Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 1 Issue: 5

In his Moskovskie novosti interview, Maskhadov repeated his oft-stated view that the present conflict had been carefully prepared, over a three-year period, by the Kremlin. The autumn 1999 bombings in Moscow, Volgodonsk and Buinaksk, which sparked the Russian invasion of Chechnya, were in fact set off by the Russians. Russian public opinion was then skillfully manipulated to support the war. In addition a “full information curtain” has been lowered over the country, recalling Soviet censorship practices.

The only way to halt the bloody conflict, Maskhadov argues, is through negotiations with him as the elected president of Chechnya. “For us, contact with the leadership of Russia is not a problem. A representative of Maskhadov has been designated to support these contacts-the [Chechen separatist] Minister of Education Erikhanov. He has the authority to enter into contact with any leader of the Russian state if this will help stop the war and begin the negotiation process.” Citing the decisions of the recent Istanbul summit of the OSCE and a resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Maskhadov notes that these bodies want an immediate end to the fighting and the beginning of negotiations without conditions. In such negotiations, the chief issue for the Russian side would be “the integrity, the indivisibility of Russia,” while for the separatists it would be “not to leave Russia a right to introduce constitutional order” once again in Chechnya. The wars of 1994-1996 and 1999-2000, he reports, have already cost 160,000 lives.

Responding to a passage in a just-published volume of Boris Yeltsin’s memoirs, in which the former Russian president expresses moral regret over the wars, Maskhadov recalls that he had asked only one thing during his August 1997 meeting with Yeltsin: “an international guarantee of the security of my people.” And Maskhadov expressed a hope that Yeltsin “would open the eyes of Putin whom they [Russian generals and pro-Moscow Chechens] are also deceiving.” “I don’t believe that Yeltsin is [today] without influence on Putin.” Perhaps, Maskhadov speculated, Yeltsin himself could initiate a cease-fire to stop the fighting as well as a beginning of the negotiation process.

In the future, Maskhadov concluded, his forces would not be committing terrorist acts against civilians but would instead specifically target military and police checkpoints and other military targets. “We are warring against the [Russian] federal forces and not against women and children.”