On Wednesday, September 5, Boris Nemtsov, one of the leaders of the Union of Right Forces (SPS) parliamentary faction in the Russian State Duma, together with other members of the faction, traveled by motorcade from Nazran, Ingushetia to the Chechen district center of Achkoi-Martan. The stated purpose for the visit was to provide web access to Chechen schoolchildren living in Achkoi-Martan. According to Gazeta.ru: “Not so long ago the party [SPS] launched an ambitious project aimed at equipping Russian secondary schools with computers…. Earlier this year the Right[ists] decided that Chechen schoolchildren should be granted web access. Computers were installed in two schools of the Chechen district of Achkoi-Martan; computer training courses for schoolteachers were organized. However, problems with web connection emerged in Achkoi-Martan where there is only one telephone line used by the district administration office. Nemtsov met with Achkoi-Martan officials to discuss the problem with telephone lines. The talks proved a success. It was agreed that new telephone lines would be installed so that Achkoi schoolchildren gain access to the web. Reportedly, Russian businessmen promised to help with the financing” (Gazeta.ru, September 7).
In addition to sorting out this problem, Nemtsov held talks with Stanislav Ilyasov, the pro-Moscow prime minister of the Chechen government. Ilyasov, Gazeta.ru noted, “had tried to dissuade Nemtsov from coming to Chechnya, saying the trip could be quite dangerous, especially on the eve of the so-called Independence Day of the Republic of Ichkeria…. But Nemtsov would not revise his plans.”
On the morning that Nemtsov and his party arrived in Chechnya, officers of the pro-Moscow FSB of Chechnya announced that they had “staved off a terrorist act that militants had been timing to coincide with the arrival of the delegation.” The FSB asserted that Chechen separatists had been planning to set off remote-controlled explosives to kill Nemtsov and his party. Explosives of this kind, they noted, had been discovered “between the [Chechen] villages of Achkoi-Martan and Bamut and destroyed on the spot” (RIA Novosti, September 5). According to the newspaper Kommersant, “In the apparatus of Boris Nemtsov, when they learned of the thwarted attempt on the life of the politician, they were sincerely surprised. The employees of the SPS are convinced that the Chechen separatists would have no reason to wish harm to Mr. Nemtsov” (Kommersant, September 6). One journalist writing for Gazeta.ru speculated that the FSB might have wanted to send a message to Nemtsov: namely, “it would be better for the parliamentarian who is so generous with political fantasies to sit at home with his plans,” rather than to travel about Chechnya (Gazeta.ru, September 7).
In addition to solving a web access problem in Achkoi-Martan, Nemtsov announced that he and his delegation planned to donate to the soldiers of the Forty-second Division of the Ministry of Defense and the Forty-sixth Brigade of the Ministry of Internal Affairs-both of these units are based in Chechnya on a permanent basis-free subscriptions to the weekly newspaper Argumenty i Fakty. In February of this year, Nemtsov had published his program for putting an end to the Chechen war in Argumenty i Fakty (Gazeta.ru, September 7).
While visiting Chechnya, Nemtsov, according to Gazeta.ru, also “announced that the party [SPS] had set up an organizational committee for the creation of its regional branch in the Chechen Republic.” The deputy chairman of the State Duma defense committee, retired general Eduard Vorobiev, was elected head of this organizational committee. A constituent conference of the SPS Chechen branch will be held in Grozny (Djohar) by the end of the year, Vorobiev said. Before this, consultations will be held with the heads of Chechen districts.
On the evening of September 5, Nemtsov, after returning safely to Ingushetia, met with Ruslan Aushev, the president of that republic, and the two discussed possible ways of achieving a peace settlement in Chechnya. Following their meeting, Nemtsov affirmed, “We believe a negotiation process should be launched, and launched with those who represent the warring side, with those who disagree with the present situation.” Nemtsov noted that both he and Aushev saw separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov as a party to the talks. If, however, the federal government and the Russian president rule out Maskhadov as a partner in the talks, the Union of Right Forces position, Nemtsov said, is: “Let the Chechen people elect representatives to the talks themselves.” Nemtsov did no rule out that Maskhadov might turn out to be one of those chosen as a representative by the Chechen people (Gazeta.ru, September 6).
An assistant to Nemtsov, Liliya Dubovaya, provided additional information concerning the “Nemtsov plan.” Nemtsov, she said, “has proposed his plan for regulating the situation in the republic. According to it, Chechens from each clan must elect authoritative people and then create a structure similar to a parliament. Precisely with such a parliament, which everyone will trust, and not with the administration of Kadyrov, it makes sense to conduct negotiations concerning a peaceful resolution to the conflict.” In addition, Dubovaya underscored, Nemtsov “believes that the Chechen delegation theoretically could be headed by Aslan Maskhadov or by another leader, if he were elected and delegated by the people.” In the apparatus of the SPS, they stressed that Nemtsov’s plan has in fact been approved by everyone, “not only by peaceful Chechens and by the military but by the rebels as well. Aslan Maskhadov has already sent [Nemtsov] a video-cassette in which he asks him as quickly as possible to bring his ideas to the president of Russia and to begin negotiations.” The major political figure opposing the plan, it was noted, is the acting head of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration, Akhmad Kadyrov (Kommersant, September 6).
What was the reaction of President Vladimir Putin to Nemtsov’s demarche? On September 7, a seemingly irritated Russian president, speaking at a press conference in Kislovodsk, commented that while he was prepared to admit that “negotiations are always better than military actions,” any negotiations with “citizen Aslan Maskhadov” or with any other separatist leaders could have but one aim: the absolute and unconditional disarming of all separatist formations and a surrender to the federal authorities of the “most odious bandits.” What has to be accomplished, he emphasized, is that the Russian Constitution be observed and that its action be extended over all of Russian territory.
Addressing Nemtsov directly, though not by name, Putin then said: “If someone among the deputies of the State Duma can ensure the carrying out of these conditions in the course of the foreseeable future–in the course of one month–then let them do it.” Putin then indicated that he might be willing to wait up to three months for a result. If the nameless deputies proved incapable of acting within this time period, Putin continued, “then let them cease making a commotion on the political scene of the country and let them surrender their deputy’s mandate for the State Duma” (RIA Novosti and Lenta.ru, September 7).
Replying on the same day to Putin’s truculent comments, Nemtsov remarked, “If Putin indeed wants to begin a political process toward peaceful regulation in Chechnya, then the SPS is prepared in all ways to assist in this, including in the sphere of conducting negotiations.” He agreed with Putin that one of the basic questions during such negotiations would concern “the disarming of the bandit formations.” This complex task, Nemtsov stressed, “must be resolved together with all the responsible politicians of the country, including the president and the [Duma] deputies.” As for Putin’s warning that Nemtsov might be required to surrender his deputy’s mandate, Nemtsov retorted: “Putin has evidently confused me with his subordinates: He did not elect me, and he cannot remove me” (NTV.ru, September 7).
That Putin was angered over Nemtsov’s demarche became clear when a number of the president’s subordinates and adherents stepped forward to excoriate Nemtsov and his plan. The plenipotentiary presidential representative in the Southern Federal District, retired General Viktor Kazantsev, for example, declared it inadmissible to conduct negotiations with Aslan Maskhadov. “If a person is on the federal wanted list, then one cannot conduct negotiations with him,” Kazantsev stated flatly (NTV.ru, September 7). The leader and the deputy leader of the “Unity” parliamentary faction (widely known as “the party of Putin”) also assailed Nemtsov. Vladimir Pekhtin, the faction’s leader, maintained that he related “sharply negatively” to the idea of negotiating with representatives of the rebels, including Aslan Maskhadov. And the deputy leader of the Unity faction, Frants Klintsevich, affirmed that “we have already conducted that kind of negotiations once and we know to what consequences they led.” Klintsevich made clear that he was referring to the August 1996 Khasavyurt Accords, which had put an end to the 1994-1996 war. He termed these accords “treachery with regard to both the Russian and Chechen peoples and especially toward the military…. How can there be negotiations with bandits? There can be only one kind of dialogue with them–they must be destroyed” (Interfax, September 7).
Other pro-Putin legislators sounded a similar note. Thus Valentin Nikitin of the Agro-Industrial Deputy Group asked indignantly: “How can one conduct negotiations with those who kill or who command rebels, with persons whose arms are up to their elbows in blood?” Nemtsov, Nikitin said, should demand that an international tribunal look into the crimes of Maskhadov, Shamil’ Basaev and others. The well-known extremist politician, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a faction leader and a deputy speaker of the Duma, opined that Nemtsov’s proposals “were of a provocative character and were aimed at destroying the army.” Gennady Raikov, leader of the “Narodnyi Deputat [People’s Deputy]” group of deputies in the Duma speculated that Nemtsov himself might be forced to stand in the dock: “The initiative of B. Nemtsov,” Raikov fulminated, “is absurd and insulting for those who live in Russia. One of the leaders of the SPS, in advancing such a proposal, in essence speaks as an accomplice of the bandits…. Before making such proposals, Nemtsov should read the Criminal Code, and then he would understand that he could be brought to trial for assisting the bandits. The procuracy could with full justification charge B. Nemtsov and propose to the deputies that he be deprived of his parliamentary immunity. I think that if that if this were to occur, a majority of the State Duma would vote to rescind B. Nemtsov’s parliamentary immunity” (Interfax, September 7).
As can be seen, the Russian “party of war”–apparently headed by President Putin himself–remains strong and aggressive, rendering a negotiated settlement to the conflict unlikely.