Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 23

Ever-elusive Peace in Chechnya

By Igor Rotar

A "Disgraceful Provocation"

Over the past month, the atmosphere in Chechnya has grown increasinglytense. The October 6 assassination attempt against General AnatolyRomanov, the Federal Army Group commander in Chechnya, and thesubsequent bombardment by Russian planes of a Chechen settlementof Roshni-Chu, have exacerbated the situation.

Angered by the air strike and the Russian Defense Ministry’sdenial of its culpability in the act, the Chechen side has suspendedthe peace negotiations and halted progress on fulfilling the cease-fireagreement until international observers arrive.

"The air strikes on the Chechen settlements is an outrageousprovocation! It is simply disgraceful that the Russian DefenseMinistry denies its involvement in the act and that those guiltyhave not been punished! If we fail to find the perpetrators today,these "unidentified" aircraft may well drop bombs onMoscow tomorrow!" Arkady Volsky, deputy chief of the Russiandelegation in Grozny, told Prism last month. In Volsky’sopinion, the air strikes on the Chechen settlements were an actof revenge against the Chechens for the attempt on Romanov’s life.Volsky insists that the decision to deliver these air strikeswas made, not by the Russian military high command, but by themid-level authorities.

But Ruslan Khasbulatov, the Chechen politician who was formerlychairman of the Russian parliament, disagrees. "The decisionto bomb the Chechen settlements," he insists, "was madeat the very top level of authority. I seriously doubt," hecontinues, "that the rulers in the Kremlin really want peace.It is quite possible that their negotiations with the Dudayevenvoys are nothing but a cover-up for them to continue militaryactions."

Shuffling Personnel

The Kremlin officials have used the break in the negotiationsto purge the ranks of their appointees in Chechnya. Chechen NationalRevival Government chairman Salambek Khadzhiev and Chechen NationalAccord Committee chairman Umar Avturkhanov have been replaced.Last month the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic parliament,which was dissolved by Dzhokhar Dudayev in 1991, was resurrected.Deputies of this Soviet-era legislature named as prime ministerof a new "government of Chechnya" their former speaker,former Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic CPSU first secretaryDoku Zavgayev. Lecho Magomadov, a former Communist party functionaryfor the republic, has been elected chairman of the Chechen NationalAccord Committee. Zavgayev has announced to journalists that "legalpower structures have at last been restored in Chechnya."

But in fact, there is no legal basis for any of the current governingbodies. The National Accord Committee has acted as a legislativebody since the introduction of Russian troops in Chechnya. TheChechen-Ingush parliament has been dead since the Chechen-IngushSoviet Socialist Republic collapsed.

"Certainly, the newly formed power structures cannot beviewed as completely legitimate from a legal viewpoint. The onlything which is true is that they are more legitimate than theirpredecessors," Arkady Volsky told Prism.

On the executive branch side, what Volsky calls a troevlastie*exists in Chechnya:

three separate entities share executive power. The TerritorialAdministration of the Russian Federation, the new Chechen governmentheaded by Zavgayev, and the office of the Russian president’srepresentative to Chechnya, Oleg Lobov, are all vying for power.Mr. Volsky insists that the personnel shifts made in Chechen government,should improve the situation. "The government led by Khadzhievand Avturkhanov," he explained, "was acceptable fora certain period. Now the situation has changed."

The next step, according to Volsky, is to eliminate this triumvirate.Headquarters will be formed in each Chechen district, which willbe directly subordinate to the president’s representative, andwill include representatives from the Chechen government, politicalmovements (including Dudayev supporters) and elders.

Volsky also thinks that that the personnel changes will increasethe likelihood of successful negotiations with the Dudayev envoys."Avturkhanov and Khadzhiev were perceived by the Dudayevdelegation as people who were brought to power with the help ofRussian bayonets. Therefore, Dudayev’s men were averse to doingbusiness with them. Zavgayev, however, is quite a different typeof man. He cannot be held responsible for the tragedy in Chechnya.Getting people like Zavgayev involved in the negotiation processwill help to reunite the fractured Chechen society," Volskyconcludes.

But on the Chechen side, Khasbulatov believes the opposite istrue. "The personnel reshuffles initiated by Moscow,"Khasbulatov remarked, "will not only not help to resolvethe problem but will serve to aggravate it further." Headded: "The substituting of Zavgayev for Khadzhiev is nothingbut reshuffling the same deck of cards. The power in Chechnyaremains illegitimate. The negotiations must first address thequestion of forming a coalition government which is composed ofrepresentatives from all the political forces, including the Dudayevforces. We must bring all the members of the delegations to thenegotiating table and not let them out of the room until theyhave formed such a government. I suppose this will take them threeto four days. I am ready to share my experience and to take partin the negotiations. This provisional government shall rule untilelections are held. The elections should be held within the nextsix months," Khasbulatov concluded.

Khasbulatov thinks the wrong agenda was chosen for the negotiationswith Dudayev’s envoys. "The negotiations focused on questionsof secondary importance. The Kremlin was simply wasting time!"Khasbulatov stressed. Their first priority should have been thediscussion of Chechnya’s status.

Khasbulatov insists that the negotiators need to come to termson only four issues:

– common citizenship (i.e., citizens of Chechnya are citizensof the Russian Federation);

– "open" borders between Chechnya and Russia;

– a common monetary system; and

– Chechnya shall not have its own regular army.

Khasbulatov believes that the Chechen side would have agreedwith Moscow on these issues. "Khasbulatov is the most popularpolitician in Grozny today. His experience could be very useful,"Arkady Volsky says. "However, the Chechen delegation mustconsent to Khasbulatov’s joining the negotiations. He cannot bea member of the Russian delegation. As for his idea of forminga coalition government… every time we raised this issue withthe Chechen side, Khadzhiev and Avturkhanov became the stumblingblocks. The Dudayev representatives are averse to working withthese people…." Volsky told Prism.

Doku Zavgayev agrees on this point. Furthermore, he insists thatthe Russian-Chechen talks should be converted into Chechen-Chechentalks. After all, it is the Chechens, including representativesfrom all the political movements of the republic, who must findcommon ground.

A Split Society

But there are no indications that a meeting of the minds canbe reached. Moscow’s attempts to install leadership acceptableto all sides will likely fail. The fact is that Dudayev men viewany person who did not do battle against the occupiers as a traitor.

Furthermore, the historical divisions in the Chechen societyremain. Before the introduction of Russian troops in Chechnya,the majority of Dudayev supporters were the natives of the republic’ssouthern mountainous areas. Eminent Chechen philosopher and politicalscientist Vakhid Akayev notes that it was not without reason thatDzhokhar Dudayev gave the official name "Chechnya-Ichkeria"to the republic. Ichkeria is a territory which comprises two mountainousdistricts of southern Chechnya, the Shatoi District and VedenoDistrict. By incorporating the word "Ichkeria" intothe republic’s official name, Akayev remarks, Dzhokhar Dudayevofficially proclaimed the superiority of the mountain populationover those Chechens who live in the plains. This is one reasonthat the majority of the population of the northern and centraldistricts did not support Dzhokhar Dudayev when he came to power.

The introduction of the Russian troops in Chechnya temporarilywelded the two parts of the society together by uniting them againsta common enemy. But the reunion was shallow and short-lived andin fact the war itself may have widened the schism in society: several regions earned the label "traitor" becausethey did not put up much of a fight against the occupying Russianforces. Because vendettas are still the sacred law in Chechnya, there would not be peace in the republic even if by some miracleMoscow decided to withdraw its federal troops from the republic.

Immediately following the election of Doku Zavgayev as PrimeMinister of the Chechen Republic, the Dudayev delegation chief,Khodzhakhmed Yarikhanov, stated that "Zavgayev was electedillegally and it is impossible for the Chechen side to conductnegotiations with this man."

And if there were still any doubt about their position, the finalnail was pounded into the negotiation coffin when a tragedy occurredon election day: Dudayev’s supporters held a protest demonstrationin Grozny. The police opened fire on the demonstrators, killingone person and wounding several others. Once again, the Dudayevsupporters announced that they cannot conduct negotiations withan occupation regime which commits these kinds of outrageous acts.

"De Facto" State of Emergency

Despite Kremlin attempts to reach some political reconciliation–which some say are merely pretensions anyway–the situation inthe Chechen republic is growing increasingly tense. Republic-wideelections, initially scheduled for November, have been postponed,according to Arkady Volsky’s estimate, for some six months. Volskyconsiders it equally unrealistic to hold elections to the districtpower structures in Chechnya at this point. "In the presentsituation," he explained, "holding such elections willresult in armed clashes in the localities!"

"According to information available to the military,"acting chief of the Federal Executive Power in Chechnya, VladimirZorin, told Prism, "the incidents of Chechen militants firingon Russian outposts have become 2.5 times more frequent recentlyand have reached the level of 50 incidents every 24 hours." In reality, a de facto state of emergency has been introducedin the republic.

"The recent increase in activity by the rebels has leftus no choice," Mr. Zorin remarked. The federal troops continueto shell and bomb the settlements of the republic. A week afterthe air strike on Roshni-Chu, Russian aircraft dropped bombs onseveral mountain settlements of the Vedeno district. The Kremlinrefused to admit responsibility for the latter act, in a behaviorreminiscent of Soviet times.

Soon thereafter, federal troops shelled the settlements of Orekhovoand Stary Achkhoi in the Urus-Martan district of Chechnya. A fewdays later, the federal troops once again fired on the settlementof Roshni-Chu–this time from a tank. The projectile from thetank cannon hit an apartment house, killing three people, includingtwo small children, and wounding two more. The Russian militarycommand insists that the tank fired in response to a provocationby the rebels, who they say opened intensive fire on the positionsof the federal troops from the outskirts of the settlement. Thisincident may further cloud the already dim prospects that thenegotiations will


On October 24th, the federal troops conducted an operation whichin fact could spread the hostilities beyond the borders of Chechnya.A Russian squad landed in Sleptsovskoe airfield in Ingushetiaand opened fire inside the airport facility. Several civilians,who were waiting for their plane, were wounded. One person diedlater in the hospital. Ingush Vice President Boris Agapov reportedthat shortly before the operation began, a representative forthe Russian military command called him and said that accordingto intelligence data Sleptsovskoe airfield had been seized byDudayev militants. Agapov told the caller that the informationwas untrue, however, judging from what happened later, the militarydid not believe him. Commenting on the incident Ingush PresidentRuslan Aushev remarked that the "tragedy at Sleptsovskoeairport is a provocation intended to drag Ingushetia into theconflict."

On October 25th, the militants from Shamil Basayev’s group attackeda convoy of armored vehicles of the 506th Russian Mechanized InfantryRegiment. Seventeen Russian servicemen and one OMON soldier werekilled, another seven Russian soldiers were wounded, and one ismissing in action.

Though an incomplete chronicle of the events which have occurredin Chechnya since the attempt on the life of Anatoly Romanov,it obviously shows that both sides have again placed their betson war, not peace. "I strongly doubt," Ruslan Khasbulatovremarked, "that the leaders in the Kremlin actually wantpeace! If the top Russian leaders really wanted peace, they wouldhave neutralized the forces which are inciting war long ago."

It is noteworthy that the latter conclusion has been indirectlyconfirmed by Arkady Volsky. "I am convinced," Volskyremarked, "that there exists no sincere desire to find theculprits of the incessant provocations which are disrupting thepeace talks. After the murder of the Chapanov family, who livedin the outskirts of Grozny, Boris Yeltsin announced that he wouldpersonally monitor the investigation of this case. Several monthshave passed since then and there are no results! After all, dowe have a president or not!" Arkady Volsky told Prism,with some emotion.

At a recent press conference Boris Yeltsin’s chief representativeto Chechnya, Oleg Lobov, charged that if Dudayev’s forces continuetheir provocations, Moscow might decide to resume military action.In spite of Volsky’s assurances that the negotiations would resumeon October 28th, the resumption of talks has once again beenpostponed. Dudayev delegation chief Khodzhakhmed Yarikhanov blamedthe postponement on Moscow’s intransigence, because it still willnot guarantee that the federal troops will stop using force.

Thus it appears that the negotiations, which have dragged onfor five months, are approaching a tragic showdown: Never beforehas the probability of a resumption of a large-scale militaryactions been so high as it is today.

*Troevlastie, or "triple power," is beingused in analogy to the term dvoevlastie, or "dualpower," commonly used in Russia to describe the politicalsituation immediately preceding the Bolshevik revolution, whenthe Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet coexisteduneasily in power.

Igor Rotar is a correspondent for "Izvestiya." He traveled to Grozny and Roshni-Chu (Urus-Martan district) inthe Chechen Republic in October to conduct research for this article.