Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 7

In an interview with Novaya gazeta published on February 14, former Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev commented on Maskhadov’s ceasefire and call for peace talks. Asked whether he thought the ceasefire was holding, Aushev answered: “I believe that is a secondary issue. First it is necessary to evaluate Maskhadov’s call for negotiations. And to assess it based on world experience. If the Basques in Spain suddenly called for negotiations. Or the Iraqis announced to the American government: we are declaring a moratorium and are halting attacks on your forces. Do you think the Spanish or the Americans would become indignant, as our military and politicians are doing? See how the world is now applauding what is going on at the negotiating table in the Middle East!”

Aushev also argued that Maskhadov’s influence is greater today that it was in the past. “Several years ago Maskhadov was influential within Chechnya,” he told the bi-weekly. “Now his influence extends over the whole North Caucasus, inasmuch as organized resistance to the policy of the federal center is growing throughout the Caucasus. And for those people who are coming out against that policy, it is exactly Maskhadov who is a symbol. Was, is and will be.” Aushev added: “Don’t belittle Maskhadov with the assertion that he doesn’t control anything. Yes, there are many groups that operate autonomously for a half a year at a time. But there is a general tendency: all of these field commanders recognize Maskhadov. Here’s a comparison for you. Even given the extremely low, five-percent rating that Boris Yeltsin had during the middle of his presidency, nobody doubted his power and authority. If we want peace in the Caucasus – precisely in the Caucasus, and not only in Chechnya – then negotiations must be conducted with the armed resistance. There is no solution using force, there is an idea that must be fought only with ideas, not armies, tanks and planes. Maskhadov, I repeat, is a symbol of this idea.”

Aushev also suggested that negotiations with Maskhadov may be a last chance, given the character of the younger separatist fighters, exemplified by Movsar Baraev, who led the October 2002 hostage-taking raid on Moscow’s Dubrovka Theater, and Ruslan Khuchbarov, who reputedly led the September 2004 Beslan school hostage-taking raid. “The generation that grew up during the war fanatically believes in an idea and knows only how to fight,” Aushev said. “Conducting negotiations with them will be a million times more complicated. It wasn’t for nothing that [former commander of the federal forces in Chechnya Viktor] Kazantsev ordered the detention of Chechnya’s male population from age 10 to 60… And another thing: don’t imagine the Khuchbarovs and Baraevs to be savages. There are many of them, they have been fighting all of their lives; they are politicians, behind them is a young, aggressive ideology; they are informed, technologically armed and are growing.”

Meanwhile, Chechen President Alu Alkhanov said in an interview with Interfax published on February 10 that there is “absolutely no need to negotiate with Maskhadov or his associates to establish peace in Chechnya.” “If Maskhadov and his associates want peace for the people of Chechnya, all they have to do is stop the terror and surrender to the authorities,” Alkhanov said. “They know perfectly well where they should go – the Prosecutor’s Office or other law enforcement agencies. The people of Chechnya are tired of all this talk, they are determined about the way of their development, they have voted for the constitution, for unity with Russia.”

On February 14, Council of Europe Secretary-General Terry Davis told Ekho Moskvy while on an official visit to Moscow that only negotiations can end the bloodshed in the North Caucasus. “The situation in Chechnya, in the Chechen Republic, demands a political solution,” he told the radio station. “And such a solution can be found through negations. This, of course, is not an issue for the Council of Europe; it’s an issue that must be resolved by the Russian authorities.”