Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 189

In comments that would appear to throw cold water on hopes for a negotiated end to the Chechen conflict, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, President Vladimir Putin’s aide, vowed late last week that there would not be a “second Khasavyurt”–a reference to the negotiations that ended the 1994-1996 Chechen war–and that Russian government would only discuss the terms of disarmament for Chechen rebels who did not have “big blood” on their hands (Strana.ru, October 12).

Yastrzhembsky was reacting to a recent interview that Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov gave to Radio Liberty, in which he confirmed that there had been “contacts” between his representatives and the Russian government but said that problems remained concerning the choice of venue for formal talks and choosing a third party to serve as a mediator between the two sides. Perhaps more significantly, Maskhadov noted that different members of the Russian leadership had made different statements about the meaning of the contacts between the two sides, with some viewing them as the first step toward negotiations and others as simply a way for the rebels to begin obeying an “ultimatum” to disarm. Maskhadov stated, without any apparent equivocation, that such disarmament would never happen. “The Chechens will never lay down their arms because we are today convinced that weapons in the hands of our fighters, our militiamen, our mujahideen, is the only guarantee for the safety of our people” (Radio Liberty, October 11).

In responding to Maskhadov, Yastrzhembsky not only reiterated the Kremlin’s oft-repeated disarmament demand, but also dismissed Maskhadov’s for a mediator between the rebels and the government. Maskhadov, Yastrzhembsky argued, had long ago given up the right to speak on behalf of the Chechen people, and his hopes for bringing in a third party from the international community to serve as a mediator were absolutely ephemeral (Strana.ru, October 12).

Indeed, despite the fact that the two sides are in contact, it is difficult to see any common ground between them. The Russian side says that it will discuss with the rebels only the conditions for their disarmament and reintegration into civilian life. The rebel side insists that they will not begin formal talks until there is an agreement over international mediation. Both sides also insist that there will not be a “second Khasavyurt,” but they mean very different things by this phrase. The Russian side means that it will not allow a repetition of its humiliating withdrawal of troops from Chechnya following its defeat on the battlefield in the first military campaign. The rebel leadership means that it will not sign another agreement with the Russian leadership declaring the inadmissibility of using force to settle differences, like the one Yeltsin and Maskhadov signed in 1997 in a follow-up to the Khasavyurt agreements signed the previous year, only to see the Russians violate it. And Maskhadov obviously rejects Yastrzhembsky’s claim that he long ago gave up the right to speak for the Chechen people.

Thus it would appear that the two sides have mutually exclusive positions and thus that there is nothing to negotiate. It is worth noting that an anonymous official in the office of Viktor Kazantsev, Putin’s representative in the Southern federal district, said late last week that his side had not reached “any concrete understandings” with Maskhadov’s representatives (Itar-Tass, October 11).

On top of all this, General Vladimir Moltenskoi, commander of the Russian troops in Chechnya, has claimed that his forces killed a rebel field commander described as Maskhadov’s “right hand.” According to Moltenskoi, Ali Dimaev was killed during a special operation carried out over the weekend jointly by the army, the Federal Security Service and the Interior Ministry. Dimaev, who was minister of communications in Maskhadov’s government following the 1994-1996 war and who until the time of his death led rebel units operating around the border of Chechnya and Dagestan, was on the wanted list compiled by the Russian government and the Russian bureau of Interpol (NTV.ru, October 15).

Meanwhile, Radio Ekho Moskvy reported yesterday that a mass grave was discovered in the Leninsk district of Djohar (Grozny), the Chechen capital, 500 meters from the Grozny-Kizlyar highway. According to the report, which has not yet been confirmed by independent sources, the bodies of twelve men and women had been exhumed as of yesterday, all of which bore signs of a violent death (Lenta.ru, October 14).