On December 17, the Financial Times published the text of an interview conducted with President Vladimir Putin of Russia. A number of Putin’s comments touched on the war in Chechnya. “In 1996,” Putin recalled, “Russia withdrew all its military and law enforcement forces from the territory of Chechnya. Thus de facto, if not de jure, we granted independence to Chechnya. So nobody can accuse us of suppressing the desire of the Chechen people for independence. Once already we have given them such an opportunity…. What we got instead of a new state entity was a quasi-state of a terrorist nature.” On the subject of this statement, Francis A. Boyle, professor of international law at the university of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and attorney of record for the separatist Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, stated the following day: “President Putin has yet again publicly admitted that the Russian Federation conceded de facto, if not de jure independence to the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria as of 1996. This is the point that we in the [separatist] Chechen government have been arguing for some time” (posted on Discussion List about Chechnya, December 18).
During the course of his remarks to the Financial Times, Putin also looked to the future as well as to the past. “Within the framework of the constitution of the Russian Federation,” he noted, “Chechnya can be granted rather broad autonomy. But we cannot afford to make the same error a second time, we cannot repeat what happened in 1996 when an enclave was created which destabilized the whole Russian Federation…. The best example of the fact that we are pursuing dialogue with all groups of the Chechen population is that fact that the head of the current [pro-Moscow] Chechen administration [Akhmad Kadyrov] is someone who before 1996 fought against Russian federal forces with arms in his hands.”