Security Council secretary Aleksandr Lebed returned to Chechnya yesterday for his fifth visit since assuming his peace-making duties. Following a series of meetings with Chechen chief of staff Aslan Maskhadov, Chechen political leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, and the commander of Russian troops in Chechnya, Gen. Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, Lebed declared that "The withdrawal of federal troops from Chechnya continues. The first troop train will leave the republic in three days." Lebed said the withdrawal schedule would be given to the Chechen side so that they could monitor it. At the end of the week, the exchange of prisoners will begin, on the "all for all" principle. (RTR, September 17) Last week, Tikhomirov suspended the troop withdrawal because of problems over the exchange of prisoners.
Maskhadov said agreement was reached on all points but added that, "when Lebed leaves Chechnya, someone will want to heat the situation up again." (Interfax, September 17) The Chechen side is convinced that Russian military leaders have sabotaged earlier peace agreements. Lebed appears well prepared to prevent any efforts to undermine the Khasavyurt agreements that he negotiated with Makhsadov. The extraordinary authority he now commands among the Chechen side has also enabled him to win the trust of many of even the most skeptical leaders of the opposition. Earlier this week, Russian and Chechen soldiers joined forces to repel an attack on a Russian checkpoint by members of the "irreconcilable" Chechen opposition. (RTR, September 17) This was the first such cooperation since the start of military operations in Chechnya, and it would not have been possible had Maskhadov not been convinced of Lebed’s sincerity.
Lebed Goes on the Offensive.