Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 158

Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed is honoring his promise to try to achieve a reconciliation between Russia and Chechnya. Making a lightning visit to the North Caucasus republic yesterday, Lebed called on the Russian authorities both to honor their commitments under the Khasavyurt accords, signed two years ago by Lebed and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, and to provide Chechnya with the financial help it needs to rebuild its war-shattered economy. Maskhadov urged Russia to recognize that Chechnya “will never return to the Russian Federation.” He said Chechnya wants instead to join the Commonwealth of Independent States and to develop bilateral relations with its members, Russia included. (NTV, ORT, August 30)

Lebed announced that he and Maskhadov plan to visit Finland to study the situation of the Aland Islands. These Swedish-inhabited islands lie in the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Finland. They enjoy wide cultural, political and economic autonomy, including regional citizenship and exemption from compulsory Finnish military service, but acknowledge Finnish sovereignty and are considered part of Finland. Their status, first established between the two world wars by the League of Nations, is often cited as proof that it is possible for peoples of different cultural identities to coexist peacefully within a single state. Lebed advised Chechnya’s leaders yesterday not to look on state sovereignty as “a goal in itself.” He said the international community is unlikely to support Chechnya’s claim to sovereignty since Chechen independence would be seen by other countries as establishing a dangerous precedent. There are, Lebed, noted, some four hundred comparable territorial conflicts worldwide. (NTV, ORT, August 30)

Lebed warned that, as long as the Chechen issue remains unresolved, unscrupulous Russian politicians may try to provoke tensions in the North Caucasus to distract the attention of the Russian population from their everyday problems. He did not identify the politicians he meant but pointed to simmering conflicts in neighboring Dagestan. The situation there, Lebed said, is inseparable from that in Chechnya. “If Dagestan explodes, the Chechens will not sit back and watch,” he said. Last month saw villagers in three of Dagestan’s remote mountain villages proclaim their independence and declare their villages “a separate Islamic territory.” It also saw the death in a car-bomb explosion of Dagestan’s spiritual leader, Mufti Said-Muhamed Abubakarov. The culprits have not yet been identified.

Lebed said yesterday that Viktor Chernomyrdin’s confirmation as prime minister could have a positive effect on Russia’s relations with Chechnya. He was speaking, however, before it became known that the agreement between parliament and the government was in danger of being derailed.