Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 94

A peace treaty and agreement on the principles of relations between Russia and the Republic of Ichkeria (as Chechnya prefers to be known) was signed yesterday in Moscow. "We have signed a peace deal of historic dimensions, putting an end to 400 years of history," Russian president Boris Yeltsin said after the signing ceremony. "It is our firm intention to give up forever the use of force against each other."

As given to Interfax by Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov’s press secretary, the text reads: "The parties to this agreement, wishing to put an end to the confrontation that has lasted for centuries and striving to establish solid, equal and mutually beneficial relations, hereby agree: to renounce forever the use and threat of force in the solution of any disputed questions; to build their relations in accordance with generally accepted principles and norms of international law. In so doing, the parties will interact on the basis of specific concrete agreements. This treaty will serve as the basis for concluding further treaties and agreements on the whole complex of relations." (Interfax, May 12) Like the Khasavyurt accords signed in August 1996, yesterday’s treaty leaves undefined the question of Chechnya’s precise status and does not say whether Russia will ultimately agree to allow the republic full independence.

Being vague and declarative, the text of the agreement also leaves plenty of scope for interpretation. At the same time, it signals a substantial change in future relations between Moscow and Djohar-gala. The very title of the agreement is significant. For a long time, Moscow said it could not sign a peace treaty with a subject of the Russian Federation.

A precedent was set three years ago, when Russia signed a treaty with the Republic of Tatarstan. At that time, many Russian politicians argued that Moscow could not sign a treaty with a subject of the Russian Federation. That treaty, which allowed Tatarstan to describe itself, if not as full-fledged sovereign state, then at least as a subject of international law to some degree, gave a new meaning to the concept of "territorial integrity" in Russian terms. Russia’s latest treaty with Chechnya/Ichkeria fudges the concept of "territorial integrity" as expressed in the Russian Constitution to an even greater extent.

Also significant is the treaty’s timing. The recent spate of bombings and kidnappings has caused many to ask what sense it makes to negotiate with a leadership that does not have real control over the situation in the republic. Maskhadov tackled this question when he said that the treaty will permit him to deal with the armed groups that are not under his control. So far, it seems, the Kremlin has accepted this argument. Otherwise, it would not have signed this treaty with Djohar-gala in the formulation on which the Chechen authorities insisted.

Yeltsin Gives Nemtsov the Green Light.