He said the British and Italian Prime Ministers, Tony Blair, and Silvio Berlusconi, had been duped by President Putin, who had no intention at all of building a democracy in Russia. Their “friendship”, he said had played into Putin’s hands who was intent on pursuing “his own personal war” in Chechnya, under the guise of the war on terror.

His comments came in a videotape address at the screening of a film produced by the British actress and human rights activist, Vanessa Redgrave, at the international human rights film festival in Geneva. The film, “Voices of Dissent” argues that the Russian government and security services are profiting from maintaining the unrest in Chechnya in order to extend their powers and restrict civil rights.

Wanted by the Russian authorities

Zakaiev, who was the special envoy of the former Chechen leader, Aslan Maskahadov, was unable to travel to Geneva because he is wanted by the Russian authorities. In taped comments, he said that there had been no serious attempt by Moscow to move towards peace since the death of Maskahadov in March last year.

The Council of Europe - considered by many as Europe’s top human rights watchdog - has made attempts to bring all parties to the conflict to the negotiating table. However, according to Swiss politician and rapporteur to the Council on Chechnya, Andreas Gross, the process has been fraught with difficulties. He told the audience in Geneva that the decision by the Chechen government in exile to appoint Shamil Basayev, as deputy prime minister a month after he claimed responsibility for the Beslan massacre in which 300 children died, had not helped efforts to broker meaningful dialogue.

Since the start of the conflict in 1994, between 180,00 and 300,000 Chechens, including 35,000 children have lost their lives in the conflict.

For the past four years, the UN Commission on Human Rights has failed to adopt resolutions condemning Russia for human rights violations in Chechnya.

Vladimir Bukovsky, a Russian dissident, who appeared in the film and was on the panel in Geneva, described the Commission as ‘a completely useless organization that fails to condemn even the most obvious human rights abuses.