Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 2 Issue: 39

With the process of “Chechenization” spearheaded by the pro-Moscow head of the Chechen administration, Akhmad Kadyrov, moving vigorously forward, it appeared that the Kremlin had taken a reasonably firm decision to downgrade the just-commenced negotiations with the Chechen separatists, in effect relegating them to a back burner. On October 24, however, the ORT television news program “Vremya” reported: “At 11 a.m. [on the 24th] one of the closest comrades-in-arms of Maskhadov, Akhmed Zakaev, telephoned the plenipotentiary presidential representative in the Southern federal District, Viktor Kazantsev, and informed him that, after ‘lengthy reflections,’ the Chechen separatists had decided to begin negotiations with the federal center concerning the disarming of the illegal armed formations.” During the televised program, Kazantsev revealed that Zakaev had “asked me for a meeting in Moscow to discuss the issues about which President Vladimir Putin spoke on September 24–concerning a mechanism for disarming the rebels and their entrance into a peaceful life. The meeting is to take place over the course of the coming ten days. We welcome and approve this step.”

On the face of it, it appeared that the Chechen separatists had decided to throw in the towel, agreeing to disarm even before the commencement of negotiations. Later on the same day, however, a special representative of President Maskhadov, Mairbek Vachagaev, attempted to set the record straight during an interview with Ekho Moskvy Radio. Kazantsev’s televised statement, Vachagaev emphasized, was riddled with errors, either due to “confusion” or because it represented a “planned action.” Kazantsev, he noted, had even gotten the date of Zakaev’s telephone call wrong. It had occurred on October 23, and not the following day. And the subject of the call had been “the question of the beginning of a new dialogue” between Moscow and the separatists, not disarmament. In addition, Zakaev had given Kazantsev “a list of those intermediaries which the Chechen side would like to have in these negotiations.” It was believed by the separatists that a third side was required in the talks to “guarantee the observing of the agreements between the Chechen and Russian sides” (, October 24).

Seemingly angered by Vachagaev’s intervention, Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky stressed on the same day to Interfax News Agency that the upcoming meeting of Kazantsev and Zakaev “must not be construed as the start of a new dialogue.” “Maskhadov’s representatives,” Yastrzhembsky said, “must be aware of the tough political reality. In particular, the upcoming meeting should not be regarded as the beginning of a new dialogue between Moscow and Grozny.” “Those who are hiding in forests and mountains,” Yastrzhembsky summed up contemptuously, “are not in power in Chechnya” (Interfax, October 24).

On October 25, former Russian defense minister Igor Sergeev, who remains an advisor to President Putin on military issues, underlined that possible negotiations with the Chechen separatists would not result in “a second Khasavyurt.” “This time,” Sergeev noted, “the disarming of the rebels will be an obligatory condition for negotiations with them” (Interfax-AVN, October 25). Two days later, on October 27, the deputy secretary of the Russian Security Council, Valentin Sobolev, poured additional cold water on the prospects of talks leading to positive results, emphasizing “there can be no discussion over Chechnya’s status as part of Russia.” Sobolev also ruled out the possibility “of any third parties playing the role of mediators” in the talks (UPI, October 27).

On the surface therefore it appeared that the just-revived negotiations would likely lead nowhere. Journalist Il’ya Maksakov, who has been covering the war for the newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, was one, however, who thought that the talks might in fact eventually lead somewhere. “Torturously and painfully,” he wrote, “the sides in the upcoming negotiations, communicating so far only by telephone, are proceeding toward a rapprochement, while frequently deceiving one another, public opinion and themselves.” Maksakov noted that Kazantsev’s false and tactless assertion that Zakaev would be coming to Moscow to discuss “the order of disarming the illegal armed formations and their inclusion into peaceful life,” could well have resulted “in a breakdown of the negotiations which had not yet begun.” And he added, “Possibly neither of them [Kazantsev or Zakaev] wants very much to meet, but it is necessary that they do meet. Therefore a breakdown did not take place.” Maksakov also pointed out that Aslambek Aslakhanov, the elected deputy from Chechnya to the Russian State Duma, an official who keeps channels of communication open to the separatists, had suggested such figures as Mayor Yury Luzhkov of Moscow, Mintimer Shaimiev, the president of Tatarstan, and Eduard Rossel, the governor of Sverdlovsk oblast’, as possible intermediaries in the negotiations, while flatly ruling out representatives of the pro-Moscow administration of Akhmad Kadyrov (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, October 26).

Emil Pain, a former ethnic affairs advisor to President Yeltsin, offered a more gloomy assessment than Maskhadov’s during the course of an interview with the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, which appeared on October 26. “The talks in Khasavyurt [in 1996],” Pain commented, “which ended the first Chechen war, began when President Yeltsin had understood that only negotiations would allow [one] to untie this Caucasian knot. Putin is only at the beginning of this process. Now, both sides are, rather, conducting a propagandistic action. Moscow asserts that the defeated Chechens are capitulating, and the Chechens are proclaiming that they forced the Russians to negotiations. This kind of ‘bidding’ leads to nowhere. Of course, that’s a pessimistic variant, but my experience teaches that in Chechnya only pessimistic scenarios are realized” (English translation posted on, October 26).

A final item deserving mention is a lengthy essay written by political scientist Evgeny Ikhlov, entitled “Peace Negotiations with Chechnya: Possible Scenarios,” which appeared in the October 20 issue of Nezavisimaya Gazeta. What results are needed, Ikhlov asked, from negotiations with the separatists, first from a practical point of view and, secondly, from a political point of view? From a practical point of view, he answered his own question, what is needed is: “a) to avert the transformation of Chechnya into a hotbed of Islamic radicalism, terrorism and gangsterism; (b) to integrate the territory of Chechnya into the defense and transportation-communications sphere of Russia; there should be no Turkish or ‘mujahideen’ bases… (c) to receive a trustworthy guarantee of the legal and socio-economic stability of Chechnya, which must not serve as a refuge for bandits and a breeding ground of poverty and epidemics.”

“From the political point of view,” Ikhlov went on, “Russia needs something different : confirmation of the principle of the absolute inviolability of the borders of Russia as they existed in [December] 1991.”

Dismissing a military victory by the federal forces over the Chechen separatists as an “unlikely” result, Ikhlov stressed that it was incumbent upon Russia to achieve a “practical result” right now, at a time when “not all of the population [of Chechnya] is awaiting with impatience ‘liberation from the mountains’ and when the whole resistance movement has not passed over from secular-nationalist positions to those of radical Islamic integration.” It is necessary, in short, he wrote, rapidly “to end the war at the price of making external political concessions–up to and including a recognition of [Chechen] sovereignty–in order to ensure a definite but real Russian influence in Chechnya.”

What would a negotiated settlement with the separatists look like? Ikhlov considered various models. One possibility, he noted, would be to partition Chechnya into “north” and “south” regions. It must be honestly admitted that “almost no Russian populace has remained [in Chechnya]” and that the Chechens “dislike the federals as much in the plains as they do in the mountains.” Realistically therefore, “Russia can effectively control only a narrow strip of steppe in the north of Chechnya.” This last comment suggested that Ikhlov was thinking of partitioning Chechnya at the Terek River.

As far as negotiations concerning the status of Chechnya (or at least of “south” Chechnya) were concerned, Ikhlov considered the granting of “almost sovereign” status to Chechnya, such as, he said, is currently being held out to Nagorno-Karabakh. It might also be possible, he speculated, to include Chechnya as a member of the emerging “confederative” Russia-Belarus Union State. “But the Union Treaty of 1997 requires that its members have membership in the UN.” Oddly, Ikhlov did not broach the possibility of granting CIS status to Chechnya, a more workable plan, one would think, than attempting to include it within the overwhelmingly Russia-dominated Union State.

Whatever choice is ultimately made, Ikhlov summed up, it is necessary today “to repudiate the depicting of Chechens as enemies of civilization.” Today Russia is faced with a stark choice “between a sovereign Ichkeria (half-secular and half-democratic), one which observes the rules of the game, and an Ichkeria representing an outpost of Islamic radicalism (a ‘Cuba’ of the Caucasus) located next door to us.”

To conclude, while Ikhlov appears to represent a minority of Russian specialists who think seriously about the future of Russian-Chechen relations–his views being deemed too moderate–it is possible that his suggestions might eventually prove germane and useful, and perhaps even sooner than one might think.