Russian leaders have been discussing the peace accord reached last week by Security Council secretary Aleksandr Lebed and Chechen military leader Aslan Maskhadov in the Dagestani city of Khasavyurt. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has met both with Lebed and with President Boris Yeltsin, but Yeltsin has not met with Lebed since the latter’s return from the Caucasus on August 31. A statement issued by the Security Council press service yesterday said that Chernomyrdin viewed the negotiations as "successful" and that the agreement corresponded in letter and in spirit to proposals previously agreed at meetings of the Security Council. But a subsequent statement issued by the prime minister’s office after Chernomyrdin’s two-hour meeting with Yeltsin said that Chernomyrdin still had some reservations about the political implications of the agreement. Today, Chernomyrdin said that he himself still harbored reservations, but that Yeltsin had approved the accord and Moscow would observe its main points. (BBC World Service, September 3)
Yeltsin’s chief-of-staff Anatoly Chubais, who has returned to Moscow following a two-week holiday in Denmark and Britain, said he was "not yet ready" to pronounce his opinion on the agreement brokered by Lebed. All Chubais would say was that the ultimate arbiter must be the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. In other words, Chubais also appeared to express reservations. (Itar-Tass, September 2) So far, Defense Minister Igor Rodionov is the only top Russian leader who has endorsed the agreement fully and publicly.
Yeltsin has so far has avoided meeting Lebed, who has tried unsuccessfully to reach the president by telephone. It is not clear whether political or medical reasons are behind Yeltsin’s failure to meet his national security adviser. Speaking yesterday to journalists, Chubais hinted that Yeltsin’s evasiveness was deliberate, though he refused to predict what Yeltsin would ultimately do. (Interfax and other Russian media, September 2) He said that Yeltsin may have a telephone conversation with Lebed tonight. Meanwhile, Lebed held a press conference of his own today at which he tried to brush aside rumors of a rift between himself and Yeltsin.
The most likely reason for Yeltsin’s refusal to meet with Lebed seems to be that the agreement signed by Lebed and Maskhadov is silent on Chechnya’s eventual political status. The Chechens maintain that the republic’s status was defined in 1991 and that it is an independent state; they say last weeks’ agreement recognizes the "Chechen people’s demand for sovereignty." However, since the Russian leadership insists that its position on Russia’s territorial integrity remains unchanged, the Kremlin may eventually decide that the agreement represents a capitulation to the separatists and may refuse to sanction it on those grounds. (Interfax, September 2)
Question Mark Still Hangs over Yeltsin’s Health.