Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 16

Peace in Chechnya is still a long way off

by Igor Rotar

The agreement signed by the Russian and Chechen delegations onthe night of July 29-30 was undoubtedly a major success for thosewho wanted a peaceful regulation of the Chechen crisis. The sidesagreed on the immediate cessation of military activities and theestablishment of a special observation commission, the exchangeof prisoners of war and both the disarming of illegal formationsand the gradual withdrawal of Russian troops from the region.But as subsequent events have shown, the agreement faces manyobstacles, one of the most important of which are divisions withinthe Chechen elite over what it should do next.

That these divisions were very real was shown in the behaviorof Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudayev virtually at the moment thatthe accords were being signed. Twice he declared his disapprovalof the agreement, and only late in the evening of August 1 didhe bow to the will of his field commanders and approve the textthat had been signed. Russian negotiator Arkady Volsky told methat "the vacillation of Dudayev who supported and then disapprovedthe agreements on military issues indicates that he does not wishto end military actions. After the agreement was signed, Dudayevclearly recognized that power was flowing out of his hands andhe became hysterical. He began to accuse the members of his owndelegation that they had made unforgivable concessions. But preciselythe concessions they did make he had earlier approved."

Even if this is true, no one can guarantee that the Chechen leaderwill not again change his mind and seek to continue the "warto a victorious conclusion." An indirect confirmation ofthis possibility is the withdrawal of the head of the Dudayevdelegation Usman Imayev immediately after the signing of the agreement.

In reality, clouds had been gathering over the head of the generalprosecutor of Chechnya for a long time: even before the signingof the accords, Dudayev issued a decree saying that the agreementwould be valid only if all members of the delegation signed itand not just Imayev. Moreover, there were widespread rumors inChechnya that Imayev was an agent of the Russian security services,having been recruited while incarcerated in Moscow at the endof 1994. But the main reason for such rumors seems to have beena desire to cut down the political stature of Imayev, whose standingamong Chechens had grown at the expense of Dudayev’s own.

But the most important split in the Dudayev camp is not betweenthe Chechen leader and Usman Imayev but between Dudayev and ShamilBasayev, the man who led the raid on Budennovsk. Arkady Volskytold me that "Today many field commanders are convinced thatDudayev led Chechnya to a defeat and that the real hero who forcedRussia to sit down and negotiate is Shamil Basayev. Today, Basayevwho controls a quite large and autonomous armed detachment canbe considered as Dudayev’s real competition."

According to Volsky, Basayev basically accepts the agreementon military issues, but as the deputy chief of the Russian delegationacknowledges, "the commander of a diversionary-intelligencebattalion" is not inclined to compromise on political questions."In contrast to the Imayev delegation that the future statusof Chechnya will be solved after the elections on the basis ofthe Russian and the newly adopted Chechen constitutions, Basayev,as before, firmly insists on Chechen independence."

However, in the opinion of Volsky, talks with Basayev are impossible."We simply can’t enter into direct contact with Basayev; no onecan forget Budennovsk. Many may not agree with me; this is mypersonal opinion, but I consider that the most optimal variantfor Basayev would be exile," Volsky said.

Beside the "concealed" opponents of Dudayev, thereare major groupings in the republic who do not recognize Dudayevas a matter of principle. In the estimates of Russian militaryexperts, about 40 percent of the armed formations no longer aresubordinate to Dudayev even nominally. "The Dudayevites callsuch people abreks, but it seems to me that this term isnot entirely accurate," Volsky told me. "In my view,the majority of armed groups in the mountains remain subordinateto Dudayev and Maskhadov, but those in the valleys are less likelyto be. The majority of these people by day are ordinary peasantsand workers but at night they take guns into their hands and attackRussian outposts. I think that the disarmament of these peoplewill be the most complicated part of the process."

And as a result, the agreement on military questions still remainsunder threat. Even such an "optimist by profession"as Arkady Volsky believes that there are at least four independentpolitical forces in the Chechen camp, any one of which could setthings off again: the unpredictable Dudayev, Imayev who is preparedto cooperate with Moscow, the hero-commander Shamil Basayev, andthe groups not subordinate to any of the above. It is obviousthat any one of these groups could decide that its interests wouldbest be served by destroying the agreement.

Moreover, one should not ignore the anti-Dudayev opposition inChechnya, a group of people who were angry that Moscow ignoredthem as it talked with Dudayev’s people. Among the leaders ofthis grouping are the mayor of Grozny, Beslan Gantemirov, whotold me that Moscow’s approach was driving him toward "armedresistance." One cannot ignore this threat especially since,as Volsky noted to me, the mayor controls one of the most importantregions of the republic.

And finally the most important factor of all: many Russians wouldlike to break off the talks and resume their march toward a victoriousconclusion of the fighting. We should not forget the frequentwarnings of Volsky that "certain people from the highestlevels of power are conducting parallel talks with the Dudayevitesand doing everything they can to break off the talks."

The situation in the Chechen republic will only become more complicatedas the November elections approach. "One must not underestimatethe importance of the peace agreement, but one should not failto see that its implementation will take a real peacemaker,"says one of them, Ruslan Khasbulatov, Yeltsin’s old opponent andhimself the leading candidate for the presidency of Chechnya.If Khasbulatov comes to power in Grozny, Moscow’s reaction iscompletely unpredictable. Indeed, many in the Russian capitalnow say that the introduction of Russian troops into Chechnyalast December was designed to prevent what now appears to be likelyto happen this November: the coming to power of a man whose ambitionsare far larger than Chechnya and far more threatening to Yeltsinand his entourage.

Igor Rotar is a correspondent for Izvestiya.