Chernomyrdin and Maskhadov met in Moscow only hours after President Boris Yeltsin ordered the withdrawal of the last two brigades of federal forces from Chechnya. These are the 101st brigade of Interior Ministry forces and the 205th brigade of Defense Ministry troops. (RTR, Interfax, November 23) Ever since the signing of the Khasavyurt accords, the deployment of these units on Chechen territory has been the main stumbling block in negotiations between Grozny and Moscow. Yeltsin’s decree is therefore being seen as a major concession and as evidence that Moscow has resigned itself to the existence of a de-facto independent Chechen state.
According to Russian journalist Pavel Felgengauer, however, Russia’s Ministry of Defense has been campaigning for the withdrawal since the summer, arguing that the troops had become sitting ducks that Moscow could not protect. For the army, last week’s kidnapping of Russian soldiers by Chechen rebels was the last straw. But the Ministry of Internal Affairs opposed the withdrawal and argued that, once federal forces stop patrolling Chechnya’s airports, the Russian heartland will be opened up to drugs and weapons smugglers. Felgengauer discounts this notion, pointing out that Russia is by no means powerless with regard to Chechnya. Russia controls Chechnya’s airspace and the amount of aid coming into the republic and therefore retains considerable leverage over it, Felgengauer observes. He argues that the withdrawal of Russian troops will actually deprive the Chechens of one their strongest means of influencing Moscow. (BBC World Service November 23)
Duma Calls on Yeltsin to Suspend Aides Pending Investigation of Tape.