Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 3 Issue: 29

In an op-ed appearing in the October 5 issue of the Washington Post, Masha Lipman, deputy editor of Ezhenedel’nyi Zhurnal, commented on Yevgeny Primakov’s recent peace proposals aired on the pages of the Russian government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta: “What Primakov says in his article,” she wrote, “is that the current Russian policy on Chechnya needs revision. He says the crisis cannot be resolved without talking to the Chechen field commanders. And he points out that regardless of whether the war continues, the military must not be allowed to play the dominant role in decision-making.” Primakov, Lipman remarked, “is an unlikely figure to counter Russia’s hawks; he’s not a Westernizer or a proponent of human rights. He is, on the other hand, respected by the Russian political elite and fully loyal to Putin. He may be a good choice for a probe of Chechnya policy, with an eye toward changing it…. Putin may be setting the stage for a reduction in the clout of the military. It gives some hope of a policy change in Chechnya. It is likely that Primakov has been picked as a probe on both points [that is, on Chechnya and military reform]…. [Putin] started this war. He must also be the one to set about putting an end to it.”

Following a battle with Chechen separatist forces in the settlement of Galashki in Ingushetia, Russian officials boasted that “they killed 117 separatist rebels from a force of up to 300,” while losing only seventeen soldiers (Agence France Presse, September 29). Writing in the October 1 issue of Novye Izvestia, however, correspondent Said Bitsoev observed, in contrast, that: “The loud declarations of the Russian military and of politicians concerning a brilliantly conducted operation in the village of Galashki have turned out in reality to yet another myth… The corpses of 100 dead rebels were in fact seen by no one, and claims of a full blockade and a pursuit of beaten and dispersed bandit groups appear to be highly exaggerated.” Figures given out by one of the separatist websites concur with those cited by the deputy procurator general of the Russian Federation, Sergei Fridinsky: “In his [Fridinsky’s] words, five bodies were found at the location of the battle, and one of them turned out to be that of a British journalist. The losses on the federal side were seventeen killed and almost as many wounded…. As for the detachment of Ruslan Gelaev, it continued along its former route and entered the territory of the Chechen Republic…. All of this testifies to the fact that the federal group does not have the strength effectively to control the mountain terrain, which occupies about 30 percent of the territory of the republic…. [In the mountains] the advantage is on the side of the rebels.”