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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Has Budyonnovsk Forced Open Door to Peace?

The hostage crisis in Budyonnovsk has shocked the warring parties in Chechnya to the negotiating table, offering real prospects for a negotiated settlement for the first time since the conflict began, even though resistance from the military remains strong.

Analysts who have monitored the conflict since its start believe the hostage crisis in Budyonnovsk has immeasurably strengthened the hand of Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who has his own representative at the talks in Grozny and the support of the president.

Budyonnovsk served as a catalyst for negotiations, said Andrei Piontkovsky of the Moscow Center for Strategic Studies.

"It is impossible to stop terrorism by force. We see that with the talks now after more than 20 years of IRA terrorism in Britain. We see it in Sri Lanka and everywhere," he said.

"It is certainly reflected in President [Boris] Yeltsin's position when he said the people involved in the negotiations were not imaginative enough in searching for a political solution."

The president appears to have been shocked first of all by the directness of Chernomyrdin's resolution of the crisis, for which he took full personal responsibility on national television. Equally impressive was the popularity of the prime minister's move, Piontkovsky added.

By comparison, Yeltsin's own distant, belligerent and sometimes incoherent performance while at the G-7 summit in Halifax, Canada, was received poorly.

But since his return from Halifax, Yeltsin has been living up to his reputation as the most ingenious political survivor since Stalin and has "hijacked" Chernomyrdin's peaceful initiative, Piontkovsky said.

Whatever the political niceties, the net result has been that the Russian government -- though not the so-called "party of war" and in particular not Defense Minister Pavel Grachev -- has become serious about looking for a political settlement.

That strength, and in particular the support of the president, allowed a government spokesman recently to slap down Colonel General Anatoly Kulikov, the head of the Russian force in Chechnya, when he threatened to end the cease-fire unless Chechen negotiators agree to turn over Shamil Basayev. Basayev had led the raid on the Russian city of Budyonnovsk, in which at least 121 people were killed, and his escape through Chernomyrdin's negotiated settlement has infuriated the Russian military. Basayev's fate and that of rebel leader Dzhokhar Dudayev remain serious obstacles to any permanent settlement.

Analysts also warned against too much optimism, because there remains powerful opposition from the so-called power ministries in Moscow to stopping the military campaign, which had been going very much in favor of the Russian forces.

"There are a lot of people who would like to stage a provocation, a lot of people in the power ministries," said Piontkovsky, although he added that in the wake of Budyonnovsk and in light of calls for the ministers' resignations, "their influence may be limited."

Alexander Konovalov at the U.S.A. and Canada Institute agreed.

"Under the carpet, a severe struggle is continuing," he said. "At the moment we are seeing the victory of Chernomyrdin's line after the events of Budyonnovsk, but it does not mean the so-called power ministries are finished."

A political settlement would also raise the question: What were the losses of the military and of the civilian population for, if they could reach a negotiated settlement?

Nevertheless, there are causes for hope in the details. One of the main negotiators in the Russian delegation, Arkady Volsky, is one of them. He is a close associate of the prime minister, reflecting Chernomyrdin's commitment to the process.

"Volsky is very shrewd, very clever," said Piontkovsky, adding that Volsky had experience of similar negotiations after a military solution failed in Nagorny Karabakh, the mainly Armenian enclave inside Azerbaijan.

"His presence is very important and Chernomyrdin trusts him personally. He may be regarded as the personal envoy of Chernomyrdin."

Both the negotiations and the three-day cease-fire, which expired Friday at midnight, were part of the deal Chernomyrdin struck with Basayev to end the hostage crisis.

On Friday, the two sides agreed to extend the cease-fire indefinitely, while Thursday the Chechens had boosted their negotiating team with Aslan Maskhadov, commander in chief of Chechen forces. Both were encouraging signs.

The Chechens also repeated their pledge to arrest Basayev.

"Militarily speaking they [Russian forces] have defeated Chechnya except for some small villages," Alexander Konovalov said. "But that will never bring a settlement."