During meetings held in the Duchy of Liechtenstein between August 16-19, key discussions took place between two former speakers of the Russian parliament, Ivan Rybkin and Ruslan Khasbulatov, and two elected deputies to the Russian State Duma, journalist Yury Shchekochikhin of Novaya Gazeta and Aslambek Aslakhanov, the elected representative from Chechnya. Representing separatist president Maskhadov at the talks was his deputy prime minister, Akhmed Zakaev. The talks, which were held behind closed doors, had been organized by the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya–two of whose co-chairs are Zbigniew Brzezinski and Alexander Haig–with Glen Howard, executive director of the committee, accomplishing the lion’s share of the organizational work (Sanobar Shermatova, “Chechen Plan Hammered Out,” the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, August 30).
On the eve of the meetings, a discussion had been held in Zurich between former secretary of the Russian Security Council Ivan Rybkin and Akhmed Zakaev. “It took place in Zurich,” correspondent Sanobar Shermatova reported in the September 5 issue of Moskovskie Novosti, “under conditions of secrecy. After the meeting, its participants came to the conclusion that the chief problem would consist in whether or not Ivan Rybkin would prove successful in conveying the ideas raised on the subject of peaceful regulation to the Russian president.”
Asked by a journalist from Novaya Gazeta (April 26 issue) whether Zakaev had proposed “his own variant for regulating peaceful life in the republic” during this meeting in Zurich, Rybkin responded: “No. He proclaimed the fifteen points for the process of peaceful regulation that he had [earlier] proposed at a meeting with Viktor Kazantsev, the plenipotentiary representative of the President of the Russian Federation in the Southern Federal District. This was the well-known meeting at Sheremet’evo-2. One should say that many of these points coincided with a plan proposed by the Security Council [then headed by Rybkin] in 1996-1997…. All of these variants can be consolidated…. I could not bring the plan with me because it is kept in the archives of the Security Council.”
In another interview appearing in the same issue of Novaya Gazeta, Maskhadov’s representative, Zakaev, noted that he had earlier had “a very positive dialogue” with Viktor Kazantsev “which should have yielded good results… It seems to me that those who want to end this dirty, bloody war, which is shameful for Russia, lost out to those who want to continue it. As a result, our dialogue was broken off.”
Not much has become known about the three days of meetings in Liechtenstein since, as has been observed, they were held under conditions of secrecy. Journalist Sanobar Shermetova of Moskovskie Novosti has, however, succeeded in ferreting out some of the details of what occurred. One unexpected development, she discovered, was “a controversy over the involvement of the Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky…. Berezovsky, who took a lead in formulating Moscow’s policy toward Chechnya in 1997-99 [he served as Rybkin’s deputy on the Security Council], has or has had close links with many of the participants in the meeting…. So when Alexander Goldfarb, a lawyer close to Berezovsky, turned up in Liechtenstein and said he was representing the magnate, the organizers asked him to leave. He did–but only after a protracted argument. The others were afraid that a link with Berezovsky would devalue their meeting [in the eyes of Moscow]. Goldfarb was more closely involved in [the] separate meeting held between Rybkin and Zakaev in Zurich” (IWPR.net, August 30).
As Shermatova subsequently learned from a source who works with the Russian Presidential Administration on issues relating to Chechnya, the Putin leadership is particularly allergic to any involvement by Berezovsky in the peace process. Asked “Why Berezovsky needs Chechnya?” the source responded: “Why has he needed it during recent years? This represents a powerful point for the president [Putin]. In manipulating the theme of Chechnya, one is able to direct politics. Boris Abramovich dreams of doing precisely that” (Moskovskie Novosti, September 5).
According to Shermatova, here is roughly what happened at the meetings held in Liechtenstein: “As the participants got down to business, they discussed two peace plans for Chechnya, the ‘Khasbulatov Plan,’ drawn up by Ruslan Khasbulatov last month, and the ‘Brzezinski Plan,’ outlined in an article by Brzezinski and Haig in the Washington Post in June. At the end of the meeting, they agreed to merge the two into a ‘Liechtenstein Plan’ incorporating elements of both.”
“Khasbulatov’s plan for Chechnya,” Shermatova continued, “is based on the idea of giving it ‘special status’ with international guarantees provided by the OSCE and the Council of Europe. It would be free to conduct both its own internal and foreign policy, with the exception of those functions it voluntarily delegated to the Russian Federation. However, the republic would remain within Russian administrative borders and keep Russian citizenship and currency.”
“After three days,” Shermatova summed up her account, “a common version of the two plans was hammered out. However, there was no agreement on two important points, which were dropped from the compromise plan: a model for Chechen autonomy based on the Republic of Tatarstan and the idea of deploying Russian troops on Chechnya’s southern frontier” (IWPR.net, August 30).
What will be the likely response of the Kremlin to the “Liechtenstein Plan”? Shermatova underscored that “the Kremlin has kept silent about the Liechtenstein meeting, which might be construed as a sign of progress” (IWPR.net, August 30). It is also possible, however, that the Kremlin’s silence is merely intended to be a calculated “PR” move to convey the impression to participants at a key gathering of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe later this month that Moscow is not averse to peace.
In her article appearing in the September 5 issue of Moskovskie Novosti, Shermatova reported the views of her source with ties to the Russian Presidential administration. The source indicated that the Kremlin in fact intended to do nothing with regard to a negotiated settlement, at least until a referendum on the new Chechen constitution is held in mid-December of this year and until new Chechen presidential elections are held six months after that. (Both of these votes will likely be rigged, on the model of the recently held presidential elections in Ingushetia.) Serious negotiations with the separatists thus could not begin until the middle of 2003 at the earliest, that is, until approximately a year from now.
At a press conference held in Moscow on August 30, entitled “A Last Chance for Peace in Chechnya,” Khasbulatov, Rybkin, Aslakhanov and Shchekochikhin argued, in contrast to the views apparently held by the Russian Presidential administration, that it is necessary to “move rapidly ahead with the negotiations.” When the present “middle generation” of Chechen separatist leaders who grew up during Soviet times is replaced by a war generation of young Chechens–the so-called “young wolves”–“no negotiations will then be possible” (Nezavismaya Gazeta, September 2). Endless war will become the only feasible prospect.