Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 43

During his trip around Dagestan at the end of last week, Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin had a meeting on the Chechen border with a delegation of Chechen law enforcement officials headed by Vice-Premier Turpal Atgeriev, who is in charge of the republic’s power ministries. According to one newspaper, Stepashin also met with Chechen leaders during his trip to Makhachkala in November of last year, but this fact was hidden in order to protect Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov from attacks by the opposition. Now, apparently, the Chechen leadership no longer worries about accusations of having ties with Russia, given that the Maskhadov government’s relations with the rebel field commanders could be worse only if open armed conflict were taking place (Nezavisimaya gazeta, March 2). In any case, after meeting behind closed doors, Stepashin and Atgeriev said that the joint work of their respective agencies was achieving results. They pointed to several joint efforts which resulted in the freeing of hostages.

The meetings, however, were not without disagreement. Atgeriev called estimates that 400 persons are being held hostage in Chechnya exaggerations, while Stepashin said the number of hostages held in Chechnya was actually 700. Stepashin tried to pour cold water on talk about the wisdom of making the Chechen border a state border, saying that the border will become a “state” one only for those who do not want to live by the law or as good neighbors. Stepashin did say, however, that his talks with Atgeriev had yielded an agreement which, regardless of the situation inside Chechnya, the republic’s leadership–including Maskhadov and the government–will honor. As a parting gift, Stepashin gave Atgeriev a “Vepr” (Wild Boar) rifle (Nezavisimaya gazeta, March 2).

In and of itself, the meeting between the two law enforcement chiefs was useful. But their warm relations, symbolized by Stepashin’s gift, look rather strange when one considers that the current Chechen vice premier participated in both rebel field commander Salman Raduev’s January 1996 armed raid on the town of Kizlyar and the events which followed in Pervomaiskoye.