Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 3 Issue: 28

In a lengthy interview appearing in the September 24 issue of Novye Izvestia, former speaker of the Russian State Duma and secretary of the Russian Security Council Ivan Rybkin warned against a Russian military intervention in the Pankisi Gorge: “Imagine,” he said, “Russian paratroopers will land in the Pankisi Gorge. But the Chechen-Kist have been living there for 100 years. A war would begin immediately…. In general, the entire conflict with Georgia strikes me as an attempt to draw attention away from the failures in Chechnya.”

The solution both to the Pankisi Gorge imbroglio and to the ongoing war in Chechnya, Rybkin insisted, was a negotiated settlement, an approach that, polls show, is in fact supported by “a majority of the population of Russia.” “There is only one way out,” Rybkin stressed, “Immediately begin peace negotiations in Chechnya. There have already appeared a great many variants of peace agreements. Akhmed Zakaev and I worked out one such variant in Zurich…. I have been acquainted with Zakaev for a long time. From 1996 on, he was a regular member of four delegations of the Republic of Ichkeria at peace negotiations. For more than a year and a half, I met with him every week. Today, too, he is the chief ‘negotiator’ for Maskhadov. We spoke without interruption [in Zurich] for twenty hours.” “The main mistake of the Kremlin,” Rybkin remarked, “is that it assesses the Chechen resistance exclusively as international terrorism. Yes, there are not a few terrorists there. But the key ingredient is separatism. A striving toward separatism has resulted from the many-years-long tragic history of the Chechen people, and that should be taken into account.”