The fate of the planned meeting between President Vladimir Putin’s representative in the Southern federal district, Viktor Kazantsev, and representatives of Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, remains up in the air. While the two sides have said that the meeting will take place, the issues of when and where remain unresolved. The rebel side has said that Maskhadov’s authorized representative, Akhmed Zakaev, is ready to sit down to talks as soon as a venue is found. At the same time, sources in Zakaev’s inner circle have made it known that they regard the issue of the venue to be very important. Zakaev is ready to go to Moscow for talks only if they will include third-party observers who can subsequently act as guarantors that the terms of any agreement are adhered to. However, Putin’s aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky said during a visit to New York this week that the Kazantsev-Zakaev meeting can only take place inside Russia–he mentioned Moscow, Rostov-on-Don or Djohar (Grozny) as possible venues–and without “foreign intermediaries” (Strana.ru, November 6). Thus while both Yastrzhembsky and rebel representatives say the meeting between the two sides may take place before the end of November, the two sides clearly remain far apart even concerning the preconditions for negotiations.
The planned Kazantsev-Zakaev meeting was one of the main topics discussed during a November 6 session of the pro-Moscow Chechen government’s Security Council, which was attended by the commanders of Russia’s military force in Chechnya. For his part, Akhmad Kadyrov, head of the pro-Moscow administration in Chechnya, reiterated his view that such negotiations would go nowhere. Likewise, it was clear that the proposed talks have stalwart opponents in Moscow as well. The Monitor’s correspondent can attest to the fact that most Russian military officers, going back to the 1994-1996 military campaign in Chechnya, have viewed negotiations as little more than a way for the rebels to regroup. Indeed, most Russian officials believe that the negotiations launched in 1995 robbed the Russian side of an impending victory over the insurgents. The unhappiness of Russia’s military probably explains why Yastrzhembsky refuses to call the planned Kazantsev-Kakaev meeting the start of “negotiations” (Radio Liberty, November 6).
Amid this uncertainty the fighting in Chechnya shows few signs of abating. An operation by Russian special forces in the town of Argun yesterday reportedly turned into a pitched battle last night when the commandos, who had surrounded one group of rebel fighters, found themselves surrounded by another group of rebels. One Russian serviceman was killed and another wounded before the rebel fighters were driven off by artillery fire (Polit.ru, November 9). Earlier this week, Akhmad Kadyrov was the target of an apparent assassination attempt when a convoy including his car came under fire while driving through Argun. While Kadyrov escaped unscathed, three members of his security detail were wounded (Interfax, November 7). The attack marked the thirteenth attempt on Kadyrov’s life dating back to the period when he was the republic’s mufti and a close associate of Aslan Maskhadov. Over the last two years, Kadyrov’s bodyguards, including members of his extended family, have repeatedly been targeted for attack, and some of them have been killed. None of the perpetrators of these attacks have been captured, and Kadyrov is convinced that they have been orchestrated by rebel leaders who are angered by his opposition to the planned talks between Viktor Kazantsev and Akhmed Zakaev. While it is hard to say whether or not this is true, it is interesting to note that the latest attack on Kadyrov took place just hours after the meeting of the Chechen government’s security council (Russian agencies, November 8).
CHECHEN REBELS DENY AIDING TALIBAN AND AL-QAIDA.