Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 111

On June 11, Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin is scheduled to meet with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov in the capital of Ingushetia. Stepashin announced the meeting over the weekend while attending a celebration in Pskov Oblast dedicated to the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Russian poet Aleksandr Pushkin (NTV, May 7).

Valentin Vlasov–President Boris Yeltsin’s representative in Chechnya, who is supposed to take part in the meeting with Maskhadov–said that the meeting is being viewed as a preparatory session for Maskhadov’s planned talks with Yeltsin. Vlasov said that it was too early to talk about a concrete agenda for the Stepashin-Maskhadov talks, and that the main point is that they take place. Even if they do, however, they are unlikely to produce sensational results. The Chechen side is interested primarily in winning money from Moscow for rebuilding the Chechen economy; it is clear that Stepashin, like his predecessors, is not in a position to offer any. Thus the talks, for the Chechen authorities, have little point.

On the other hand, Stepashin himself is a key issue for the Chechens: As Chechen Vice Premier Akhmed Zakaev put it, Stepashin was one of the main initiators of the war in Chechnya (NTV, June 7). Given that this point was made by a member of Maskhadov’s inner circle, there is little doubt that the Chechen president’s opponents will denounce his meeting with Stepashin as treason.

What is more, Stepashin today is maintaining a hard line against uncontrolled Chechen fighters, which will undoubtedly further complicate the negotiating process. After he became Russian prime minister last month, Russian troops, for the first time since the end of the Chechen War, attacked bases of Chechen guerrillas located on Chechen territory in response to an attack on Russian Interior Ministry troops located in Dagestan. Djohar sharply protested the Russian military action, warning that if such attacks occur again, “adequate measures” would be taken.

It is obvious that Stepashin, who does not conceal his support for Maskhadov, will offer to help him in the fight against the rebel Chechen field commanders involved in hostage-taking. But this aid might simply give ammunition to Maskhadov’s enemies to denounce him as Moscow’s stooge.