Russian troops have withdrawn from hilly areas of at least two Chechen districts, in accordance with a General Staff plan to abandon highland positions which are virtually impossible to supply in winter. The move was officially announced on November 24, after 11 Russian soldiers had been reported killed in fighting in various parts of Chechnya the preceding day. The troops’ retrenchment for wintering in lowland areas enlarges somewhat the territory under rebel control in the runup to the Yeltsin-ordered elections.
Russian and collaborationist authorities announced that Russian troops (estimated at nearly 50,000) would vote on a par with Chechnya’s residents in the elections; promised a general amnesty for resistance fighters and massive economic aid from Moscow; and threatened prosecution of local officials who would fail to support the effort to set up election precincts. But the pro-independence Assembly of Chechen Parties and Movements announced that its members, and the authorities in 283 localities, had formed public committees for the prevention of elections. At a session in Grozny, Assembly leaders made public the lists of the localities and of the committee heads in each of them.
Dudayev’s delegation in Grozny called for the urgent resumption of the suspended negotiations with Moscow’s representatives and for postponing elections pending the determination of Chechnya’s political status and the withdrawal of Russian troops. Moscow-authorized peacemaker Ruslan Khasbulatov, who is a candidate in the election, also came out for troop withdrawal first: "otherwise the elections will merely be a farce."
Moscow’s highest officials continued to contradict each other on Chechnya policy. Nationalities minister and chief negotiator on Chechnya Vyacheslav Mikhailov criticized proposals for resuming offensive military action, and openly questioned "whether holding elections would stabilize or, on the contrary, aggravate the situation in Chechnya." But Mikhailov’s superior, the deputy prime minister responsible for nationality and regional affairs Sergei Shakhrai, called for unleashing the army against the pro-Dudayev "bandits." After senior Kremlin officials had held out the prospect of a "special status" in the federation for Chechnya, Federation Council chairman Vladimir Shumeiko ruled out any special status as unconstitutional. On the opposition side, Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky predicted that the Chechnya war will not end while Boris Yeltsin is president and that "the present task is to minimize casualties until really new people come to power in Russia."
And ending a brief terrorist scare, Russia’s Federal Security Service and the Internal Affairs and Emergency Situation ministries announced that the container with radioactive substances, allegedly placed by Shamil Basayev’s men in a Moscow park, was completely harmless, and that the scare may have originated in a publicity stunt by NTV. (5)
Yeltsin Proposed As Cossack Commander.