far, Her Majesty's Government do seem to find it somewhat unreasonable.

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In the debate on the Partnership and Co-operation Agreement between the European Communities and their member states and the Russian Federation which preceded my Unstarred Question on the 18th April, my noble friend Lady Chalker said that:

    "a political agreement must be worked out which will allow the Chechen people to express their identity within the framework of the Russian Federation".--[Official Report, 18/4/95; col. 401.]

Later, on the same day, my noble friend Lord Inglewood said exactly the same in exactly the same words.

The words:

    "within the framework of the Russian Federation",

are what all this is about. The Chechens do not wish to remain within the framework of the Russian Federation, for excellent reasons. Their history over the past 200 to 300 years has been one of continuous resistance to Russia in its various guises as Russian Empire, Soviet Union or present Russian Federation. So great was their wish to be outside the federation that they declared independence as soon as they could do so.

The Russian answer was, unfortunately, to subject Chechnya to a trade embargo, to attempt to subvert the country's institutions and even to try to murder its president. There were also negotiations, and in the course of the negotiations, in August 1994, President Yeltsin 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".

I quoted that in last April's debate, but I do not apologise for quoting it again. President Yeltsin is strangely inconsistent in some of his statements. He also said in 1992 to President Walesa of Poland that Russia had no objection to Poland joining NATO. He reversed that statement about three months later. In fact, it is hard to know who, if anyone, is making the decisions in Moscow. But at any rate, it is a fact that only four months after President Yeltsin's statement about not using force in Chechnya, the Russian army did just that and invaded Chechnya with a display of brutal incompetence which most of the world was able to watch on their television screens.

I will not dilate on the destruction of Grozny and the surrounding villages; they have already been described by other noble Lords. However, I should like to refer to an incident described in your Lordships' House by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury--if he will forgive me--last April; that is, that on 7th April 1995 the village of Samashki was subjected to a night of bombardment by planes and artillery. After that, Russian troops moved in and, using flame-throwers and grenades, massacred the inhabitants where they were hiding in the cellars beneath their houses. Those Russian soldiers are the men whom we now have as allies in Bosnia. One can only hope that the peacekeeping methods they applied in Chechnya will not be used in Bosnia.

The last sentence of President Yeltsin's strange pronouncement on Chechnya--that if Russia uses force,

    "there will be so much chaos and bloodshed that no-one will forgive us"--

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has already proved almost baseless. Of course the West has forgiven them. Anyone with even a slight knowledge of our Foreign Office and the foreign offices of the EC could have told the president that.

President Yeltsin said yesterday, if I understood the television report correctly, that all the bandits in Chechnya would now be wiped out and punished. Here I pause to reflect that successive Russian and Soviet governments have always referred to those who stand up to them as "bandits". The Poles in the Warsaw uprising were also "bandits", even though they were supposed to be Russia's allies. I do not consider that people who are fighting for the independence of their country are bandits, gunmen or however else one chooses to describe them. Our media describe them as gunmen and so forth and ought not to do so.

I regret the recent hostage-taking, but the Chechens may well feel that, unless they do something spectacular, no one will take any notice of them. It is also a fact that, if we are talking about banditry, the Russian army is a past master of the most brutal forms of banditry, as the destruction of Grozny and Samashki demonstrate.

As Chechen resistance continues in the face of what appears to be overwhelming force, and looks as though it will continue indefinitely, there will be a temptation for the Kremlin to revert to the policies of General Yermolov in the early 19th century and of Stalin in this century, and to propose wiping the nation out--in modern parlance, "genocide". If that happens, Her Majesty's Government and our allied governments will react very strongly. After all, it could quite reasonably be said that the West is financing the Chechen war. The amount of the recent IMF loan is estimated to be about the cost of the war so far. In fact, I imagine that most of the loans and subventions to Russia over the past few years will go to the maintaining of the military and defence establishment, which still forms the largest part of the Russian budget, in spite of the bankruptcy of a great deal of the country.

I should like briefly to refer to my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth, if only to ask my noble friend Lady Chalker to take a great deal of notice of what she says. She spoke in the debate on the Address and today, and her knowledge of the subject is well worth listening to, particularly by Her Majesty's Ministers.

I conclude by saying that we are faced with an extremely menacing situation in Chechnya. The repercussions will be felt not just in that small country, but throughout the world. The resurgence of Russian militarism and Russian imperial dreams is a real danger today, and at the very least we ought not to pay their bills. We ought also to do something about our own defence and Armed Forces, which have been so savagely cut over the past few years. We may need our fighting men sooner than Whitehall imagines.

10.39 p.m.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Rea, for the hazardous mission he undertook in Chechnya at a time when military operations were being conducted there. He went into areas which were liable to be under military threat; he spoke to people

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who had suffered from the military operations undertaken by the Russians; and he has brought us back a vivid picture of the immense sufferings of the people and the huge destruction that has been wrought in the fabric of Chechnya, particularly of Grozny.

We have seen the pictures of Grozny. One particularly vivid one will resound down the years in the same way as the picture of the little girl in Vietnam crossing a bridge with all her clothes blown off by the military operations that were going on. The images of Grozny, the stark, bare walls rearing up out of the landscape, so like, as described by the noble Lord, Lord Rea, Hiroshima after the atom bomb, have made us think carefully, if we had not done so already, about what kind of political solutions there can be to this appalling military conflict. The visit of the noble Lord, Lord Rea, and his colleagues could not have been more timely and this debate is even more so.

In passing, it must be said that it is a great pity that your Lordships do not have a mechanism for enabling our Members and those of another place to study human rights and humanitarian problems on site in the way the noble Lord has done. Our procedures do not allow those who undertake missions of this kind on their own initiative to be given time to inform your Lordships of their findings. At one point I suggested to the Leader of the House that we should have a Select Committee on human rights so that first-hand evidence of the kind the noble Lord has presented could be collected on a more systematic basis and made available to Parliament and the public. Perhaps the Minister will be sympathetic to that concept because she is one of the most widely travelled Members of your Lordships' House. I know that she has just returned from Freetown, Abidjan and Dakar.

Many important issues have been raised during the debate and I should like to highlight some of them. The noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, gave the figures of the number of people displaced and particularly the huge number who are refugees in Dagestan and in Ossetia and who presumably, because they are technically still within the boundaries of Russia, do not count as refugees within the meaning of the convention. I should like to ask whether any suggestion has been made that the UN rapporteur on internally displaced people should be invited to examine the problem in Dagestan and Ossetia and see what resources the United Nations might make available.

In the context of the United Nations role, I should like to refer to what the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, said about incipient genocide. We have not reached that stage and we hope to God that it will not happen and that the Russians will draw back from the brink. But at what stage would the United Nations become involved and at what stage would we take preventive action to stop the threat of genocide? After all, everyone approved the United Nations Secretary-General's agenda for peace some 18 months ago in which he placed enormous emphasis on preventive diplomacy. There could hardly be a time when preventive diplomacy was more necessary than in the case of the conflict in Chechnya today.

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In 1992 Mort Halperin and David Scheffer of the Carnegie Endowment identified 115 self-determination movements worldwide. Five of them were in the Russian Federation. Some demands were for total independence and that is how the Chechen rebels' claims are articulated, as we saw from their London representative's appearance on television last night and heard again from the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, this evening. However, as many experts, notably Professor Hurst Hannum, have pointed out, there are creative intra-state solutions that recognise the value of diversity without mandating or encouraging division. Those are more likely to achieve the desired results in many cases than the creation of separate states. The Russians did succeed in reaching an accommodation with Tatarstan and although many of the people there felt that the agreement was not far-reaching enough it did at least avoid the violence and destruction we have seen in Chechnya.

It is possible that in the end Russia's 19th century conquests will all have to be relinquished. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, suggested that that was the case and that Russia will have to give up its empire just as Britain, France and Holland did in the decolonisation years of the 1960s and 1970s. The fact that Russia annexed the lands belonging to its immediate neighbours while the maritime powers developed what were called "salt-sea" empires makes no difference to the relationship between master and subject.

In the western empires except, I believe, in the case of the Belgians and the Portuguese, there was a gradual and progressive development of self-governing institutions buttressed by an infrastructure of political parties, trade unions, a relatively free press and the rule of law, whereas in Russia there is an attempt to telescope the process into a few months. As I understand it, the aim is a set of agreements between the centre and the regions, including territories which are not ethnically distinct such as Kaliningrad and Sverdlovsk, giving as much sovereignty as possible to the regions. But the cost of retaining Chechnya within a framework of that sort could be very high.

I very much deplore the violations of the laws of war, of which we have heard this evening and of which, it has to be said, both sides are guilty in the Chechnya conflict. The indiscriminate bombardment of Grozny, the deliberate targeting of civilians by certain Russian commanders, as the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, reminded us yet again this evening, and the taking of hostages by the armed opposition are all breaches of Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which applies to,

    "an armed conflict of a non-international character".

The article expressly prohibits,

    "violence to life and person [against] persons taking no active part in the hostilities",

as well as the taking of hostages.

So it has to be said that the conduct of Mr. Salman Raduyev is a crime under international law, as well as under the domestic laws of Russia. If he and any of his followers survive the assault on Pervomaiskoye, which does not seem to be an unqualified success as the fighting is still going on this evening, presumably they

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will be brought before a court of law and tried for those offences; similarly, if they are caught, the Chechens responsible for two further instances of hostage-taking which have occurred in the past 24 hours--the abduction of the power station workers in Grozny and this evening, as we heard on the Nine O'Clock News, the taking over of a vessel in the Turkish port of Trabzon. The rebels have taken hostage 165 passengers and have persuaded the Turks to allow them to sail into the Black Sea, threatening to kill Russian passengers at intervals of 10 minutes if their demands are not met.

The Russians are also committing very serious crimes. According to a Chechen spokesman on Ekho Koskvy radio, a Russian artillery attack on the village of Tsentoroy, in Chechnya's Shali district, yesterday killed 42 people, mostly women and children. In the Pervomaiskoye operation one saw on the news this evening that artillery, armoured vehicles and helicopters were still being used although I understand that the commander of the Russian forces had ordered that only small arms were to be employed in an attempt to prevent the loss of innocent lives.

Many noble Lords have mentioned the role of the OSCE. Like every other OSCE state the Russians are bound by the declaration of December 1994, which provides:

    "If recourse to force cannot be avoided in performing internal security missions, each participating State will ensure that its use must be commensurate with the needs for enforcement. The armed forces will take due care to avoid injury to civilians or their property".

The difficulty for any observer who wants to see the OSCE's conflict prevention mechanisms working more effectively is that the OSCE does not believe in the principle of transparency. In its annual report it publishes brief accounts under the heading, "Early Warning, Conflict Prevention and Crisis Management", which give some indication of the scale of the problems in the region. However, there are only three paragraphs on the situation in Chechnya and the establishment of the assistance group already mentioned. What is the assistance group doing now that the conflict has erupted with such great force?

Ministers were pleased with the progress made in the OSCE's conflict resolution mechanisms at Budapest; yet in Chechnya their weakness has been exposed. The involvement of the international community in the solution of internal conflicts has been recognised and accepted, and there is a provision for these matters to be put on the agenda of the Council of Ministers without the consent of the state concerned. But if the informal assistance of the chairman-in-office is not accepted, it is unlikely that the ministerial Council will do any better.

Britain could play a bigger role in trying to ensure that the rule of law operates in the proceedings of the OSCE and that in the Russian Federation, with its weak and vacillating leadership, military force is used as a last resort. The Chechens are a proud and determined people, who could not be eradicated by the Tsars, nor by Stalin, and certainly not by Mr. Yeltsin, with all his rockets and tanks. Let us appeal for a cease-fire and for an intensified diplomatic initiative by the OSCE to get the parties to return to the conference table.

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10.52 p.m.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My Lords, like those who have spoken before me, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rea, for his extremely timely debate this evening on Chechnya. We are also grateful to him for his courageous visit. Many of us who go to places where there is conflict know just how important it is to get first-hand information, but it is also important to try to see the whole picture and, regrettably, it is difficult to do that, particularly in this conflict.

The increasing conflict in Chechnya is of grave concern to the whole international community. I believe that the conflict is an absolute tragedy. It has brought untold and wanton devastation to the people and the republic and has already cost thousands of lives, including those of very many innocent civilians. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has just told us, there has been further hostage-taking tonight outside Chechnya in Turkish waters. Tens of thousands of people have lost their homes and daily the conflict continues to claim innocent lives.

All that is despite the military agreement which was reached in July 1995. The fighting and the civilian casualties continue, recently in Gudermes, Chechnya's second city. In Kizlyar, in the neighbouring republic of Dagestan, and in Pervomayskoye, the past few days have seen repeated incidents not only of hostage-taking but of wanton killing by Chechen gunmen. We very much regret that it has not been possible yet to resolve this crisis peacefully because day after day innocent civilian lives are at risk, and many are taken.

Since the Russian intervention in Chechnya over a year ago, we, our EU partners and the international community as a whole have pressed for an early and lasting settlement. There needs to be an effective way of enabling the Chechen people to express their identity within the framework of the constitution of the Russian Federation. I know that my noble friend Lord Belhaven and Stenton does not like that phrase. It is crucial that a way is found to allow these people to have their own identity working within that framework. I shall return to the reasons for that.

Two elements are crucial to reaching that particular goal. First, and for sound reasons expressed by all speakers tonight, the fighting must stop as soon as possible. There is no justification for the loss of life, whoever takes it, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury said. There is provision for a ceasefire in the military agreement reached in July. That is why it is right that the international community should urge all parties to abide by it. However, that requires restraint not only on the part of the federal authorities but also on the part of the Chechen authorities.

The second reason that it is crucial to reach the goal of peace is that there has been little or no progress to restart the stalled talks to implement the military agreement. Without that there can be no expectation of conditions being built up to maintain a long-term settlement. That is why we have urged all sides unconditionally to return to the negotiating table.

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The noble Lord, Lord Rea, raised the role of the OSCE in ending the conflict, as did my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth and other speakers. The OSCE, through Switzerland, its chairman in office, and through the assistance group in Grozny, continues to play an active and constructive role in efforts to promote a peaceful settlement. That includes a full investigation of the human rights abuses, which is a crucial part of its overall job.

I can tell your Lordships that Switzerland and the assistance group enjoy our full support in this. We continue to urge all sides to give the assistance group the freedom to carry out its mandate fully and in safety. That must be made to work.

I wish to try to respond to some of the points that have been made tonight. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Rea, felt that in my Answer on 9th January to his Written Question I misled him. Certainly, there was no intention on my part to mislead. When one talks of a soldier returning to his unit one talks of him returning to the military unit to which he belongs. I do not believe that the second paragraph denies that we were continuing to look at the whole question of replacement when I said:

    "We will keep the question of British participation in the Assistance Group under review and will keep in touch with the Swiss incoming chairman in office on the issue."--[Official Report, 9/1/96; col. WA1.]

I take the noble Lord's point that he did not follow it and only when he was in touch with officials in the Foreign Office yesterday did he realise the implication of the Answer. Perhaps I may continue on the point of the UK member who was withdrawn last year.

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