August 30th 2002 · Prague Watchdog / Sanobar Shermatova · PRINTER FRIENDLY FORMAT · E-MAIL THIS · ALSO AVAILABLE IN: RUSSIAN 

Giving Peace A Chance

Giving Peace A Chance

Sanobar Shermatova, a "Moskovskiye novosti" correspondent, for Prague Watchdog

Nowadays it is clear how is the Russian leadership going to restore Chechnya. In November a referendum on Chechnya’s constitution will take place, six months later there will be parliamentary elections and half a year later presidential elections could take place. They could coincide with the elections to the State Duma of the Russian Federation. That is a general forecast.

However, the following questions remain: Will the Kremlin hold talks with the supporters of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov? If so, then in what form and on what issues? If the talks succeed, will Chechen fighters take part in the referendum and the subsequent parliamentary and presidential elections? Who will be the presidential candidate of the Kremlin?

There are no unambigous answers to these questions. There are several scenerios, though, and the individual peace plans and their authors start competing with each other.

The shadow of Boris Berezovski

How to restore Chechnya? This question was on the agenda of a small group of people who on August 16 met for talks in a mountain village in Liechtenstein. The meeting was organized by the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya (ACPC), known also as the committee of Zbigniew Brzezinski and Alexander Haig.

Among the participants were famous politicians and deputies Ruslan Khasbulatov, Ivan Rybkin, Aslambek Aslakhanov, Yuri Shchekochikhin. The Chechen side was represented by Akhmed Zakayev.

It is clear that many details of the meeting would not become disclosed as the ACPC, which has been involved in such activities for a third year, prefers to work behind the scenes. The goal of the committee, formulated by Zbigniew Brzezinski, is to make the conflicting parties meet and find compromise, which in ACPC's view is better to carry out without the media.

However, conspiration did not work. Among the invited the organizers discovered an intruder, lawyer Alexei Goldfarb. As soon as he started talking and said that he is a representative of Boris Berezovski, the organizers immediately asked him to leave. The process of outsing him dragged on, grew to a scandal and was accompanied by statements on both sides.

Goldfarb became persona non grade because, as the participants unanimously put it, the name of Berezovski will spoil all their efforts to find peace and set the Russian leadership against them. Having looked into the way Goldfarb arrived, they found out that he came to the village in the traces of Rybkin, who a day ago met Akhmed Zakayev in Zurich.

"The attempt to raise a pirate flag above our wobbly dinghy failed," Russian human rights defender Andrei Mironov said. However, the incident with Berezovski's envoy forced the organizers to end conspiration, make statements for the press and publicly distance themselves from the Russian mogul.

Whose plan is better?

So what did Berezovski want? Participants in the meeting agreed on the following: Berezovski wanted to get publicity again and if the attempt to thwart the launch of peace process between Chechen fighters and the Kremlin failed, he wanted to join the organizers and get political dividend. Therefore the participants in the meeting did not want to listen to the proposals of Berezovski’s envoy and they effectively discussed the plan of Ruslan Khasbulatov.

Khasbulatov’s plan is based on providing Chechnya with a special status under international guarantees of OSCE and PACE. Chechnya would be allowed to carry out its own independant foreign and domestic policies except for those voluntarily handed over to Russia. It would stay within the administrative borders of the Russian Federation and keep Russia’s citizenship and currency system. Peace would primarily require demilitarisation of the republic with Russian border guards being deployed to Chechnya’s southern border.

Rybkin came up with no plan, except for his proposals to base peace talks on the agreement signed by Boris Yeltsin and Aslan Maskhadov in May 1997.

The peace plan earlier proposed by Brzezinski, Haig, and Howard has apparantly lost in the competion. Their plan included some hardly reconcilable contradictions. For example, Chechen fighters should admit the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation and Moscow in turn would grant them right of political but not national self-determination.

The participants in the meeting discussed Khasbulatov’s plan, which was fully supported by Akhmed Zakayev, although Aslan Maskhadov originally commented on some of its items. So the only remaining thing was to persuade the Russian leadership to accept the plan.

However, Moscow might have its own plans which one can guess.

Will Putin hold talks?

That is the main issue over which politicians differ. Most people in the military think that there will be no talks with Maskhadov. They argue that Russia has won the war, so it would be foolish to hold talks with the loser.

Public figures like Ruslan Khasbulatov and Emil Pain, who are keen supporters of the dialogue with Chechen fighters, sceptically admit that talks are not likely. In their view, Vladimir Putin ranks among „traditionalists“, who are not able to opt for unusual solutions. Besides, in Khasbulatov’s opinion, the Kremlin’s policy in Chechnya has become a hostage to the military leadership, who are involved in illegal oil and other business.

Maybe the sceptics will be surprised. At least the real developments seem to indicate that the Kremlin is trying to brought the military leadership down a peg or two. Nevertheless, all measures, that is the fight against illegal oil business, the Order No. 80, obliging the military to comply with the law during „mopping-up operations“ and to conduct them in the presence of local authorities, and the gradual establishment of the Interior Ministry of the Chechen Republic based on Chechen nationals, are being covertly sabotaged by the military.

In spite of failures, the Kremlin intends to continue its attempts to force the military to follow the law. In this connection it is interesting to look at the events which stood behind the appoitment of the new Russian presidential plenipotentiary for human rights in Chechnya. In July Vladimir Putin appointed to the post Abdul-Khakim Sultigov, a Chechen national, who in the era of the Soviet Union worked with the Russian government. Sultigov is known for his pro-Russian orientation and he never made strict statements which could be viewed as hostile to Moscow.

However, immediately after his appointment, Sultygov came up with a series of statements on the violation of human rights in Chechnya by the federal military and on the necessity to fully investigate crimes committed by the military in Chechnya. People who know Sultygov said that these statements must have been sanctioned by President Putin.

Sultygov was selected from a list which included famous persons, namely Vladimir Zorin, a Russian minister for ethnic issues, and Nikolai Koshman, a former Moscow-backed Prime Minister of the Chechen Republic. However, in contrast to Sultigov, both Zorin and Koshman had close ties with the federal military, so they were not selected. „If there is another appointment, which we expect, Putin’s policy heading for talks will be definitively confirmed,“ an unnamed official close to the Kremlin said.

So what are the arguments of the supporters of a dialogue with Chechen fighters?

“There will be no new Khasav-Yurt“

"The military must not feel a winner," said a former high-ranking official of the Russian presidential administration who took part in the previous talks with Maskhadov. At that time the talks led to a surrender of Grozny to the hands of Chechen fighters in the summer of 1996. Eyewitnesses claim that Grozny was handed over as a result of talks which the administration of Boris Yeltsin led with Aslan Maskhadov behind the back the federal military.

Still in spring 1996 Chechen fighers promised not to conduct active fighting in order not to thwart Russian presidential elections scheduled for summer which were to be won by Boris Yeltsin. They fulfilled their promise – and got Chechnya in reward.

Recently other, not less sensational details have emerged. If one can believe them, Chechen fighters could have seized Grozny last year, also thanks to a deal. The recently emereged information casts light on the mysterious death of German Ugryumov, the former head of the anti-terrorist operation in Chechnya.

According to official reports, Ugryumov died of a heart attack in Grozny in late May 2001. However, well-informed sources claim that Ugryumov shot himself dead after Moscow discovered details of some commercial operation thanks to which Chechen fighters were to seize Grozny, though temporarily. It should have been a "lease of the Chechen capital" for a week or a maximum of 10 days.

The rumours of the deal were confirmed by Ruslan Khasbulatov. Speaking at the "Round Table" at the office of journal "Novoye vremya", Khasbulatov said the sum which allegedly was discussed during the talks on the surrender of Grozny ranged from 8 to 15 million US dollars.

Assuming that the fate of the "anti-terrorist" operation in Chechnya depends on commercial manners of its participants, one begins to understand why the Kremlin is interested to complete the operation as soon as possible.

The current Russian president, who came to his office on a patriotic wave accompanying the operation in Chechnya, will have to present the results of the operation by the next presidentional election, which are scheduled for 2004. An unnamed official told the author of this article that active preparation for the talks could start next year. At first the Kremlin will assess the strength of Chechen fighters after winter as the weaker the opponent, the easier are the talks.

One can assume that Moscow is unlikely to sit behind the round table with Aslan Maskhadov, who is being wanted by Russian law enforcement agencies. It is more likely that the „Ichkerian“ representative behind the table will by Maskhadov’s envoy Zakayev or even Kazbek Makhashev, to whom Maskhadov recently gave the green light to hold consultations with Russian representatives. By the way, Khasbulatov claims that Makhashev, who has warm relations with the Russian force structures, now lives in Moscow.

Of course, there will be no talks about the surrender of Chechnya to the hands of fighters like it was in 1996. However, September will tell what solution to the problem of Chechnya will be selected by the Kremlin, Russian officials claim. The point is that in the first third of September the Russian Security Council holds its meeting where a definitive course of action should be selection from the existing scenarios.

Some representatives of Chechens living in Moscow say that the Russian authorities are doing their best to call the agreement between Chechnya and Russian of May 1997 void. That is why the Russian prosecution is taking legal actions against the persons who took part in the preparation of the agreement on termination of military activities signed in Khasav-Yurt on August 31, 1996 and the subsequent peace agreement. That is necessary in order to wipe the slate clean and carry out a referendum and adopt the new Constitution which will declare Chechnya to be part of the Russian Federation.

On the other hand, other Chechens living in Moscow say that the agreement lost force as soon as the Russian military started the „anti-terrorist“ operation in Chechya. „There is no Chechen Republic of Ichkeria any more and no one will think of the agreement,“ they say.

Well-informed sources among Chechens residing in Moscow say that prosecution is focusing on Boris Berezovski and his accomplices. It has been launched in 1999 on the initiative of Yevgeni Primakov, who did a lot to oust Berezovski from politics. However, these are only assumptions based on fragmental information leaking from the corridors of the Russian leadership.

Who will be the President?

Uncertainty concerns also the question who will be the canditade of the Kremlin for the post of Chechnya’s President. The natural answer is the current head of Chechnya’s pro-Moscow administration Akhmad Kadyrov.

Kadyrov has already launched his presidential campaign. On his initiative the draft Chechen constitution includes an article requiring the President to live in the Republic for the last ten years. In this way Kadyrov makes it impossible for a number of candides living in Moscow and other Russian towns who are going to take part in the presidential race. If the Russian presidential legal department, which is now assessing the draft constitution, approves the article, Kadyrov will see his chances to become Chechnya’s President skyrocket.

Anyway, Chechens living in Moscow consider the current head of the pro-Moscow administration a temporary figure. After more than 110 Russian soldiers died in the crash of the military helicopter Mi-26 near Khankala on August 19, the Russian leadership will concentrate on the neutralisation of Chechen fighters operating right under the nose of the federal forces in Chechen towns and villages.

Such task can only be fulfilled by Chechens themselves, namely the local police and well-armed people subordinated directly to Kadyrov. The author of this article has found out that Kadyrov himself handed over a letter to Vladimir Putin with a request for permission to equip a group of 500 persons loayl to him with state-of-the-art weapons, who would identify kidnapper and hiding Chechen fighters. There is, however, another explanation for it: Before the presidential elections Kadyrov is trying to boost his position in the republic, where it is a man with a gun who has the main say.

Apparently, the military campaign in Chechnya is coming to an end. But what kind of peace will be there? That depends on the plan Moscow will select. A civil war has been going on in Chechnya for long but people outside Chechnya do not know much about it. Several years ago Chechens categorically denied the possibility of clashes among Chechens themselves, referring to the law of feud, which would hamper such developments. However, the killings of administration heads and members of the Moscow-backed Chechen police became quite common. In response, relatives of the killed are waging a vendetta war.

The departure of the federal forces will not weaken but rather support that tendency. That is why many officials of the current Moscow-backed administration, who criticize the abuses of the federal forces committed against civilians, take a more restricted stance when the departure of the Russian military is being discussed.

A national consensus can only be achieved through negotitation, primarily among representatives of various Chechen factions with a subsequent integration of Chechen fighters into peaceful life. It is a complicated process because even among Chechens loyal to Moscow do not trust each other.

And neither the Moscow-backed administration, nor Chechen fighters want to hear about talks with the other side of the conflict as too much blood has been spilled already. However, without a national consensus there will be no full-fledged peace in Chechnya. So if the Russian leadership really want to achieve stabilisation in the Caucasus soon, they will have to eventually do the hard job of making the two conflicting Chechen parties reach peace.

After publication of this article Prague Watchdog found out that some parts of the text had been published by other media earlier. However, we eventually decided not to make changes to the article or remove it from the web altogether as we think it still contains much new information and deals with an issue which is now being widely discussed. Thank you for understanding. Tomáš Kočka, PW editor and project coordinator.


 · Chechnya: The way out by Nairi Ovsepjan, Lyubov Tsukanova (Novoye vremya via JRL, 28-08-02)
 · Chechen Plan Hammered Out by Sanobar Shermatova (IWPR, 30-08-2002)
 · Long negotiations with unclear results by Ilya Maskakov (16-11-2001)


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