ISTANBUL (Reuters)–Russia reluctantly accepted an international role in Chechnya on Thursday for the first time since it began a seven-week-old offensive–after coming under intense pressure at a European security summit.
Barely two hours after a defiant Russian President Boris Yeltsin flew out of Turkey having told his fellow leaders they had no right to criticize Russia over the rebel Caucasian republic–his foreign minister made key concessions to the West.
German Foreign Ministry spokesman Andreas Michaelis said the final declaration to be issued on Friday would say a political solution to the Chechen problem was essential and Russia would express its readiness to invite the chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to visit Chechnya.
"The way is now free for the signing of the European Security Charter," Michaelis said. The ceremonial signing of the charter had earlier been postponed because of differences over Chechnya–prompting Yeltsin to fly home early.
The breakthrough came in a meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and the foreign ministers of the United States–Britain–Germany–France and Italy.
"We have reached agreement. It does contain all the elemen’s we were seeking," British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said.
He said the wording would stipulate that the OSCE would take part in both humanitarian assistance and political dialogue.
Russia would also express its readiness to abide by existing OSCE standards of behavior in Chechnya.
The declaration would also reaffirm the mandate of an existing OSCE mission to Chechnya which helped mediate an end to the first Chechen war in 1994-96–but which has been barred by Russia’since then on security grounds from entering the breakaway Caucasian republic–Michaelis said.
There was no immediate comment from Russia–but the accord appeared to be a major climbdown after Kremlin leaders had insisted for weeks that Chechnya was a purely internal affair and the international community had no place there.
Yeltsin flew back to Moscow earlier than planned after the ceremonial signing of the European Security charter–setting out the principles and role of the OSCE in the 21st century–was postponed from Thursday afternoon until Friday morning.
Western countries refused to go ahead with the ceremony until they were sure that Russia would accept references to Chechnya in the final declaration and would not block it once the more general charter had been adopted.