Friday, August 31 marked the fifth anniversary of the Khasavyurt Accords that had put an end to the “first” Russo-Chechen war of 1994-1996. On that day, the Russian newspaper Kommersant published an interview with the separatist president of Chechnya, Aslan Maskhadov. In late August of 1996, Maskhadov recalled, “there were some politicians in Russia, in Moscow, who saw where the army was heading and set out to save it. I mean General Aleksandr Lebed and others who persuaded Boris Yeltsin of the need to end the war.” Just as in the summer of 1996, he continued, “the [Russian] army [today] doesn’t know where it should move, or who its enemies and allies are. That is why I see analogies with what the army was trying to accomplish in Chechnya in the summer of 1996.” As in the first war, Maskhadov predicted, “this one will also end in a peace agreement. Maybe it won’t be signed in Khasavyurt. Most likely, it will be signed by different people. But it will be signed. All wars end in peace” (Kommersant, August 31, translation by WPS Monitoring Agency).
In a lengthy interview with New Times (August 2001), Maskhadov elaborated on these thoughts. “It is not advantageous for Russia in its present state,” he commented, “to fight against Chechnya. The army is a mess. It must be made combat ready. That will take time. Russia has a lot of economic, social and political problems much more important than Chechnya. Compared with the superpowers and Western states, it does not hold even second place and perhaps ranks third. Moscow should think seriously over this and other problems such as NATO’s eastward expansion and the consequences of a new arms race.” As for the separatist Chechens, Maskhadov continued, “The Chechens do not need this war either. We have many common interests [with Russia], including economic and even military ones. There is a real possibility [for us] to be partners and allies in the Caucasus, even in the protection of Russia’s geopolitical interests in this region…. I think that Russia should be interested in ruling out the possibility of Chechnya becoming a springboard for attack on Russia [a reference to Putin’s cited and oft-repeated point].”
All that Chechens require of negotiations with Russia, Maskahdov went on, are “international guarantees of their security, first, so that they will not be subjected to Russia’s arbitrary actions. We should find points of contact here and compromise in other fields–the guaranteed security of the Chechen people and the security of Russia’s southern borders. That is all.” What will happen when Maskahdov’s presidential term expires this coming winter? “My presidential term,” Maskhadov observed, “expires on January 27, 2002. When it ends, and if the war comes to an end, we’ll see. The [separatist] committee for defense, the legislative and the executive bodies will decide who will play a political role and to what extent. I don’t think the situation will be more complicated.”
In an interview with Interfax, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, a spokesman for President Putin, termed such actions as Kommersant’s publication of the Maskhadov interview “completely unacceptable.” Yastrzhembsky called for tougher Russian laws to be enacted to ban Chechen rebel views from appearing in print. Concerning the 1996 Khasavyurt accords, the presidential aide declared, “From any perspective, Khasavyurt is one of the most negative pages in modern Russian history.” The accords, he affirmed, “can completely be characterized as treason, and that is how [they] are seen in the army” (Reuters, September 1). On August 31, Russian Deputy Justice Minister Yury Kalinin also flatly ruled out talks with the separatists, emphasizing that “there can be no compromise with thugs” (RIA Novosti, August 31).
According to Andrei Smirnov of the Russian web-site Grani.ru, he recently had occasion to meet both with officials of the [separatist] Chechen foreign ministry and with a leading Chechen field commander “who told him that secret negotiations between Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and the Russian presidential administration had been conducted by letter from January to March 2001.” The correspondence had been initiated by the Russian side, “which suggested that Russia could join forces with Maskhadov against the criminal elements, offered a scheme for power-sharing, and mentioned the possibility of a referendum on Chechnya’s status…. The Russian side agreed to recognize Maskhadov as the legitimate president, to legitimize Chechen armed forces and to form joint units. In return, the Russians asked that the Chechen side give up claims to independence and allow 40,000 Russian troops to remain on bases in Chechnya.” Maskhadov reportedly turned down these terms and asked that the negotiations become public. In March 2001, all contacts between the Russian presidential administration and Maskhadov ceased (Grani.ru, August 16, as reported in The NIS Observed, August 22).
On August 31, Radio Deutsche Welle reported that, a week previously, consultations had been held in Switzerland between unspecified representatives of the Russian leadership and the government of Aslan Maskhadov. Maskhadov confirmed that this had in fact occurred during a telephone interview with Vladimir Ryabokon of Deutsche Welle on August 30. According to the Chechen president, the meeting had been organized “with the mediation of the OSCE [the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe].” A number of deputies from the Russian State Duma, whom Maskhadov declined to name, had, he said, participated in the consultations on the Russian side (Radio Deutsche Welle, 31 August). On September 1, Agence France Presse provided more details concerning these consultations. They took place, AFP reported, between August 15 and 17 “on the sidelines of a conference in the Montreux region.” Participating in the talks (which were explicitly not called negotiations) were the separatist foreign minister, Ilyas Akhmadov, and Lyoma Usmanov, a representative of Maskhadov in the United States. The Swiss foreign ministry also confirmed that the talks had taken place (Agence France Presse, September 1).