Chechen foreign minister Kazbek Makhachev, Presidential Aide Akhmed Zakaev, and the secretary of Dagestan’s Security Council, Magomet Tolboev, held talks on December 16 with Chechen field commander Salman Raduev, who is holding 22 Russian policemen hostage. Raduev says the policemen are prisoners-of-war, not hostages, and that he acted to protest against the holding of presidential elections in Chechnya. Raduev predicts that the elections will not take place since Djohar Dudaev will reemerge on January 25. (NTV, December 16) After long negotiations, Raduev agreed to release ten of his hostages today. It remains unclear whether all or some of the remaining hostages will also be freed. Chechen prime minister Aslan Maskhadov is insisting on the release of all the hostages without preconditions. But Raduev has agreed to free only another ten hostages, and only if he receives an apology from the Russian and Dagestani governments for restricting his movements and from the Russian media for "biased coverage." (Interfax, NTV, December 16)
"I get the impression that Raduev is a little bit loony. He really seems to think that Dudaev is alive!… It’s very hard to negotiate with him," Tolboev told the Monitor. In Tolboev’s opinion, Raduev’s fighters are a serious military force and even the Chechen authorities are a little afraid of them. "In Chechnya, kinship ties are very important. In his native Gudermes, Raduev is Tsar and God and people obey him unconditionally," says Tolboev, who is returning to Chechnya today for further negotiations with the rebels.
Tolboev thinks the Chechen authorities are looking for a way to neutralize Raduev but dare not risk a military confrontation before the elections. Chechen leaders suspect Raduev wants to stage a provocation before the elections, while their hands are tied. They are also nervous lest other, less well known field commanders follow Raduev’s example. Chechen society is split into spheres of influence under individual field commanders, each holding sway in his own region. Meanwhile, according to polling data, about 70 percent of the electorate intend to vote for Maskhadov. Yandarbiev is in second place. (NTV, December 15) Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin flew to Grozny this morning to meet with Chechen authorities and federal troop commanders to discuss ways of preventing further provocations. (Itar-Tass, December 17)
Cossack Protesters Block Transport.