On January 27, the five-year presidential term of Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov expired. Maskhadov had been elected to office in January 1997 in a vote judged free and fair by international observers. In an interview with Ekho Moskvy Radio, a leading separatist spokesman, Mairbek Vachagaev, underscored that Maskhadov’s tenure in office “will be extended automatically until the moment when Russian troops are withdrawn from the territory of the Chechen Republic” (Ekho Moskvy, January 28). Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky, by contrast, emphasized that Maskhadov cannot be viewed as president of Chechnya “by any criteria,” irrespective of whether his term has expired. The fact that Maskhadov’s presidential term has now expired, Yastrzhembsky said, “does not change anything legally or formally,” because the constitution of his separatist republic “has never been regarded by Russia as a legal act, and matters only to Maskhadov’s lobbyists in the West” (RIA Novosti, January 29).