The question of whether a political settlement to the Chechen conflict is in the offing remains. Top officials from Russia’s “power ministries” continue to play down the possibility. General Valery Manilov, first deputy head of the Russian armed forces’ general staff, yesterday completely rejected the idea of negotiations: “We will not sit at the negotiating table with the bandits responsible for thousands of ruined lives,” he said, adding: “The best bandits are dead bandits.” Meanwhile, Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo said that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov had made the idea of negotiations a “non-starter.” “For negotiations to take place,” Rushailo said, “Maskhadov must fulfill a whole array of demands–give up the leaders of illegal bandit formations, quickly free all hostages held in Chechnya, and other conditions. Those conditions probably won’t be fulfilled, so it’s unlikely that negotiations will be held at all” (Reuters, Russian agencies, April 25). Last weekend, General Gennady Troshev, federal commander in Chechnya, said that talks with Maskhadov would constitute a “betrayal” of the Russian army (see the Monitor, April 24).
At the same time, leaders of several North Caucasian republics bordering Chechnya have pushed for negotiations with Maskhadov. At the end of last week, a European Union “troika”–EU envoy to Moscow Gilbert Dubois, Portuguese Ambassador Pacheco Luiz-Gomes and French Ambassador Hubert Colin de Verdiere–met with North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov and Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev. Both presidents stated that a peace process for Chechnya would not be possible without Maskhadov’s participation.
President-elect Vladimir Putin, judging by his recent statements, would appear to share his generals’ skepticism concerning the possibility of negotiations with Maskhadov (see the Monitor, April 24). On the other hand, a newspaper reported today that Maskhadov might soon travel to Moscow and effectively “surrender.” It was suggested that the “irreconcilable” field commanders–meaning Shamil Basaev, Khattab and Ruslan Gelaev–have in recent days essentially forced Maskhadov out of power. He might therefore see such a step, which he would present as “an attempt to end the senseless bloodshed and genocide of the Chechen people,” as his only chance for survival–physical as well as political. For Putin, Maskhadov’s “surrender” would be a way to avoid the growing possibility of international sanctions against Russia for its actions in Chechnya, while appearing not to have negotiated with or given in to “terrorists.” If this scenario does in fact come to pass, it was suggested, Moscow will drop criminal charges against Maskhadov (for leading and participating in an armed rebellion), and take measures to protect his immediate family members and other relatives from the wrath of the hard-line rebel field commanders (Segodnya, April 26). A source in the Federal Security Service refused today to comment on the newspaper report. A source in the Prosecutor General’s Office denied any discussion about dropping the criminal charges against Maskhadov, adding, however, that the idea of amnestying the Chechen leader could be discussed if Maskhadov appeared before the prosecutors (Russian agencies, April 26).
KUCHMA WINS REFERENDUM.