President Vladimir Putin’s representative in the Southern federal district, Viktor Kazantsev, called a press conference yesterday to announce that he had received a call that morning from Akhmed Zakaev, representative of Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov. Zakaev requested a meeting in Moscow to discuss, in Kazantsev’s words, the “procedure for disarming the band formations and their integration into civilian life.” The call came exactly a month after Putin’s September 24 speech, in which Putin gave the Chechen rebels seventy-two hours to seek out federal officials in order to begin talks over how to disarm and rejoin civilian life in the breakaway republic. Kazantsev stressed that the meeting, which he said would take place some time within the next ten days, would not constitute the start of “negotiations” with the rebels, but simply the beginning of “discussions” of various issues (Izvestia.ru, NTV.ru, October 24).
The rebel side, however, put a far different spin on the announcement. Maskhadov spokesman Mayrbek Vachagaev said that the only issue on the proposed meeting’s agenda would be “the form for the start of a new dialogue between Moscow and Grozny” and that in earlier telephone conversations Zakaev and Kazantsev had not discussed the issue of disarming the rebels (Radio Ekho Moskvy, October 24). Zakaev himself said that “disarmament cannot be a condition for the start of negotiations” and that the two sides would discuss a number of issues, including a ceasefire, the return of refugees and economic and political problems (NTV, October 24).
The statements of both rebel representatives suggest that what they have in mind is not surrender or capitulation, but negotiations. In an apparent attempt to ensure there were no misunderstandings on that score, Chechenpress, the pro-Maskhadov information agency, put out a statement by Zakaev yesterday in which he denounced some Russian media reports as being “provocative.” Zakaev’s statement said that Maskhadov had authorized him to lay the groundwork for a “negotiating process” and reiterated that the rebel disarmament could not be “a condition for the start of the negotiating process.” Zakaev said that disarmament had not come up over the course of contacts with Kazantsev and that “irresponsible” media reports threatened the negotiating process and did not correspond to “the real interests” of either “the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria or Russia” (Chechenpress, October 24).
…WHILE GENERALS AND PRO-MOSCOW CHECHENS EXPRESS MISGIVINGS.