The February 28 issue of Nezavisimaya gazeta carried the text of a lengthy interview with Aslan Maskhadov, the separatist president of Chechnya. The newspaper’s editors had sent their questions for the Chechen president to his representatives located in “one of the European countries;” a diskette containing his answers had then been received from other Maskhadov representatives in Baku, Azerbaijan. The newspaper’s editors emphasized that they were aware that “various sanctions on the part of [Russian] government structures” could follow their choosing to publish the interview.
During the course of the interview, Maskhadov stressed that, “Negotiations are inevitable, and [the Russian side] will have to conduct them only with us, with the opposing side…. We have to stop the war and sign a peace treaty, and then establish normal good-neighborly, civilized relations between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.” Maskhadov, however, went on to point out that, “The president of Russia considers that negotiations are akin to death for him-that is what the local [pro-Moscow Chechen] puppets, the Russian generals and the ‘hawks’ tell him. Therefore he doesn’t know what to do. The war cannot be stopped, and it would be equivalent to death [for Putin or his representatives] to sit down at the negotiation table. It is a dead-end.” Three days later, the Russian presidential spokesman for issues relating to Chechnya, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, dismissed Maskhadov’s interview as “nonsense” (Itar-Tass, March 1).
On February 24, the same newspaper, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, carried the text of an interview with retired MVD General Aslambek Aslakhanov, the elected representative from Chechnya to the Russian State Duma. “Yes,” Aslakhanov responded to a question, “I would with pleasure meet with Maskhadov. If there were such a possibility, I would absolutely meet him. Such a dialogue would only bring benefit. I continue to believe that negotiations should have been conducted previously. Many claim that he [Maskhadov] has no power, but I possess directly opposite information: He has adherents who carry out his commands. Maskhadov sent me a letter with a proposal that we meet and find ways to end this madness.”
Aslakhanov then continued: “I have many opponents on the question of conducting negotiations and resolving problems by peaceful methods. These opponents are the [Russian] war machine and also several forces within Chechnya itself which shout that any negotiations with Maskhadov would be treason…. But why not talk with Maskhadov and with the [separatist] Chechen parliament?”