Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 19

The American Committee for Peace in Chechnya (ACPC) issued a statement on May 10 calling on the leadership of the separatist Chechen government “to take steps toward peace, even in the absence of a reciprocal effort by the Russian Federation, and reaffirm its commitment to a political solution.” The group stated that the murder of former Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov confirmed that the Moscow “is unwilling to change the status quo in Chechnya, but rather unequivocally committed to forestalling a peace process, particularly that initiated by the Russian Soldiers’ Mothers Committee earlier this year.” Still, the statement quoted ACPC Co-Chairman Zbigniew Brzezinski as saying that Maskhadov’s successor, Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev, “has been offered the opportunity to continue his predecessor’s work of constructively seeking a negotiated settlement to the war” and that despite Russia’s rejection of Maskhadov’s overtures, the new leadership should “explicitly and demonstratively follow in his footsteps in the hope that the international community will intensify its efforts to mediate an end to this ongoing tragedy.”

The ACPC statement also called on Western leaders and organizations, including the Council of Europe, “to express their commitment to support a lasting peace in Chechnya.” The three-week-long ceasefire that Maskhadov declared in February of this year was observed “by all elements of the separatist movement including Shamil Basaev,” the group noted. “The ACPC stresses that such an offer of peace, as well as those initiated by President Sadulaev’s emissaries abroad, warrant the full attention and support of Western leaders engaged in building peace, security, and the rule of law along Russia’s southern border.”

Not surprisingly, Chechnya’s pro-Moscow president rejected the ACPC appeal. As reported by Interfax on May 14, Alu Alkhanov criticized “the intentions of some political circles in the West to attach legitimacy to Aslan Maskhadov’s successor, Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev, in the post of the ‘president of Ichkeria’,” specifically the ACPC. “There are such attempts to revive someone so that the [peace] process cannot achieve stability,” Interfax quoted Alkhanov as saying. “I do not think that Brzezinski will succeed. Neither Brzezinski nor anyone else will revitalize or make him legitimate, if the multinational Chechen people will not do so.” According to the news agency, Alkhanov “expressed sorrow” at attempts by Western politicians to “exert influence” to affect the situation in the republic. “Our cause is right and I am absolutely sure that we will accomplish it.”

The following day, May 15, the separatist Chechenpress news agency published a response by Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev to the ACPC demarche. He accused Europe of responding to Maskhadov’s unilateral ceasefire with “total silence” and Moscow with “mean murder,” while charging that the international community does not really want “to help the Chechens in this terrible, genocidal war.” “As long as Europe does not take a serious position toward the proposals of the Chechen side for a peaceful settlement…already made by Aslan Maskhadov, our strategic purpose will remain the coercion of the Kremlin to peace,” Sadulaev said. “…[T]herefore our immediate target is the ‘Achilles heel’ of the Kremlin inhabitants and their accomplices, who are deliberately destroying the Chechen nation. But on no account will our attacks on Russia be aimed at the peaceful citizens of that country.”

Sadulaev said he “authoritatively” declared that the leadership of the Chechen resistance “is always open to a real political dialogue with Russia, on the principles proposed by Aslan Maskhadov,” but added: “Nevertheless, we will never again ask the Kremlin for peace.” He also said he wanted “to direct the attention of the world community to the terrorist activity of the Kremlin regime against the adjacent state of Georgia,” adding that the “Chechen nation declares its complete support to the fraternal Georgian nation in the fight against Russia’s terrorist activity and imperial ambitions” and “is ready in the prevailing situation to help Georgia in any form it might wish from its respectable neighbors and brothers in the Caucasian spirit.”

On May 16, the separatist Kavkazcenter website reported that following the publication of Sadulaev’s statement “in response to a call by the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya,” it had received “information from the military committee of the State Defense Committee – Majlis ul-Shura of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria about several decrees of the head of the Chechen state.” The “most remarkable” of these, the website reported, were announcements about the creation of the “Caucasus front of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria armed forces and the Ossetian sector of the Caucasus front.” The Kavkazcenter piece went on to list decrees relieving and appointing various rebel field commanders and other officials.