Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 5 Issue: 42

A delegation from the Union of Soldiers’ Mothers Committees of Russia will meet with Akhmed Zakaev, the London-based Chechen separatist envoy, in Brussels on November 23 or 24, the group’s executive secretary, Valentina Melnikova, told Interfax on November 15. Melnikova told the news agency that she was informed about the meeting by European Parliamentary Deputy Bart Staes, and that she will be leading the delegation. “The main goal of the talks is to find a way out of the Chechen impasse and to stop the bloodshed in Chechnya,” she said.

The Union of Soldiers’ Mothers Committees issued an appeal to the separatists on October 13 calling on them to “to give peace a chance and begin talks on a peaceful settlement of the conflict,” saying it was ready to meet with rebel representatives anywhere “if only to stop the deadly race.” On October 20,, citing “one of the Chechen separatists’ websites,” quoted Zakaev as saying that Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov welcomed the union’s initiative and was prepared to meet with its representatives “to discuss the possibility of a ceasefire and to start negotiations.” On October 21, Melnikova told Interfax she had spoken to Zakaev by telephone and that they agreed on a “meeting in a Western European capital in November.”

The news that the Union of Soldiers’ Mothers Committees delegation will meet with Zakaev in Brussels was not welcomed by officials in Chechnya’s pro-Moscow administration. “If the members of the Soldiers’ Mothers Committee are citizens of Russia, we are surprised by their wish to meet with those whom law enforcement bodies are accusing of terrorism and who are being sought for to be brought to justice,” Chechen State Council Chairman Taus Dzhabrailov told Interfax. “I don’t understand the soldiers’ mothers’ initiative. Why is this public organization proposing talks and offering to act as a mediator? Why on earth? Talks with Maskhadov and his people must be conducted by prosecutors, not by public organizations.” For his part, Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, told the news agency that no “sober-minded person” would “sit at a negotiating table with terrorists known throughout the world” and called Maskhadov’s willingness to meet with the Union of Soldiers’ Mothers Committees delegation a propaganda gimmick.

Meanwhile, Nezavisimaya gazeta on November 10 quoted Artur Akmhadov, commander of Chechnya’s OMON police special-tasks unit, as saying that Interior Ministry special units had intercepted a rebel videotape which contained an appeal by Maskhadov asking Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov to serve as a go-between in negotiations with President Putin. Akhmadov said the tape provided the basis for Ramzan Kadyrov’s claims that Maskhadov was looking for a way to surrender to the federal authorities.