Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 48

While tensions between Moscow and Djohar (Grozny) remain high after the March 5 kidnapping of General Gennady Shpigun, Russian officials yesterday toned down their rhetoric somewhat. Even as the deadline which Moscow set for Shpigun’s release arrived, Oleg Sysuev, first deputy head of the Kremlin administration, said that Moscow had ruled out “mass-scale military operations” in Chechnya given the “bitter experience” of the 1994-1996 war, and added that the Kremlin would “do everything possible to avoid any bloodshed between Chechnya and Russia” (Moscow Times, March 10).

Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin, who on March 8 said that Moscow was considering a “complex” of measures in response to Shpigun’s abduction–ranging from economic sanctions to military action–yesterday stressed that Moscow would work jointly with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov to secure Shpigun’s release. Stepashin, however, emphasized also that the Chechen authorities needed to take “tough measures to disarm unlawful bandit groups.” For his part, Maskhadov announced yesterday a US$200,000 reward for information leading to Shpigun’s release, and Chechen officials said that they were combing the republic’s territory in a search for the kidnapped general. Maskhadov also said the State Council he heads would consider the possibility of deporting Emir Khattab, the Jordanian head of a radical Islamist militia which, much to Moscow’s annoyance, has been operating on Chechen territory. At the same time, Maskhadov criticized the authorities in Moscow for engaging in “threats and blackmail,” and called for a meeting with President Boris Yeltsin (Russian agencies, Associated Press, March 9). Today, Maskhadov accused rebel Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev of having been involved in Shpigun’s abduction, and having worked with unnamed foreign special services (NTV, March 10). On March 8 Stepashin had also accused Basaev of complicity in the kidnapping.