The seventy-two-hour deadline President Vladimir Putin gave Chechen rebels to lay down their arms is set to expire at 9 pm this evening, local time. There are few signs that the rebels intend to meet the Russian president’s deadline, which he gave on September 24 during a televised speech outlining Russia’s support for the U.S.-led campaign against international terrorism. While the Russian authorities have been calling Putin’s demarche concerning Chechnya an “offer,” it amounted to an ultimatum: The head of state said the rebels had to cut all links with international terrorist organizations and contact federal officials within seventy-two hours to begin discussing “methods of disarming illegal formations and groups and a way to include them in civilian life in Chechnya.” Putin put his representative in the Southern federal district, Viktor Kazantsev, in charge of overseeing what would amount to the rebels’ surrender. Kazanstev reportedly set up three working groups–in Chechnya, Moscow and Rostov–to collect and analyze information on the rebels and develop means for reintegrating them into Chechen society. The authorities have been using Chechen media and “special” radio frequencies to broadcast Putin’s terms, and 100,000 leaflets with his speech printed on them were dropped from helicopters in remote areas of Chechnya. There was some uncertainty about what was being offered to the rebels in return for their surrender. The republic’s deputy prosecutor, Aleksandr Nikitin, was quoted as saying that any rebel fighter who turned himself in would be exempted from criminal prosecution, while the Moscow Times quoted a spokesman for the pro-Moscow government in Chechnya as saying that rebels who had not committed “serious crimes” would be allowed to go free. Kazantsev’s deputy, Nikolai Britvin, said that any rebel leader who voluntarily turned himself in would even be given bodyguards (NTV.ru, Moscow Times, September 27; see the Monitor, September 26).
Few observers expected the Chechen rebels to accept Putin’s “offer.” According to reports late yesterday, only seven rebels had voluntarily handed in their weapons. Ruslan Aushev, president of the neighboring republic of Ingushetia, noted that the Russian military issued many such ultimatums to the guerrillas during the 1994-1996 war in Chechnya, all of which went unheeded. Aushev predicted that the rebels would again refuse to disarm and that the federal forces would respond with harsher military actions. Aushev said he feared that Putin’s ultimatum would exacerbate the situation in Ingushetia (NTV.ru, September 27). A Russian newspaper, meanwhile, reported yesterday that Russian military officers had welcomed Putin’s demarche as a green light to escalate the military operation in Chechnya. These officers were quoted as saying that the tactic of carrying out sweeps of Chechen villages had shown no results and that “massive strikes” were needed. The paper quoted other officers as saying that Chechnya had to be put under the control of a “special military organ”–in other words, placed under martial law (Kommersant, September 26).
WESTERN LEADERS RE-EVALUATE THEIR STANCE ON CHECHEN WAR.