Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 47

The escalating hostilities between Moscow and Chechnya have alarmed some Russian politicians. Several liberal politicians have said that they oppose terrorism but fear the repercussions of a less- than-surgical Russian military response. State Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov, a leader of Russia’s Democratic Choice and a critic of the 1994-1996 war in Chechnya, said today that he worried that Russia’s hard line might undermine the position of Maskhadov vis- a-vis Basaev and Salman Raduev, the other major Chechen rebel field commander. Yushenkov said that a “special operation” to free Shpigun was in order, but criticized Stepashin’s warlike public declarations. Likewise, Vladimir Lukin, a leading member of Yabloko and former ambassador to Washington, called for “fewer words and more action” (NTV, March 9).

Sergei Kovalev, President Boris Yeltsin’s former human rights commissioner and a leading opponent of the Chechen war, said the current situation called for “secret, fine-tuned shuttle diplomacy,” but added that no one in the Russian government was capable of carrying out such negotiations (Moscow Times, March 9). Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed, who in 1996 began the negotiations which ended the war in Chechnya, said the government may have to use force, but criticized it for having ignored Chechnya in the three years since Russian troops withdrew from the republic. Former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin backed Stepashin’s threat to use force, saying that force is the only language which terrorists understand (NTV, March 9). In 1996, Chernomyrdin conducted televised negotiations with Shamil Basaev during the terrorist attack on the southern Russian city of Budyonnovsk, which Basaev led.

Basaev, meanwhile, said yesterday that he is carrying out his own search for Shpigun, but for the purpose of putting the general on trial in Chechnya, not for returning him to Russia. Basaev was referring to Shpigun’s role in the war in Chechnya. Indeed, even Chechen President Maskhadov, who has vowed to free Shpigun and return him to Russia, said yesterday that he had complained to Moscow about Shpigun’s appointment as the Interior Ministry’s representative in the republic, given that the general, who during the war was the Russian military commander in Djohar (formerly Grozny), had controlled the so-called “filtration centers” in which suspected Chechen rebels were detained and, according to human rights groups, tortured. Maskhadov also claimed yesterday that he had warned Stepashin in February of a possible attempt to kidnap Shpigun, but that the warning was ignored (Kommersant daily, March 9).

In addition, Maskhadov charged that the Russian authorities–in particular, Boris Berezovsky, whom Yeltsin recently sacked as Commonwealth of Independent States executive secretary–had helped bring about the growing wave of lawlessness in Chechnya by paying ransoms to hostage-takers. “Today’s situation in Chechnya is the product of overtures by Russian politicians, primarily Boris Berezovsky, to traitors and criminals who are struggling for power, which they have been unable to obtain in a lawful way,” Maskhadov told reporters. “I have repeatedly said to the Russian leadership that there is a lawfully elected president in Chechnya. Their response was more funding for criminals in the guise of paying ransom for hostages” (Moscow Times, March 9).

A meeting of the Security Council, a powerful body which advises the Russian president, was set to take place today to examine the Chechnya crisis. It was rescheduled for tomorrow, however, so that Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, who arrives back from vacation in Sochi today, can preside over it. Nikolai Bordyuzha, Yeltsin’s chief of staff and Security Council secretary, was reportedly hospitalized with heart problems over the weekend. Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Dmitri Yakushkin reported today that Yeltsin had ordered Interior Minister Stepashin to come to the Kremlin to brief him on the situation involving the Shpigun kidnapping and Chechnya. Yakushkin said that Yeltsin will take a decision on further actions after hearing Stepashin’s report (Russian agencies, March 9).