Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 45

Chechen President Alu Alkhanov said on November 28 that he would like to meet with supporters of the late rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov. “I plan to go to Brussels, where I wish to meet with leaders of Maskhadov’s regime,” RIA Novosti quoted Alkhanov as telling journalists. “It is necessary to work for the return to a peaceful life not only for the militants who are in Chechnya but also for those who have found themselves in the West because of some circumstances and faulty delusions.” However, Alkhanov ruled out talking to Akhmed Zakaev, the London-based rebel envoy who is a deputy prime minister in the separatist government. “If the relevant authorities grant him amnesty, he may return to Chechnya and contribute to its revival,” he said. “Otherwise, it is not me who must address him, but those vested with pertinent powers.” According to Alkhanov, 7,000 people, including “those similar to Zakaev,” have been pardoned in Chechnya. “Zakaev is a criminal, but I am a realist and I know that terrorists become politicians and Nobel Prize laureates,” Alkhanov said.

Zakaev, for his part, participated in a conference on Chechnya held at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) on November 25, just two days before Chechnya’s parliamentary elections. As quoted by the separatist Chechenpress news agency on November 28, Zakaev put forward a lengthy case for the full legitimacy and legality of his government and Chechen independence, which he ended with a renewed call for a negotiated settlement of the Chechen conflict.

“The bitter experience of the past decade shows that the Russian-Chechen conflict has no military solution,” Zakaev told the London conference. “Because the Kremlin regime is unable to break the will of the Chechen people for freedom, and the Chechen armed forces are not capable of crushing the permanently replenished 200,000-strong group of Russian troops. We are profoundly convinced that the violence in Chechnya and the North Caucasus can only be ended by a political settlement. The Chechen leadership is prepared for a constructive political dialogue to ensure stability and a long-term peace in the North Caucasus. But we shall never give up our freedom and our religion. The political farce in the form of the so-called ‘referendum’ in Chechnya and the ‘presidential elections’ of Kadyrov and Alkhanov, as well as the planned so-called ‘parliamentary elections,’ have nothing to do with the real political process. This merely delays even further the prospect of a peaceful settlement and helps to extend the theater of hostilities, for which the Russian leadership bears direct responsibility.”