Replying on November 21 to Maskhadov’s comments in Moskovskie novosti, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, the Russian president’s principal spokesman on Chechnya, maintained that in principle “he saw nothing new” in Maskhadov’s statements (Russian agencies, November 21). Maskhadov, he said, had already missed his chance to exhibit “maturity as a politician.” “The federal center has no intention in the future of stepping once again on the Khasavyurt rake,” a reference to the August 1996 settlement negotiated by Maskhadov and Russian security council secretary, General Aleksandr Lebed, which brought an end to the first war.
In a speech to top Russian military officials, given on November 20, President Putin effectively anticipated Maskhadov’s comments, which were released the following day. Military analysts interpreted Putin’s address “to mean that he was preparing Russians for a long drawn-out campaign in Chechnya” (Agence France Presse, November 20). Putin warned that the Russian army was no longer combat-ready and would have to be radically restructured if it were to have a chance to win the second Chechen war. In his comments, Putin belittled the 2,600 military and police losses already incurred by the Russian side in the conflict “noting that this number is the same as annual Russian losses from highway accidents and fires,” although he was prepared to admit that even this number was “too high anyway” (RFE/RL, November 21). The Russian president thus signaled that the conflict will go on and on.