Publication: Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 166

Federal forces began to pull out of Chechnya yesterday. At the request of Chechen military leader Aslan Maskhadov, the 133rd tank battalion — which had taken part in all the biggest battles of the war and is said to be one of the most feared units in the Russian army — was the first to withdraw. (NTV, September 8) Between four and five thousand of the eleven thousand federal troops in Chechnya are expected to leave in the first wave. How soon the withdrawal will be completed is not known, however.

At their meeting on September 5, Russia’s Security Council secretary Aleksandr Lebed and Chechen chief-of-staff Aslan Maskhadov carefully avoided specifying the date by which the full troop withdrawal would be effected, and merely agreed that the first units to be withdrawn would be those not permanently assigned to the North Caucasus Military District. (Nezavisimaya gazeta, September 7) Lebed himself has repeatedly advocated a swift withdrawal by federal forces, but last week he was publicly contradicted by his boss, President Boris Yeltsin, who told Russian Television that he approved all Lebed’s peace plans except for the speedy withdrawal of troops. Clearly, therefore, there is disagreement in Moscow over the issue.

There is also disagreement between the Russian and Chechen sides over the final scope of the withdrawal. The peace deal signed by Lebed and Maskhadov calls for the removal of all Russian troops temporarily stationed in the region. The Chechens say the fact that there were no troops in Chechnya before the conflict began in late 1994 means that all federal forces must pull out. But the Russian side has asserted that some troops will be based in Chechnya permanently.

Also unclear at present is the situation relating to the exchange of prisoners-of-war. Lebed promised Aslan Maskhadov last week that Russian troops would leave after prisoners-of-war had been exchanged, and the two leaders exchanged lists of POWs held by either side at their 5 September meeting. But there has since been no news of any exchange. The matter is to be discussed again when Lebed returns to Chechnya on Tuesday (September 10).

According to the agreement reached last week between Lebed and his Chechen interlocutors, the capital, Grozny, is to become a demilitarized zone from which all federal and opposition forces are to be removed. The only exception will be the units involved in patrolling the city under joint command. These units were on duty over the weekend and their numbers are to be increased. In addition, agreement has been reached to set up joint law-enforcement organs to maintain public order. Russia’s Deputy Interior Minister Valery Fedorov has already met his opposite number in the Chechen government, Kazbek Makhashev, to discuss coordination; one option under review is for the police in Chechnya to report both to Moscow and to the Chechen leadership. (Radio Mayak, September 5; Nezavisimaya gazeta, Interfax, September 7)

Weekend Calm in Grozny.