Russia’s highest security official, Aleksandr Lebed, arrived in Chechnya yesterday for talks with the military command and the Chechen resistance leadership. Lebed had made clear ahead of the trip that he opposed a military onslaught on the capital Grozny, recaptured by the resistance August 6; and that he would seek to reinstate the armistice signed August 15 with Chechen chief of staff Aslan Maskhadov. Meeting yesterday in Novye Atagi, Lebed and Maskhadov discussed a tentative concept for disengagement of forces, involving: withdrawal of Russian troops from large parts of Chechnya, particularly from the highlands; concentration of Russian troops in limited and clearly defined areas; recognition of the responsibility of Chechen forces for other areas; and possible demilitarization of Grozny. Lebed indicated after the session with Maskhadov that implementation of this plan, now only in outline stage, would have to be preceded by an effective ceasefire and should be followed by political negotiations. The Lebed-Maskhadov talks were attended by Movladi Udugov, a senior aide to the political leader of Chechen resistance, Zelimkhan Yandarbiev; and are scheduled to continue today. Maskhadov stated after yesterday’s session that Chechens hope "Lebed will prevail over those in Moscow who do not want to end the war;" but that Chechens will fight on if Lebed is thwarted in Moscow.
Entering into conference with the Russian command, Lebed made remarks meant to reassure all concerned, including the Russian public back home and the Chechen populace, that he remains committed to stopping the war. He vowed that "we will no longer speak in the language of ultimatums," that the conflict should be settled "based on humane considerations and common sense," that "there will be no more bombings," that he opposed risking "tens of thousands of Russian soldiers’ lives" in an assault on the city, and — as he told a small Chechen crowd which welcomed him — that "we will strive to justify your hopes." Lebed stated that the ultimatum issued by Lt. General Konstantin Pulikovsky and reaffirmed by Lt. General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, threatening to launch by today an all-out assault on Grozny using aviation and multiple-rocket launchers, had not been cleared with higher authorities in Moscow and was therefore invalid.
Defense minister Igor Rodionov, a political ally of Lebed, similarly stated yesterday while inspecting troops in Volgograd that the ultimatum had not been authorized. Rodionov said that Pulikovsky had been told that he acted wrongly in initiating the ultimatum, as it such decisions can only be made by Russia’s political leadership. But Pulikovsky had stated in issuing the ultimatum that he had the support of the state leadership. His and Tikhomirov’s steps seemed to be backed up by the August 19 order issued over Yeltsin’s real or alleged signature and mandating the recapture of Grozny. Rodionov’s statement reflects his concern–shared by Lebed — that the Chechnya war impedes military reform, the minister’s foremost priority.
Russian forces shelled Grozny and attacked Chechen positions on the city’s perimeter for three consecutive days until yesterday, also bombing the city from the air. The attacks stopped yesterday evening with Lebed’s arrival. Chechen forces generally appeared to hold their ground firmly. The civilian flight from the city continued. Russian and Western correspondents reported from the scene that Russian soldiers, sometimes drunk, often fired on the one corridor opened for the refugees and mistreated or robbed some of them at gunpoint.
Russian military authorities yesterday upped the Russian troops’ casualty toll in their defeat in Grozny on and after August 6. The official count is now 420 killed and 1,300 wounded. These figures, highlighting as they do the high cost of waging war in Chechnya, should strengthen the hand of moderate elements in the Russian military and political leadership over the bellicose elements. (Russian and Western agencies, August 21 and 22)
Washington Criticizes Chechnya Actions; is Mute on Yeltsin’s Health.