Russian prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin intends to visit Chechnya and meet with leaders of the Chechen opposition before the republic holds its January 27 elections. (Interfax, October 29) Vladimir Zorin, chairman of the Duma’s Committee on Nationalities, told the Monitor that Chernomyrdin intends to focus on economic issues and to continue the discussions begun by Ivan Rybkin when he met with Chechen prime minister Aslan Maskhadov last weekend in Ingushetia. Maskhadov assured Rybkin that his government would allow safe and unobstructed passage of train cargoes through Chechnya. (Interfax, October 28) The oil pipeline which passes through Chechnya will be another topic for discussion. "After all, if oil stops flowing through Chechnya, it won’t just hurt us. It will hurt the Chechens too!" said Zorin. Restoring Chechnya’s destroyed infrastructure, and payments to those who have suffered as the result of Russian military actions, will also be discussed.
Although Russia has not refused in principle to repair damage done by its army in the republic, the two sides differ sharply on this question. Chechen president Zelimkhan Yandarbiev is demanding $100,000 in compensation to every family that lost a member as the result of military operations. Experts estimate that as many as 100,000 people have died in Chechnya, and Zorin says Russia is in no position to pay that kind of money. "If Yandarbiev poses the question in this way, then we will demand compensation for the flight of ethnic Russians from the republic during Djohar Dudaev’s tenure, and for the terrorist acts committed in Budennovsk and Kizlyar," Zorin told the Monitor. "But," he continued, "I don’t think that it will come to that. While Chechnya is still in a state of preelection euphoria, the federal authorities do not intend to sign any agreements with the republic’s new leadership."
Chernomyrdin’s "get acquainted" visit to Chechnya is not likely to be darkened by serious conflict with the republic’s new leadership. But, if Moscow wants to reach agreement with Chechen leaders on the transport of oil and railroad freight through the republic, it will have to close its eyes to the fact that Chechnya has already become, de facto, an independent state.
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