On January 27, Kommersant daily published an interview with the president of Chechnya, Aslan Maskhadov. In his comments, Maskhadov noted that he had been elected, in accord with the Chechen constitution, to a five-year presidential term on January 27, 1997 and that his powers therefore extend until January 2002. “But even if my term of office were over,” he went on, “that would still change nothing. When the war began, a State Defense Committee was set up and all powers in the republic were transferred to it for the duration of the hostilities…. The committee adopted a decree prohibiting the holding of elections, referendums, or congresses until hostilities on Chechen territory were completely halted.” Maskhadov maintained that this decision was in agreement with international law “which forbids the staging of events that require the free expression of the citizens’ will on the territory of a state that is at war” (Translation from BBC Monitoring, January 27).
The same issue of Kommersant daily which published the interview with Maskhadov carried a vitriolic attack on the Chechen president by the chief Kremlin spokesman for issues relating to Chechnya, Sergei Yastrzhembsky. “Maskhadov,” Yastrzhembsky commented dismissively, “is insignificant as a political factor and, even more, as a military one. He does not interest us in any capacity.” No one thought of Maskhadov, he noted, when Akhmad Kadyrov, the [pro-Moscow] chief of administration for Chechnya, announced his recent “plan” or when President Putin issued two recent decrees on Chechnya. “A criminal case,” Yastrzhembsky summed up, “has been opened in relation to Maskhadov and he, under any circumstances, will first of all have to answer questions from the [Russian] Procuracy.” A State Duma deputy, Pavel Kovalenko, belonging to the parliament’s Unity faction (known as “the party of Putin”), went a step further and called upon the minister for media affairs of Russia, Mikhail Lesin, to “adopt the necessary measures to block the appearance in the Russian mass media of such publications [as the Maskhadov interview] in the future” (Nezavisimaya gazeta, February 1).