Russian General Gennady Troshev, who was recently appointed overall commander of the federal forces in Chechnya, yesterday ruled out the possibility of peace talks with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. In recent weeks, Maskhadov has called repeatedly for negotiations. Troshev said in a television interview that negotiations with Maskhadov would be “unfair” and a “betrayal with respect to the army.” The general also called Maskhadov a “bandit,” lumping him with Chechen rebel field commander Shamil Basaev and Khattab. Troshev quoted what he claimed was Maskhadov’s most recent address to the Chechen people, in which Maskhadov allegedly explained his push for negotiations as a way to weaken the Russian side and then start a “new war” (NTV, April 23).
In an interview published April 21, Maskhadov said that he had ordered rebel forces to observe a unilateral cease-fire which, he claimed, was part of a peace plan floated by Moscow. Maskhadov once again claimed to be in control of all the republic’s rebel forces (Kommersant, April 21).
It was clear even before Troshev’s remarks, however, that the Kremlin had no intention of engaging in negotiations with Maskhadov. On April 21, President-elect Vladimir Putin called Maskhadov a “criminal,” but noted that the Chechen leader could make use of the amnesty law for Chechen rebels passed last December by the Duma. In February, the Duma voted to extend the amnesty deadline to May 15 of this year. Putin said that he did not plan to abandon negotiations, but added that Maskhadov “expresses readiness for everything but never does anything.” Putin repeated Moscow’s conditions for talks–“the unconditional freeing of all hostages in the mountainous regions of Chechnya who, according to the Russian special services, number more than 200, including foreigners,” and the “handing over of the bandits responsible for blowing up the dwellings in Russia and for the attack on Dagestan” last year. Putin said he was ready to “help” Maskhadov “capture the bandits” if the Chechen leader was unable to do so.
These conditions are clearly unacceptable for Maskhadov. The Chechen leader simply does not have the power on his own to arrest Basaev and Khattab, the main initiators of the raid into Dagestan. Were Maskhadov to participate with Russian troops in a joint operation against Basaev and Khattab, a majority of Chechens would see him as a traitor and a majority of the troops directly under his control would abandon him.
Meanwhile, Sergei Kozlov, Russia’s deputy interior minister, suggested that talks with Maskhadov might be possible if the Chechen leader and his fighters took advantage of the amnesty law by surrendering their weapons and hostages. While Kozlov’s comments seemed less hardline than Troshev’s, the deputy interior minister was essentially offering Maskhadov and his fighters little more than the chance to surrender unconditionally (RTR, April 23).
Moscow’s lack of interest in negotiations with Maskhadov is easy to understand. The Russian military claims that Maskhadov only controls 200-300 men–which is no more than 10 percent of the total rebel force. On the other hand, the Kremlin will find it very difficult to find a leader for the republic who will be supported by even a fraction of its population. Until recently, the most suitable figure from the Kremlin’s perspective was Bislan Gantemirov, the former mayor of Grozny [Djohar], who was released from prison in Moscow last year to head a police force in the parts of Chechnya under federal control. At the end of last week, however, Gantemirov stepped down from that post. He said that he had quit because he disagreed with a number of actions taken by the Russian power structures (Radio Liberty, April 21).
Another possible choice to head the republic is Chechnya’s mufti, Akhmed Kadyrov. The fact that he fought against Russian troops during the initial phase of the current war would give Kadyrov more credibility in Chechen eyes. Kadyrov distanced himself from the resistance on the basis of his conflict with the so-called Wahabbis, including Basaev and Khattab. Other possible candidates for Moscow’s leader in Chechnya would include Ruslan Khasbulatov, who headed Russia’s Supreme Soviet before it was dissolved in September 1993, and whose rating in Chechnya was very high prior to the 1994-1996 war. But both Kadyrov and Khasbulatov–and even Gantemirov–are viewed by the Kremlin as being unpredictable and hard to control. A newspaper today claimed that Putin has not decided on Moscow’s new leader in Chechnya (Segodnya, April 24).
Meanwhile, Russia’s Press Ministry warned Kommersant over the weekend against publishing its interview with Maskhadov. In March, the ministry said that “presenting the words” of Chechen rebel leaders would be considered “collaboration with terrorists” under Russia’s antiterrorism laws, and it named Maskhadov, Basaev and Chechen rebel spokesman Movladi Udugov as “terrorists” (see the Monitor, March 15). In February, Maskhadov was charged with organizing and participating in an armed rebellion (see the Monitor, February 21). The press ministry has warned Kommersant twice, and could, theoretically, close down the paper after a third admonition. Kommersant’s editor-in-chief, Andrei Vasiliev, said yesterday that the paper will attempt to challenge the warning in court today (ORT, April 23).
SKURATOV FINALLY REMOVED FROM OFFICE.