Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 93

Former Russian Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov, the chairman of a nongovernmental commission set up to investigate human rights issues in Chechnya, met yesterday with former Chechen Interior Minister Kazbek Makhashev during a visit to a refugee camp in Ingushetia. While Krasheninnikov, a member of the Union of Right-wing Forces who also heads the State Duma’s legislative committee, stressed that he simply took advantage of the fact that Makhashev happened to be on the scene for an “exchange of views,” his explanation was less than convincing. Makhashev is a close associate of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and thus a key Chechen rebel figure, and it is unlikely that his presence in Ingushetia was coincidental. According to one report, Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev was responsible for arranging the meeting (Segodnya, May 10). After the meeting, Makhashev told reporters that Maskhadov was ready “for a dialogue to resolve the situation peacefully.” Maskhadov has stated repeatedly over the last month or so that he wants to negotiate with Moscow to end the conflict. Makhashev also said that he hoped Krasheninnikov’s commission would put forward proposals to the Russian government concerning a political solution to the war. For his part, Krasheninnikov denied that the meeting marked the start of negotiations, but said he hoped it was an initial step toward ending the conflict. “At some point it will be necessary to move toward peace,” Krasheninnikov said (NTV, Russian agencies, May 10; Kommersant, May 11).

Yesterday’s meeting would seem to confirm suspicions that President Vladimir Putin is looking for a way out of the Chechen conflict, but for various reasons does not want to be seen making direct contacts with Maskhadov’s representatives. Thus the Kremlin may be using Krasheninnikov’s commission, which already has Putin’s blessing (see the Monitor, April 19), as a back-door channel to Maskhadov. Salambek Khadzhiev, who headed the Chechen government set up and backed by Moscow in 1994-1995, during the last war, called yesterday’s meeting a “trial balloon.” “If it turns out,” he said, “that there are serious areas of common interest, then negotiations will take place; if not, then it will be announced that no one authorized Krasheninnikov to negotiate, that it was his personal business” (Segodnya, May 11).

In fact, Kremlin officials were quick to deny that Krasheninnikov’s meeting was officially sanctioned. Sergei Yastrzhembsky, Putin’s spokesman on Chechnya, said yesterday that Krasheninnikov was not authorized to negotiate with representatives of Maskhadov. Yastrzhembsky’s comments, however, seemed pro forma, and do not necessarily indicate the Kremlin’s real intentions. The reaction of General Gennady Troshev, commander of the Russian forces in Chechnya, was more serious: He said that if he had known Makhashev was in Ingushetia, he would have had him arrested. “Makhashev is Maskhadov’s man and Maskhadov is on the wanted list, accused of helping the bandits,” Troshev said. The general also claimed that Makhashev had been involved in last year’s invasion of Dagestan by Chechnya-based Islamic guerrillas (Russian agencies, Reuters, May 10). Troshev hinted that the army would not stand by idly if “a fast one” was pulled on it yet again (Segodnya, May 11). The general was apparently referring to the 1996 Khasavyurt agreement ending the previous Chechen conflict. That agreement, negotiated by Aleksandr Lebed, who was at the time Secretary of the Kremlin’s Security Council, was highly unpopular among senior military officials. Troshev’s comments illustrate why the Kremlin, if it is indeed trying to find a way out of the Chechen morass, feels it needs to tread carefully.

A document drawn up by the Center for Strategic Research, the Kremlin think-tank set up and headed by acting Deputy Property Minister German Greff, is bound to fuel the rumors that President Vladimir Putin is planning to take measures aimed at weakening the power of regional leaders and subordinate the Russian Federation’s 89 regions under a Kremlin “vertical of power.”