Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 226

Over the weekend, streets leading to the center of Djohar [Grozny], the Chechen capital, were blocked by police and Interior Ministry personnel, who carefully searched vehicles and checked the documents of pedestrians. The reason for the security measures was the arrival of Viktor Kazantsev, President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to the Southern federal district, to meet with the republic’s top officials. For the first time since the start of the current military operation in Chechnya, top officials from most of the republic’s towns and villages, along with the heads of Chechnya’s cities and districts, were invited to the meeting. Kazantsev discussed the military-political situation in Chechnya, as well as the current state of play and goals of his contacts with Akhmed Zakaev, the representative of Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov. While the heads of all of Chechnya’s “power structures”–meaning security and law enforcement agencies–also met with Kazantsev, Akhmad Kadyrov, head of Chechnya’s pro-Moscow administration, was notably absent. Kadyrov was in the Russian capital and thus unable to meet Kazantsev.

Kazantsev told the Chechen officials that it was necessary to complete the military operation in the republic by the spring of next year. He said that this would be possible if all of Chechen society’s political layers got involved in the business of establishing peace. He also stressed that all power in Chechnya would be transferred to civilians next year and that general elections were planned for the republic at the end of 2002. It is understood that these elections will take place only if the war is ended. To that end, Kazantsev said he plans to continue his dialogue with Zakaev but stressed that his talks with the rebel representative did not constitute peace negotiations (Radio Liberty, December 8).

Kazantsev’s trip to Chechnya has been expected since his November 18 meeting with Zakaev at Moscow’s Sheremetevo airport (see the Monitor, November 19-20). Officials in Chechnya’s pro-Moscow administration were particularly anxious to meet with the presidential envoy, given that they fear being sold out and wanted to hear about Kazantsev’s meeting with Zakaev first hand. Moscow asked for three weeks to study Zakaev’s presentation of Maskhadov’s views on ending the Chechen conflict. During this period, the Kremlin apparently worked out an approach that would take into consideration the interests of both the pro-Moscow administration in Chechnya and the separatists.

However, as the Monitor’s correspondent managed to learn, many officials of Akhmad Kadyrov’s administration remain unhappy with the very fact that Moscow had started taking the interests of Aslan Maskhadov and his supporters into consideration. The pro-Moscow Chechen officials fear that the Kremlin, having initially used them when it was politically convenient, is now ready to sell them out once again. Kadyrov himself has on more than one occasion criticized the contacts between Moscow and the separatists, and his absence from the meetings with the visiting presidential envoy appears to have been another signal of his unhappiness over those contacts.

All of this suggests that in serving as the Kremlin’s point of contact with the rebels, Kazantsev will not only have to navigate the dangerous waters of negotiating with the enemy, but to deal with the ambitions and fears of his allies.