Aleksandr Lebed, governor of the Krasnoyarsk region, strongly criticized the Kremlin yesterday for its policy vis-a-vis the troubled North Caucasus–or, to be more precise, for its lack of policy. In a statement released to Russian news agencies, Lebed warned of a possible “bloody and massive” conflict in the region. He said that the Russian government, rather than taking needed “extraordinary measures” to head off such a conflict, had ceded Russia’s strategic interests in the region to the United States, Turkey, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Lebed said that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has been giving up positions “one after another,” that he is losing control over field commanders and territory in the republic, that his “trusted allies” are abandoning him, and that the “civilized West”–shocked by the republic’s reversion to “medieval barbarism”–is turning its back on him. Meanwhile, Lebed said, Maskhadov’s enemies are gaining strength: “Several thousand fighters are ready to begin an armed uprising at any moment.” Lebed, whose actions as President Boris Yeltsin’s emissary to Chechnya in 1996 led to a final withdrawal of Russian forces from the breakaway republic, warned that the minimum goal of Maskhadov’s enemies was to overthrow him, and that their maximum goal was to acquire access to the Caspian Sea (Russian agencies, Jan 13).
Chechnya and neighboring republics continue to be wracked by violent crime and kidnappings, which the authorities seem unable to control. Dagestani police reportedly tried but failed yesterday to free the son of the former chief of the city administration in Makhachkala, the region’s capital, who was kidnapped four months ago. Chechen law enforcement agencies, meanwhile, who last month promised a massive crackdown on crime, failed to find Valery Fateyev, an advisor to Ingush President Ruslan Aushev, who was abducted by gunmen on January 11 while driving in the republic. Separatist tendencies also continue unabated in the North Caucasus. Anti-Russia leaflets were distributed yesterday near Russian army and Interior Ministry bases in Khasavyurt, Dagestan. The leaflets, which threatened servicemen and demanded they leave Dagestan, were signed by the Congress of People of Chechnya and Dagestan, headed by rebel Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev, and the United Wahhabi Organization of Chechnya and Dagestan. Followers of Wahhabism, a Muslim fundamentalist sect originating in Saudi Arabia, are increasingly active in the North Caucasus (Russian agencies, January 13).
WHICH WAY, LATVIA’S WAY?