Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 114

On June 11, Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov held talks in the Ingushetian capital of Magas. Their closed meeting lasted more than an hour, after which they were joined by Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo and Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev. Stepashin told journalists afterwards that the topics of discussion during the meeting were economic problems and the criminal situation inside Chechnya. “Russia needs a stable Chechnya and a strong Maskhadov,” Stepashin said. “This will be achieved if official Grozny [Djohar] receives money from Moscow and, most important of all, uses it [properly].” Meanwhile, according to the Russian special services, Maskhadov’s opponents–specifically, the rebel field commanders Shamil Basaev and Khattab–have been receiving money, and lots of it.

Stepashin and Maskhadov agreed to work jointly against criminal groups, particularly those involved in kidnapping-for-ransom. Stepashin said that the location of Russian Interior Ministry General Gennady Shpigun, who was kidnapped in March, is more or less known, as is the identity of the group who is holding him. Stepashin emphasized that no ransom will be paid for Shpigun, and that he will be freed by the joint efforts of the Russian and Chechen power structures (NTV, RTR, May 11).

The meeting with Maskhadov puts Stepashin in a difficult position. First, Stepashin is viewed in Chechnya–and not without reason–as one of the main initiators of the 1994-96 war there. This view is held not only by Maskhadov’s radical opponents, but by members of his inner circle, such as Vice Premier Akhmed Zakaev (Nezavisimaya gazeta, June 11). The Chechen opposition will most likely use the meeting as further proof that Maskhadov is guilty of treason. Maskhadov’s willingness to accept aid from Moscow in the anticrime fight will also complicate his situation. A number of influential field commanders in the anti-Maskhadov opposition are said to be involved in kidnappings. One account, for example, recently asserted that among those involved in Shpigun’s kidnapping are field commander Salman Raduev and former Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev (Izvestia, June 11). Thus Maskhadov could wind up in a role similar to that played by Umar Avturkhanov, the head of the so-called provisional Chechen government backed by the Kremlin, which was formed by opponents of the late Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudaev on the eve of the introduction of Russian troops into Chechnya. The rebel field commanders may be able to turn Maskhadov from one of the most respected veterans of the anti-Russian resistance into a “puppet of Moscow.”