President Vladimir Putin: How do you assess your trip to Strasbourg and the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly session?
President of Chechnya Alu Alkhanov: In brief, I think we did establish a dialogue. It wasn’t like the first time when I went to Strasbourg in October last year. I saw what the mood was like then and remember the words that were spoken at that time.
This time, we were able to talk with each other and speak the same language. One thing is clear, and that is that there is no alternative to the correct course and positive processes underway now. Members of the Parliamentary Assembly raised the issue of involving all the different sides. I asked them what could we possibly add to our policy and what further facts did we need when members of Maskhadov’s former cabinet are involved in the peace settlement process and we have appointed former [rebel] brigade generals as heads of administrations.
State Duma Deputy Yamadayev went with us to Strasbourg and he spoke there and said that he himself used to be a brigade general, but when he realised where Maskhadov and Basayev and their followers were taking the situation, he decided to come over and join the people. Thanks to the guarantees that you and the policy followed by Akhmat Kadyrov have provided, he is now a deputy and has received a high Russian state decoration. What better example can we give of our desire for peaceful development in Chechnya?
There was not really anything the Parliamentary Assembly members could say in answer to these concrete facts, and so they noted that some progress definitely has been made on political issues.
We also discussed the question of holding parliamentary elections. A number of human rights organisations took part in this meeting. Issues concerning human rights and violations of the law were raised and discussed. For my part, I explained that I am not saying no such violations occur in Chechnya. They do occur. Unfortunately, abductions do happen, but look at the statistics, the number of such cases is decreasing from year to year, and this is not just me making it up, it really is a fact.
We certainly are taking concrete measures to address the issues brought up by the human rights organisations. I told them about how in one specific case in the Kurchaloyevsky District, I contacted the President of Russia because there were direct violations of the law involved there. The Prosecutor General immediately flew to Chechnya and personally began looking into the investigation. Yes, there are cases when the law is violated, but such cases are becoming fewer all the time. The federal and local authorities are taking tough measures to put an end to such violations.
Vladimir Putin: So, you would say a discussion did take place in Strasbourg?
Alu Alkhanov: I think a constructive dialogue took place.
Vladimir Putin: You mentioned the need to hold parliamentary elections. When do you think Chechnya will be ready to hold them?
Alu Alkhanov: Aside from the organisational and technical issues we have to be ready for, it is also important for us to know just how ready the public is for these elections. Do we have enough political parties and movements today that could take part in these elections? Shortly before our visit to Strasbourg, we held several meetings in Moscow and a round table in Grozny, at which the representatives of the various parties, movements and human rights organisations could express their views on preparing for and organising parliamentary elections. Based on the results of the work we carried out, we can say that the public in Chechnya today is ready to hold elections. I think these elections could take place in autumn. The various representatives of the different parties and public and human rights organisations all shared this view.
Vladimir Putin: You mentioned the conversation we had regarding uncoordinated action between the federal and local law enforcement agencies. At that time I did indeed ask the Prosecutor General to go to Chechnya himself. How do you see the situation now, not regarding that specific case, but the situation with the law enforcement agencies’ work in general?
Alu Alkhanov: Overall, coordination between the Chechen and federal law enforcement agencies has improved recently, as can be seen by their active work. I would also like to note the part played by the heads of the regional operations headquarters. And I should note the role of Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov and many other top officials who really have begun to take a different view of the objectives we have set.
We think that it was not just coincidence that Maskhadov announced a month-long ceasefire timed to fit in with the meeting in Strasbourg. Everything had been calculated. Starting from February 22, we would have had a ceasefire, as it were, and then the rebel groups would have suddenly stepped up there activities in the aim of immediately providing the facts, the evidence, that they are a serious opposition force with whom negotiations should be conducted. But this plan was ruined thanks to all the law enforcement agencies’ active work.
These groups were detained and partially destroyed during their first attempts to launch attacks. Around six major terrorist acts were to have taken place in Chechnya in the space of just two-three days. The law enforcement agencies’ work and the following events, including Maskhadov’s death, helped ensure that the situation in Chechnya did not get worse.
Vladimir Putin: Is your successor as Interior Minister in Chechnya working sufficiently actively?
Alu Alkhanov: The First Deputy Prime Minister is definitely working actively and is coordinating work regarding the regional headquarters. We meet once a month and go over what has been done in the past month and decide our plans for the next month.
Vladimir Putin: How is the regiment that we formed a year ago working? It was entirely formed by residents of Chechnya.
Alu Alkhanov: That’s quite right. I talked about this regiment in Strasbourg. Thanks to what I think is the right policy followed by yourself and Akhmat Kadyrov, between 7 and 10 thousand former rebels have had the chance to return to peaceful life.
Some of them are now working in our local official structures, including in this regiment.
The regiment today is proving quite effective in its work to neutralise rebel groups. The operations carried out in the mountainous districts, in the Vedeno district, where Basayev used to feel perfectly at home, and in the Kurchaloyevsky and Nozhai-Yurt districts, have already brought results.
Vladimir Putin: The Russian Interior Minister rates the effectiveness of their work quite highly.