On January 17, Sergei Mironov, the speaker of the Russian Council of Federation, the non-elected upper chamber of the Russian parliament, asserted following a meeting with Lubbers that the high commissioner believed that negotiations between Russia and Chechen separatist President Aslan Maskhadov were “not very advisable” (RIA Novosti, January 17). On the following day, Lubbers corrected this misreading of his views, emphasizing that Maskhadov in fact represented a “key person” in the quest for a negotiated settlement and asserting flatly that Maskhadov “is certainly not a terrorist.” Lubbers went on to point out that “many [Chechen] guerilla fighters based in the republic’s southern mountains” did not fall into the same category as did, for example, Muslim extremists like the Jordanian-born Khattab. Such persons could therefore, Lubbers opined, “take part in building a peaceful Chechnya” (Agence France Presse, January 18).
Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky announced on January 16 that the Russian authorities may resume contacts with Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov if certain terms are met. “It is short sighted,” Yastrzhembsky declared, “to say that all contacts with Maskhadov will cease forever. If Maskhadov shows a desire to fulfill the two conditions of the president’s appeal, I am sure that the federal authorities will support such a change of position.” These two conditions include the termination of ties with international terrorist centers and the beginning of talks on surrendering arms (Interfax, January 16).
At a news conference held in Paris following an informal heads-of-state meeting, President Jacques Chirac of France urged President Putin to restart peace talks with the Chechen separatists, stressing that the conflict “could not be reduced solely to its terrorist aspect.” In what appeared to be an emotional response, Putin insisted that Russia’s current operations in Chechnya were fully justified. “On September 11,” he recalled, “the world trembled because the attack on the World Trade Center was a crime against all of humanity. But Russia trembled well before that when hundreds of people were killed in explosions in Moscow [in September 1999]. The blood of Russians who died in Moscow is the same color as the blood of the people who perished on September 11” (Reuters, January 15). On January 14, France’s Green Party candidate for president, Noel Mamere, denounced Putin’s visit, coming at a time, he said, when Russian “death squads” were operating in Chechnya. “The real terrorism,” Mamere underscored, “is the war that Moscow is leading in Chechnya.” On January 15, the French Green Party took part in a protest demonstration against Putin’s visit (Agence France Presse, January 15).