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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Popov Calls for Talks To Resolve Chechnya

The former mayor of Moscow, Gavriil Popov, called on President Boris Yeltsin on Friday to resolve the Chechen problem not with bullets and bombs, but through direct talks with Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudayev.

Warning of the risk of the "Yugoslav tragedy repeating itself" on Russian soil, Popov said Russian armed intervention in Chechnya would alienate the many nationalities in Russia and endanger democracy and reforms throughout Russia.

At a press conference at the headquarters of his Russian Movement for Democratic Reforms, Popov discounted the threat of Chechen terrorists hitting Moscow but warned that Chechens might well retaliate if Russian forces attacked.

"If women and children are killed in Chechnya, of course it would be a problem," he said.

On the streets of Moscow police guarding government offices said Friday they had been given no special instructions other than to be "attentive as usual."

Moscow municipal police were stopping and searching cars for arms, but they denied their actions were because of an increased risk of terrorist activity from Chechens.

Members of the 100,000 strong Chechen diaspora in Moscow, both supporters of Dudayev and of the opposition, dismissed the threat of terrorism but did not exclude the possibility of hot-heads taking action.

Asked if Chechens would try to attack Yeltsin, Ruslan Akhtakhanov, who was economics minister in Dudayev's cabinet until June, said, "Chechens would never do that, it is simply not true."

Yusup Saslanbekov, chairman of the Chechen parliament, accused Russia at a press conference in Moscow of ethnic discrimination by calling Chechens terrorists, criminals and mafia.

Opposition supporters among the Chechen community in Moscow blamed Dudayev for discrediting the Chechen nation by turning his tiny self-declared republic into a free-trade zone for arms, drugs and contraband.

The Chechens' fierce hatred of communism and Russian imperialism which singled them out from their neighbors had now turned in on itself and grown destructive, said Dzhabrail Gakayev, a professor of sociology from Grozny.

Dudayev was "a dazzling figure" in the euphoria of independence in 1991, Gakayev said, and the entire country was united behind him. But he had only been able to achieve the trappings of independence, he said.

"He gave us a new flag, street names, the outward attributes of independence but people are hungry. They have freedom but it is a surrogate freedom."

Salman Khasimikov, a former world-champion wrestler and now one of the most prominent Chechen businessmen in Moscow, blamed Dudayev and the opposition equally for what is simply a fight for power in Chechnya.

Khasimikov dismissed the possibility of Chechen terrorism. He said Russia was not an enemy but the only realistic block to which Chechnya could be allied. "I do not see any logic in this fighting. It is not for independence, or cultural or linguistic values, it is just a fight for power," he said.