In the North Caucasus town of Pyatigorsk on June 27, Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed attended a conference, held on his initiative, entitled “A Peace Mission to the North Caucasus.” Dagestan, Chechnya-Ichkeria, North Ossetia, Stavropol and Krasnodar Krais all sent delegations. According to Lebed, preparations for this peace mission have been going on for half a year already. The presidents and governors of all the republics and regions in the North Caucasus have confirmed their readiness to take part. Lebed himself intends to play an active and continuing role in the endeavor. (NTV, RTR, ORT, June 27)
It is not yet clear how the new organization plans to operate. Lebed dodged an NTV reporter’s question about what steps the mission would take. (NTV, June 27) It is nonetheless clear that, in setting up this mission, Lebed has launched his presidential campaign for the 2000 elections. The retired general became a politician on a national scale in 1996 when he signed the Khasavyurt agreements that put an end to Russia’s war in Chechnya. But while the Khasavyurt accords paved the way for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya, the image of those accords were badly tarnished by various ongoing incidents. First, the frequency of raids from Chechnya against the Russian territories bordering the republic. Second, reports of discrimination against Chechnya’s ethnic Russian population. Third, countless hostage-takings. Criticism of the Khasavyurt accords was, indeed, one of the strongest arguments of Lebed’s rival in the Krasnoyarsk gubernatorial election, his predecessor Valery Zubov.
If Lebed’s latest initiative brings serious results, it could boost his ratings in the polls. Part of the electorate is already attracted to Lebed as a strong personality, a decisive, tough and brave general. His earning the reputation of a peacemaker would attract the support of an entirely different part of the electorate, chiefly among the intelligentsia, a group not attracted by his strong-arm image.
OIL AND POLITICS DON’T MIX.