Publication: Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 170

The commander of Russian forces in Chechnya, Lt. Gen. Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, said that the next stage of the withdrawal of Russian troops from the republic has been put on hold. "Until a number of questions connected with prisoners of war and other forcibly held persons are resolved, federal troops will not leave Chechnya," the general declared. He said his position fully squared with that of Security Council secretary Aleksandr Lebed, who has also said that the withdrawal of troops must be linked to the exchange of prisoners of war. (Interfax, September 12)

Russian Television confirmed that the troop withdrawal had halted, but said that it was not clear whether the halt was called on Moscow’s orders or whether Tikhomirov acted on his own. (RTR, September 12) Lebed indicated the latter. "The withdrawal of troops will continue — the general [Tikhomirov] just got a little hot under the collar," Lebed said. But he admitted that there are problems over the exchange of prisoners-of-war. Federal authorities allege that the list of prisoners the Chechen side wants freed includes individuals who are, according to Moscow, common criminals, not prisoners-of-war. (NTV, RTR, September 12)

If it turns out that Tikhomirov acted on his own initiative, it will not be the first time such a thing has happened. Violation by the Russian military command of agreements reached between Russian politicians and Chechen opposition leaders has until now been a common occurrence. During negotiations in summer 1995, the Russian army violated a ceasefire agreement by beginning an offensive in western Chechnya. Following the announcement of Boris Yeltsin’s peace plan in March 1996, what the Kremlin called "unidentified" planes began to bomb Chechen villages. After the signing of peace agreements in June this year, the Russian army again went on the offensive in the mountain areas; the Chechens responded by seizing Grozny. On August 20, only days after Lebed’s first successful peacemaking visit to Chechnya, acting Russian commander Konstantin Pulikovsky nearly finished off the truce by announcing an operation to drive the Chechen forces out of Grozny. It remains unclear whether or not these generals were acting on their own authority: either way, their behavior has formed an alarming pattern that has almost always undermined peace agreements, destroyed mutual trust and provoked a resumption of hostilities.

Lebed Hoping for a "Third Force" in Chechnya.