Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 160

On August 31, the newspaper Kommersant published an interview with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. In the interview, which was timed to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the Khasavyurt agreements that ended the first Chechen war, Maskhadov said that the current situation in Chechnya is similar to that of mid-1996. Russian troops then controlled up to 80 percent of Chechnya, and the pro-Moscow regime of Doky Zavgaev, the republic’s former Communist leader, was formally in charge. Most observers at the time believed that the war in Chechnya had ended and that all that was left for the Russian side to do was to mop up the remaining groups of bandits and mercenaries, which were scattered and had few members. The rebels, however, gathered their forces and dealt a significant blow to Russian forces throughout the republic, including the capital. This led to the signing of a peace agreement in the Dagestanti town of Khasavyurt on August 31, 1996, and, in turn, to Moscow’s withdrawal of its 50,000-man army from Chechnya (Kommersant, August 31).

The Kommersant interview drew an angry response from Sergei Yastrzhembsky, aide to President Vladimir Putin. In comments to the Interfax news the day the interview was published, Yastrzhembsky called the Khasavyurt agreements one of the most negative chapters in Russia’s recent history, saying they amounted to treason (Interfax, August 31). As Kommersant pointed out the next day, this Yastrzhembsky’s comments were rather ironic, given that in November 1996, when he was press secretary to then President Boris Yeltsin, Yastrzhembsky had called the Khasavyurt agreements a landmark in the process of establishing peace and stability in Chechnya and had said that there was “no military solution to the Chechen conflict” (Kommersant, September 1).

But while Kommersant may have won on debating points, Yastrzhembsky might still get the last word. Citing Kommersant’s publication of the Maskhadov interview, the presidential aide called for a law that would ban the publication or broadcast of statements by Chechen rebels in the Russian media. The decision to publish such statements, Yastshembsky said, “is the internal choice of an editor, a journalist, and we must admit that not everyone manages to make that internal choice properly.” Therefore, he concluded, “it is necessary to make corresponding changes in the existing legislation” (Interfax, August 31).

Last Friday’s was not the first Maskhadov interview Kommersant has published. In March 2000, the Press Ministry warned Russian media that “presenting the words” of Chechen rebel leaders would be considered “collaboration with terrorists” under Russia’s antiterrorism laws. The following month Kommersant received a warning from the Press Ministry after publishing an interview with Maskhadov, but successfully challenged it in court (see the Monitor, March 15, 24, 2000).

Meanwhile, unnamed officials in Yastrzhembsky’s office yesterday denied reports that emissaries from Maskhadov have held meetings in Switzerland with deputies from Russia’s State Duma. Maskhadov himself first made the claim in an August 31 interview with Germany’s Deutsche Welle radio. According to him, deputies from Russia’s State Duma met with representatives of “the government of Ichkeria” during the third week of August, with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe acting as a “mediator.” He also said that while President Vladimir Putin was “a hostage” of the Russian army and the GRU–military intelligence–which do not want an end to the war, the Russian head of state “feels that without negotiations this bloodletting… will not end” (, August 31). On September 1, Geneva’s Le Temps newspaper said that it had confirmed Maskhadov’s claim about the meeting. According to the paper, a group of State Duma deputies met secretly with representatives of Maskhadov near the city of Montreux over August 15-20 (Le Temps, September 1). Officials in Yastrzhembsky’s office were quoted yesterday as saying that “a certain Usman” calling himself “the vice president of Ichkeria” had met with a member of the Swiss parliament but that he had not met with any Russian officials or parliamentarians (, September 3).