Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 30

The separatist Daymohk news agency published an interview with ChRI Foreign Minister Akhmed Zakaev on July 22 in which he was asked about the peace “manifesto” that he put forward earlier in July, which was criticized by the administration of ChRI President Dokku Umarov (Chechnya Weekly, July 14 and 20). Asked whether the manifesto’s content had been approved by the ChRI president, Zakaev responded, “Yes, first this document was checked in the legal department of the ChRI president’s administration and was personally approved by the head of the administration, Umar Dakaev. I would like to add that, as head of the ChRI Foreign Ministry, I am accountable only to the president and I agree with him on all political questions.”

The Daymohk interviewer noted, however, that following the manifesto’s publication, the ChRI presidential administration had issued a statement calling “certain phrases” in the manifesto “ill-considered.” Zakaev responded, “On the contrary, I would say that the actual statement of the administration is at fault in the ill-considered nature of its phrases and its superfluous emotional sensitivity. This is possibly because of a lack of experience in political matters of the authors of this statement. Only the ChRI president can give an appraisal of the work of the Foreign Ministry.” Zakaev added that the ChRI administration’s statement was mainly a response to FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev’s amnesty offer, which Zakaev called “the latest propaganda farce.”

Asked about his manifesto’s call for peace talks with the Russian side, Zakaev told Daymohk: “The ChRI leadership has never claimed that we are prepared to uphold our state independence by means of arms alone, completely rejecting the path of political talks. In other words, we are certainly not opposed to a peaceful conclusion to the war. All our presidents who became martyrs—Djokhar Dudaev, Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, Aslan Maskhadov and Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev—said more than once that the problem of Russian-Chechen relations cannot be resolved through war and that a political settlement by way of talks was necessary. This is our attitude to the problem of war, which remains unaltered because it does not contradict our constitution or our religion. The fact that we will not have talks ‘thrust upon us’ any more is another matter because Russia perceives such statements as our weakness. And what the manifesto says about the need for a peaceful settlement to the conflict is addressed to the leaders of the Western powers participating at the G8 summit in St Petersburg. Although, of course, we make no secret of this: the leaders of Russia, the country against whom we are waging a war of national liberation, are at liberty to study our proposals.”

Zakaev added that the conflict was ripe for a political settlement because neither side has been able to achieve its goals militarily. “In the first years of the second war, Putin once said that for the Kremlin, Chechnya’s status was unimportant; the main thing was that Chechnya should not become a bridgehead for Russia’s enemies,” Zakaev told Daymohk. “In other words, Russia’s first concern was the question of security. Now we have to ask the question: have both sides achieved their objectives in this war? The answer is obvious: no, they haven’t. Unfortunately, our armed forces cannot at the moment fully guarantee the security of the ChRI population, which has been subjected to years of deliberate genocide, murder, torture and abduction by the Russian military. The country has been destroyed and lies in ruins. Nevertheless, with every passing year, Russia finds itself further and further from ensuring its own security, since the war, has for a long time now, stretched to the whole of the North Caucasus, and this year, two fronts of the ChRI armed forces—the Urals and the Volga—have been created directly on Russian territory. Therefore, we can see that the military conflict is not bringing closer but distancing both sides from those objectives, which were the reason that hostilities began. And so the only logical and just solution for both sides is the political path, the path of political decisions. We realize this, as the Russian politicians who are responsible for their country’s future undoubtedly do too. All that is necessary is to conquer ambitions and, by proceeding from the realities of the situation and the interests of our peoples, to get down to peace talks. We have always been prepared for peace because we know what war is like.”

Asked whether the phrase in his peace manifesto “talks without prior conditions” meant that the ChRI leadership was prepared to give up Chechnya’s state sovereignty, Zakaev responded that no one should doubt “the devotion of the Chechen leadership to the idea of independence” and that the manifesto is neither a “peace plan” nor even a governmental declaration, but was “drawn up and published in connection with a specific political event—the G8 summit—and addressed, as I have already said, to the leaders of the Western powers.” But he added, “If both sides start talks by placing tough and diametrically opposed … conditions, then the talks themselves will, from the outset, be a pointless exercise and a waste of time. Talks between two warring sides always presuppose some kind of mutual compromise; otherwise they are not talks but an exchange of ultimatums. As far as we are concerned, we are perfectly prepared to discuss with the Russian side any political adjunct to our sovereignty that would be as acceptable as possible to our constitution and our religious beliefs and take into account and observe the lawful interests of the Russian Federation.”