Long negotiations with unclear results
Ilya Maksakov, special to Prague Watchdog
Negotiations between the representatives of the Kremlin and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, the purpose of which has been discussed since the very beginning of the second Chechen campaign, are becoming reality. Already this simple statement, however, gives rise to disputes about its interpretation. Russian leaders refuse the use of the word „talks“ and insist on speaking about a meeting, contact, discussion and the like. By this Moscow implies that no political issues can be on the agenda of the discussions between the representative of the Russian President’s plenipotentiary in the South Federal Region, Mr. Viktor Kazantsev, and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov’s representative Akhmed Zakayev. The only acceptable topics are the perspectives of disarmament of Chechen fighters and their integration into civilian life.
The first attempts to start a dialogue are interesting given the fact that although only a very small group have supported Russian negotiations with Maskhadov – Russian liberals, human rights defenders and the President of Ingushetia Ruslan Aushev – nowadays there are no radical opponents of similar contacts. Another interesting point is the timing of President Putin’s declaration that the Kremlin was going to start a dialogue with Maskhadov. After the terrorist attacks in the U.S. many people anticipated that Moscow’s actions in Chechnya would become more unscrupulous. When Putin explained the Russian position on the U.S. anti-terrorist campaign, all the while stressing the crisis in Chechnya, many politicians and journalists regarded it as an ultimatum to the Chechen guerrillas.
Only few of those – including people around Maskhadov – understood that it was an invitation to a dialogue. Last but not least, even the head of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration, Akhmad Kadyrov, realized this point. At that juncture he was travelling in the Near East and, for the first time, chose rather diplomatic statements about a possible dialogue and the necessity to take Maskhadov’s point of view into account. Kadyrov’s position will be described later.
At a point in time when the activities of federal forces would have had the support of a significant percentage of the Russian population, facing the danger of global terror, the Kremlin made the most significant step in the last two years towards a political settlement to the crisis. Thus the Kremlin admitted that it is impossible to control the rebel republic only through armed power.
Despite the fact that the attempts to start contacts with the leaders of the resistance have been supported by citizens and politicians, many people, especially those in the military, are afraid of „the second Khasav-Yurt“. Therefore the Russian leadership often mentions the inadmissibility of „the second Khasav-Yurt“. The joint declaration and „The Principles of the Relationship Between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic“, which were signed by Alexander Lebed and Aslan Maskhadov in Khasav-Yurt on the 30th of August, 1996, did not mean the capitulation of Russia. The document did not mention anything about the independence of Chechnya nor the withdrawal of Russian troops. A paragraph about the withdrawal of the Russian army was included in a reference to Presidential decree No. 985 (from the 25th of August, 1996), in which two brigades should have regularly stayed in Chechnya. The search for the principles of the relationship between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic was to be guided by the general principles and norms of international law. But this did not equal a granting of independence. Rather, each state should build relationships with all its citizens on the norms of international law. Neither „The Agreement About Peace and Principles of the Relationship between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria“, signed by Boris Yeltsin and Aslan Maskhadov, can be regarded as „capitulation“.
„The second Khasav-Yurt“ thus does not refer to negotiations, but to the deeds of Russian leaders that have followed after them. In practice this actually looked like a capitulation – total withdrawal of the army, which had been unexpected even for Chechens, and a de facto independence for the Republic. The Khasav-Yurt documents themselves, however, did irritate the Russian leadership. Thus, the successor of Mr. Lebed in the position of secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, Mr. Ivan Rybkin, concentrated his efforts on advantageously explaining the documents. People around Rybkin even proclaimed that Lebed had not signed the same document as that which had been ratified in the Kremlin. The witnesses have also said that Boris Yeltsin had deleted, by his own hand, notes about Khasav-Yurt negotiations from the draft of „The Agreement About Peace“from the 12th of May, 1997.
When the Moscow representatives claim not to allow „the second Khasav-Yurt“, they mean not only the fact that Russia is not going to capitulate, but also the fact that during the talks no political theme will be discussed. So, what will then Mr. Kazantsev and Mr. Zakayev talk about? Surely, they will discuss not only the questions of disarmament, as Moscow presents it. Zakayev does not refuse it, but in the same time he does not regard it as a sine qua non of the launch of contacts. Maskhadov´s side proposes other themes: for example the return of refugees and economic questions. It is remarkable that neither the Kremlin, nor Maskhadov, are currently going to speak on political themes. In this way they are at one. For both sides the question regarding the status of Chechnya had been solved a long time ago and definitely has been out of any discussion.
But Kazantsev and Zakayev have to meet to find a way to stop the fighting. The positions of both sides are well known: „Hand over weapons!“ and „Withdraw the army!“. The contacts were not initiated for this reason. What kind of hypothetical results could be good for the end of the war? Maskhadov agrees with Moscow’s demands to neutralize or expel international terrorists from Chechnya. He also takes part (but he does not lead) in some of the proposed political procedures – formation of a so-to-speak government of national consensus, preparing and organizing national elections (without his candidature, as Moscow wishes) and a referendum regarding the constitution. The Russian leadership guarantees him and his fighters freedom from retaliation.
This „optimal“ model could bring peace but obviously it is unreal. Maskhadov will not act in a way other than as President of Chechnya. Morever, his command does not suffice to stop the fighting, in contrast with 1996. There is also the third side in the current Chechen conflict, represented by Basayev and Khattab, which takes peaceful initiatives very cautiously. Maskhadov will not go into an armed conflict with them, demanding the withdrawal of Russian soldiers from Chechnya and promising to subsequently hand over Basayev and Khattab by the „power of the Chechen nation“. Yet the withdrawal of the federal forces would mean the failure of Moscow in the second Chechen war.
Nobody knows which scenario of the talks currently exists in Kremlin. Anyway, it is known what kind of ideas influence the Presidential administration from the other power structures and political groups. For example, the President is supposed to be based on the following facts: the only source of power in Chechnya is the nation and the highest direct demonstration of this power are referendums and free elections. Moscow must demand the forces of resistance to cancel all their contacts with international terrorists and to stop subversive military activities, which will in turn halt the actions of the federal forces. In the case that leaders of separatists make moves against the groups of international terrorists, federal forces could support them with a degree of military and technical help. Finally, disarmament of the fighters and their integration into civilian life should be regulated politically. In this way, the President could sign a decree about guarantees for Aslan Maskhadov. Processes of regulation would lead to a dialogue about the preparation of a Chechen social-political agreement – a constitution, and organizing of free democratic procedures. The status of Chechnya must be solved by the inhabitants of the republic. A process of optional disarmament of the Chechen fighters should include guarantees of their safety. For this Russian or European MPs could be used as negotiators.
Speaking about presumptive results of the talks some politicians point to a demarcation line across the territory of Chechnya and the acceptance of “the North” as an indivisible part of the Russian federation and “the South” as the independent Republic of Ichkeria. One of the possible compromises on the status of Chechnya is „almost sovereign“ autonomy, which is offered to Nagorno Karabakh, or affiliation of Chechnya with the Russian-Belarusian confederation. There are also proposals to send international observers to the territory of Chechnya. Also discussed have been future formations of Chechen democratic power, which would guarantee some quota for the groups who would take Moscow for a partner and even for an ally. This may be a two-chambered Parliament, forced coalition in the temporary government, quota for „Moscow Diaspora“ in the constitutional assembly, delegation of presidential authority on the speaker of the parliament, and so on.
Maskhadov’s side does not yet publish its projects on the talks and future agreements. The only initiative that Maskhadov and Zakayev have presented was an invitation to Eduard Shevarnadze as a negotiator. This proposal was immediately refused by Moscow and then Zakayev offered Kazantsev a list of other negotiators, including international organizations. Neither the content of the list nor the reaction of Kazantsev is known.
One thing is clear – the talks will be long and hard. One can see this in how long have both sides have been selecting the date, place and format of the meetings. At the same time various rumours have appeared and are being discussed. Some of them say that Maskhadov has agreed to a „corridor“ to leave Chechnya. But in this case many people can see that Maskhadov, as well as the other leaders of separatists, need no corridor because they can appear any time by their own will in any place in the world. According to other rumours that feed the public, the federal forces should stop all their actions. But this has been negated by the militay itself, which recently killed several really powerful field commanders: Ali Dimayev, Adam Umalatov, Shamil Iriskhanov and Ruslan Zakriyev. Anyway, the fighters have also not reduced their activity and each day in Chechnya explosions and attacks on groups of federal forces continue.
As for the most radical element of the Chechen separatists, which has been linked with international terrorism, Basayev and Khattab deal with perspectives of the talks very cautiously. Although nobody is going to negotiate with them, they proclaim they will follow nothing else than the norms of the Sharia. Their information sources sometimes disseminate voices from Maskhadov’s circles, but only if they do not contradict their point of view. At the same time Khattab has begun disseminating propaganda regarding the captivity of Russian lieutenant-colonel Boryayev, whom he wanted to exchange for 25 Chechen civilians who are allegedly kept in Russian torture chambers.
The rough truth of the war has been manifested in the actions of federal soldiers. Recently several cases of civilian victims have been fixed and officially confirmed. In the village Komsomolskoye, the Gudermes region, a 23-year-old mother of four children and a 15-year-old boy were killed. During the bombing of the village Goyty, the Urus-Martan region, two underage girls died and 16 houses were destroyed.
Akhmad Kadyrov – the fourth side of the Chechen crisis next to Moscow, Maskhadov and the Chechen radicals – seems to be ready to hear Maskhadov’s point of view, but as the beginning of the talks wears on, he is coming back to his former position. He says he does not see the perspective of the upcoming talks between Kazantsev and Zakayev and again he repeats that Maskhadov should leave for Malaysia. Kadyrov, however, is correct in one thing. It is the fact that even discussions about the upcoming contacts are advantageous for the leaders of the separatists. In fact, Maskhadov and his representatives are the permanent focus of media attention by both the Russians and the West. Moreover, Kadyrov admits that ranks of Maskhadov’s supporters have risen and that new fighters have joined the Chechen guerrillas. He explains this fact as the attempts of many people who „want to show Maskhadov their loyalty in time, because they are afraid they could be late when the power is about to be distributed“. Right after these words there was the 13th attempt to assassinate Kadyrov, which was, he believes, related to his position according to the upcoming talks. Kadyrov’s representative in Moscow, Adlan Magomadov, directly said that there was no sense to organize a meeting of representatives of the Russian power and the Chechen separatists because it would bring no results.
Despite the development of the situation one thing is clear: two years after the beginning of the second Chechen war Moscow is finally resolved to make a move to a political solution of the crisis and has chosen the current talks as the best way. It is, however, also clear that we should not hope for a quick end to the war and the establishment of an enduring peace any time soon.
Ilya Maksakov, correspondent of the daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta", Moscow