On June 21 Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov sent a letter to President Putin, apparently by email, asking him to resume negotiations toward a peace settlement (Prima News Service, June 25). Several days later, sources in the Kremlin “confirmed that Vladimir Putin had received Maskhadov’s letter but said that the Russian president was not going to comment on the initiative of the rebel leader” (Kommersant, June 25).
Three days after writing to Putin, Maskhadov sent the text of an open letter to the G8 leaders, who were to meet in Canada later that week, to the radio station Ekho Moskvy. “The radio station received the letter, dated June 24, by email” (Interfax, June 25).
In his letter to the G-8 leaders, Maskhadov wrote: “I am writing to bring the tragedy in Chechnya to your attention and call you to do everything possible to stop this senseless war. I propose to halt military action in Chechnya beginning July 15 and to renew contact between the plenipotentiary representative of the president of Russia in the Southern Federal District, Viktor Kazantsev, and my own representative, Akhmed Zakaev.”
“I am sure,” Maskhadov continued, “that this proposal can become the first practical step on the road to a peaceful solution of this conflict and can be the beginning of correcting the tragic false steps in Russian-Chechen relations. The continuation of attempts at a forceful solution to the Russian-Chechen conflict will bring only more victims and the further deepening of Russian-Chechen opposition. The only way to finish the war in Chechnya is to take a practical step in the direction of political talks–a process that will demand wide international involvement” (Vesti.ru, June 26).
The Russian leadership, which had not responded to Maskhadov’s June 21 message, was in effect forced to say something concerning his open letter to the G-8 leaders. In his comments, Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky flatly ruled out foreign involvement in settling the conflict: “International involvement,” he affirmed, “is absolutely unacceptable for Moscow since the problem of Chechnya is an internal affair of Russia…. Chechnya is an inalienable part of Russia, and Chechens are citizens of Russia.” Moreover, Yastrzhembsky said, “Maskhadov spoke about the need to halt military actions, which in reality are not taking place.”
Having said that, Yastrzhembsky appeared to leave the door open for a resumption of negotiations between Kazantsev and Zakaev: “There is no need to knock down an open door. No one is hindering Mr. Zakaev from entering into contact with Mr. Kazantsev on conditions which were laid down by the President of Russia in his well-known declaration” (Vesti.ru, June 26).
On the same day as Yastrzhembsky’s statement, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov sounded a markedly different note. “Negotiations with Maskhadov,” he declared, “are in general impossible. Negotiations are possible with Mr. Maskhadov only if he comes out with his hands up and a procurator will then chat with him. That is the sole possibility for negotiations.” Ivanov added that the Defense Ministry was in possession of documents which proved that Maskhadov had been in contact with international terrorists abroad and that he had been involved in a plan to seize the Chechen capital and hold it “for up to seven days.” Presidential representative Kazantsev, in similar fashion, dismissed Maskhadov’s open letter to the G-8 as “a propaganda action directed toward affecting foreign public opinion,” while pro-Moscow Chechen Administration head Akhmad Kadyrov declared: “A procurator is the one who should talk with Maskhadov” (Vesti.ru, June 26).
Several Russian commentators contended that there were two different voices coming out of Moscow. “At the same time that Yastrzhembsky was demonstrating the good will and openness of the federal forces with regard to the Chechen rebels,” the website Ari.ru observed on June 26, “another official of the government–the minister of defense Sergei Ivanov–held a press conference of a completely different type.” “The head of the defense ministry of the Russian Federation, Sergei Ivanov,” Novye Izvestia wrote on June 27, “has become the main opponent of [Russian] presidential initiatives.”
Another website, Grani.ru, wrote on June 26 that the actual intention of Russia’s power ministers was to kill Maskhadov. “The generals are vitally interested,” Grani.ru underscored, “in the death of Maskhadov. It would be proof of their military talents and a guarantee of future promotions. Victors are not judged.”
One leading war correspondent, Il’ya Maksakov, commented that the Russian leadership lacked both “a coherent position on contacts with Maskhadov” and a coordinator for the statements of numerous Russian officials. “So,” Maksakov remarked sarcastically, “‘the doors are open’ but you must enter ‘with your hands up.'” “All this,” he summed up, “suggests that the sluggish, if highly lethal, ‘counterterrorist operation’ will go on and on in Chechnya.” It was possible, Maksakov added, that Maskhadov did indeed have real plans to capture the Chechen capital and Gudermes. “Can it be,” he asked, “that the assault on the Chechen capital has been planned for July 15?” (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, June 26).
As for the nonreaction of the G-8 leaders to Maskhadov’s open letter, the newspaper Kommersant wrote on June 26: “A month ago Aslan Maskhadov addressed the president of the United States, George W. Bush, with the same request, on the eve of the latter’s visit to Moscow.” Commenting on this appeal, one special representative of Maskhadov, Akhmed Zakaev, said that “a halting of the conflict depends in much on the good will of the U.S. administration.” “However,” Kommersant concluded, “Mr. Bush in meetings with his Russian colleague [Putin] did not touch upon the Chechen theme…. The present appeal of Aslan Maskhadov to the Western leaders will, most likely, suffer the same fate.”
To conclude, it appears that Aslan Maskhadov’s two appeals have met with a rebuff both in Moscow and at the G-8 meetings in Canada. The war therefore will, as Il’ya Maksakov has put it, “go on and on.”