The chances of a negotiated settlement of the Russo-Chechen conflict–which had never been particularly good–took a nosedive last week when Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky seemed to brush aside peace overtures by Chechen separatist President Aslan Maskhadov. On October 9 the newspaper Kommersant-Vlast published an interview with Maskhadov, who observed: “My personal representative, the vice premier of the government of the Chechen republic of Ichkeria, Akhmed Zakaev, already had contact with representatives of the federal authorities. They are trying to agree about the subject of negotiations, and about the conditions for the termination of combat operations. These contacts don’t give any concrete results so far. But there is hope.”
Reacting on the same day to Maskhadov’s interview, Yastrzhembsky emphasized that a dialogue with Maskhadov’s representatives was possible only if the separatists first voluntarily surrendered their arms. A possible place of meeting with Zakaev, Yastrzhembsky added, “has still not been set. Therefore the subject of the meeting cannot be spoken of either” (Interfax, October 9).
Two days later, on October 11, during an interview for Radio Liberty’s “Theme of the Day” program, Maskhadov remarked: “Yes, contacts [with Russia] exist. Today, in my opinion, there is a problem with the meeting place and [with] the main condition for the Chechens, that somebody must appear as a mediator from a third side in order to fix contacts between my representatives and the representatives for the Russian side.”
The following day, Yastrzhembsky administered what appeared to be the coup de grace to the already sputtering negotiation process when he stressed that there was nothing for the Russian authorities to negotiate about with the Chechen separatists except the laying down of arms and ways of including those militants who had never committed grave crimes back into the republic’s civilian life. The Russian presidential spokesman categorically rejected the involvement in peace talks of any international mediation or of any “third party to the dialogue” (RIA Novosti, October 12).