Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 49

Yesterday’s government meeting, which was chaired by Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov on President Boris Yeltsin’s orders, did not approve the use of force in solving the Chechen conflict sparked by the abduction of General Gennady Shpigun. In fact, no decision at all was taken at the meeting, meaning that it is up to the president to decide on a course of action. “We will not let the matter lead to the resumption of military actions in Chechnya. That will not be,” Primakov said in winding up the two-hour meeting (Kommersant daily, March 11). The postponement of the “punishment” of Chechnya was completely predictable. According to “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” the government suspects that a trap was being set for it. With the hospitalization of both Yeltsin and Nikolai Bordyuzha, head of the presidential administration, Yevgeny Primakov remains practically the only functional head in the Russian power structure. This situation has paralleled the sudden emergence of the Chechen crisis. It is obvious that Primakov has no interest in leading the way in trying to solve the crisis: It is not clear what political dividends are to be gained from doing so, and the premier does not want to risk anything. Primakov has thus adopted a no-lose stance, acting as if he is simply subordinating himself to the president, who has the prerogative in such national security matters. The final decision on how to handle the Chechen crisis will therefore be made by Boris Yeltsin from the Central Clinical Hospital (Nezavisimaya gazeta, Kommersant daily, March 11).

At the same time, the Russian Interior Ministry is preparing for limited strikes against Chechen terrorist bases. Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin met yesterday with officials of the Defense Ministry. Although the meeting was held behind closed doors, a Russian newspaper reported today that the participants discussed the issue of placing Tochka-U missile systems along the border with Chechnya. These are short-range and highly accurate missiles. Several of these systems were reportedly moved to the Chechen border yesterday. In addition, the heads of the North Caucasus military district received orders to prepare for the arrival of heavy transport jets, while the top specialists of anti-ethnic crime units left for the Chechen border region (Kommersant daily, March 11).