Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 5 Issue: 44

Chechen President Alu Alkhanov on November 26 delivered a report to a conference on “problems of the state’s national policy in the Chechen Republic.” He characterized the situation in Chechnya as “complicated but stable,” Novye izvestia reported on November 29. In one part of his report, Alkhanov stated that given Chechnya’s high level of unemployment – more than 350,000 people are out of work, he said – and the existence of more than 250 political parties and public organizations in the republic, it no surprise that the government’s social policy “arouses serious censure in society.” The existence in Chechnya of many “critically-thinking citizens,” with whom the government has not adequately worked, “deepens the contradictions between the authorities and society,” Alkhanov said. Novye izvestia speculated that given polling data suggesting that 14-16 percent of Chechnya’s population supports the separatists, Alkhanov has been forced to be more open about the republic’s myriad unsolved problems. “Chechens see that in spite of the demonstrative optimism of local and federal authorities, not one new apartment house has been built in Chechnya so far and the payment of compensation has been turned into a wave of corruption,” the newspaper wrote.

On November 25, Alkhanov was asked during a Moscow press conference about the bid by the Union of Soldiers’ Mothers Committees to initiate negotiations with Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov through his London-based envoy, Akhmed Zakaev. “We are prepared for a dialogue with any person who can take responsibility, make a decision and see it through,” the November 26 edition of Nezavisimaya gazeta quoted Alkhanov as saying. According to the newspaper, Alkhanov added that he was certain Maskhadov could not fulfill these requirements and that it made even less sense to consider talks with rebel warlord Shamil Basaev, “a recognized international terrorist.” At the same time, Alkhanov indicated a willingness to talk with the remaining rebel field commanders: “If a field commander says, ‘I have 100 people with me and they’re willing, if given guarantees, to leave the woods,’ I am ready to go to the Russian president and I’m sure we’ll find, as always, support from the country’s leadership.”

Commenting on Alkhanov’s statements, Valery Khomyakov, head of the Agency of Applied and Regional Policy, told Nezavisimaya gazeta that the pro-Moscow Chechen president is in essence demanding “some evidence that Maskahdov controls the situation with [rebel] fighters. Therefore the ball is now in Maskhadov’s court; [he] must present some evidence that he, and not Basaev, genuinely controls the situation; that not everything is in Basaev’s hands. There’s a small evaluative separation [being made] between Basaev and Maskhadov.”

On the other hand, Alkhanov subsequently appeared to lump Maskhadov and Basaev together and rule out talks with either of them. On November 29, he said talks with either Maskhadov or Basaev, regardless of who conducted them, would “only prolong the tragic period in the history of the Chechen Republic, give the terrorist leaders hope of changing the situation in their favor [and] lead to numerous new victims,” reported.