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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

End the Chechen War

On Oct. 27, 1991, after an honorable career as a Soviet air force general, I was elected president of Chechnya with a margin of 84 percent from among six candidates in the first democratic elections in the republic's history. Elections were held for parliament, a cabinet was put into place and a constitution was adopted based on principles adopted from the United States. The mandate handed to me by the National Chechen Congress, which met in Grozny in November 1991, was to negotiate Chechen sovereignty. We never signed the March 1992 Federation Treaty; nor did we participate in the referendum to endorse the current Russian constitution; nor did we participate in the December 1993 Russian parliamentary elections. Now the Soviet Union does not exist, and we are ready for a new political agreement.

The Chechen government, under my leadership, has always been willing to negotiate a mutually beneficial relationship with the Russian Federation based on international law. Yet we have found the Russians unwilling and obstructive. In fact, I personally have been the target of seven assassination attempts. Five unsuccessful attempts at a military coup have been mounted against us. Moscow has unleashed a major disinformation campaign, falsely accusing us of being a criminal state and a major center of mafia activities. Attempts by Russian and Chechen authorities to negotiate during the current war have been consistently undermined by Russian military and security services.

Chechnya's tragedy is her location. In the 18th and 19th centuries, we stood in the way of the tsars' expansionist designs on Persia and India. Today, the real issue is oil. Chechnya's proven premium crude oil and natural gas reserves, as well as the existing pipeline between our country and the Black Sea, are critically important to Russia, the Middle East and the West.

Everyone has been jockeying for control over the resources of the Caucasus. Russia's recent energy deals with Iran, including Iran's new membership in the Azerbaijan international oil consortium, have already alarmed U.S. officials. The lure and importance of the Chechen oil and the pipeline have prompted Moscow to use brutal force, including needle and cluster bombs, to seize control of our capital, Grozny, and the outlying areas. In doing so, 500,000 of our 1.2 million people have been made homeless. Thirty thousand innocent civilians, both Russian and Chechen, have been killed.

To stop this terrible bloodshed, we call upon the leaders of the world's democracies, especially the United States and Germany, to intervene. We propose:

?A real cease-fire without preconditions, monitored by international observers.

?The creation of safe havens in non-occupied territories where people can receive medical treatment and food directly from international humanitarian groups.

?Direct negotiations at any mutually agreed level between the legitimately elected Chechen government and representatives of Russia under the auspices of international mediators.

?The holding of presidential and parliamentary elections in 1995, under international supervision, as foreseen in our American-style constitution.

I would like to declare to the world: We are not secessionists. We are not demanding complete independence. We are not criminals. Nor did we start this war. We have worked hard to seek out peaceful economic and political relations with the Russian Federation, consistently meeting with members of the Russian government during the past three years.

We are a peaceful, ancient, ethnically and religiously diverse people who wish to resolve this crisis through negotiations before the cost becomes so great that democracy and reform have been lost forever in Russia and our people have been senselessly decimated. The natural resources of our area could bring prosperity to all the countries of the region. We beg the international community to facilitate immediate action to preserve my people and culture, to create stability in a volatile part of the world and to promote democratic reform both in Chechnya and in Russia. We should not let the struggle for the control of oil hamper progress toward promoting human rights and democracy.

Dzokhar Dudayev has led the Chechen independence drive since becoming president of the republic in 1991. He contributed this comment to The Washington Post.