On November 1–in an issue actually posted on October 31–the newspaper Izvestia reported that Russian plenipotentiary presidential representative in the Southern Federal District Viktor Kazantsev had that day held a conversation with Akhmed Zakaev, a representative of Chechen separatist president Aslan Maskhadov. Relying on sources within the Russian “power structures,” the newspaper then wrote: “Aslan Maskhadov and the rebels personally subordinated to him are prepared to surrender their weapons and cease their terrorist acts against the units of the federal forces in Chechnya in exchange for a safe departure from the republic. A preliminary agreement concerning this was achieved during today’s dialogue of Kazantsev and Zakaev.” Maskhadov, Izvestia added, “will be presented a ‘green corridor’ to leave Chechnya for a foreign country. Presumably Maskhadov will want to leave for Malaysia–his son and other relatives live there.” Until the negotiations with Zakaev are concluded, the newspaper added, “units of the spetsnaz of various power structures have received a command temporarily to halt special operations.” A hunt for “the odious leaders of the bandit formations” would commence following the end of the negotiations.
Understandably, this report, which purported to come from sources in the Russian power ministries, created a considerable stir in Russian political circles. On November 1, in response to a motion introduced by Vladislav Reznik of the “Unity” faction, the State Duma adopted the text of an official “inquiry” (zapros) directed to the leader of the FSB, Nikolai Patrushev, the head of the MVD, Boris Gryzlov, and the minister of defense, Sergei Ivanov, “with a request that they confirm or deny the information of several mass media that the special operations being conducted in Chechnya to destroy the heads of the illegal bandit formations have supposedly been halted.” A total of 234 deputies voted for this “inquiry” (RIA Novosti and Strana.ru, November 1). A high-ranking spokesman for Viktor Kazantsev speculated that the Izvestia article “might be a provocation to thwart Kazantsev’s meeting with Maskhadov’s representative Akhmed Zakaev” (Interfax, November 1), while Zakaev himself termed it “an intentional provocation by several political forces in Russia not interested in a speedy end to the Russo-Chechen war and the beginning of peace negotiations” (Chechenpress.com, November 1). Vladimir Moltenskoi, commander of the combined group of federal forces in Chechnya, for his part, termed the report “not true” and underscored that “the Chechen warlords better not relax” (RIA Novosti and Interfax, October 31).