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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cease-Fire Also Needed Political Will

The cease-fire in Chechnya lasted only four days. That is a depressing statistic, but it is hardly surprising and does not obliterate all hope that this gruesome conflict can be ended peacefully.


The latest cease-fire was hobbled from the start. It was drawn up in an atmosphere of mutual skepticism by the military commanders in the field with no political representatives present. As a result, it was doomed from the outset to be tentative; violations by both sides were inevitable, while each accused the other -- doubtless correctly -- of using the lull to rest, regroup and build up its forces.


What was remarkable was that given these conditions, the truce lasted as long as it did or had any effect at all. There have, for example, been dozens of cease-fires in the war in former Yugoslavia that achieved less. It is also promising that when the truce finally broke down amid mutual recriminations Sunday night, the region remained relatively quiet for the next 24 hours. Only occasional outbreaks of fire were reported Monday.


What this has proved is that it is possible for the two military commands to control their troops sufficiently to implement a meaningful cease-fire -- something that was widely doubted when a truce was first announced. Now what is required is the political will to give the soldiers some reason to stop shooting altogether. That, so far, has been lacking.


By issuing a warrant for the arrest of the Chechen president, Dzhokhar Dudayev, Moscow has effectively closed the door on any immediate peaceful solution to the conflict, because the Russian side has no one but its own puppet government to speak to.


But bringing peace to Chechnya was always going to be a much longer and more complicated process than starting a war there. Chechen resistance to Russian rule goes back more than 150 years. The region's suspicions over Moscow's intentions, bolstered by the mass deportations by Stalin in 1944, were compounded by this latest operation. The loss of life and terrible destruction over the past weeks has left an atmosphere of hatred and distrust that will take time to overcome.


But the task remains -- to stop the killing. And for this to happen, Moscow must find somebody effective to speak to in Grozny, even if that requires some humility. In the meantime there should be new cease-fires, though doubtless these too will be broken.


General Anatoly Kulikov, the commander of the Russian forces, said Sunday that he saw no point in further talks with his Chechen counterpart, Aslan Maskhadov. He was wrong. In this kind of ugly partisan war there is always a point to talking. For only through negotiations will anybody win.