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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Last Chance For Peace In Chechnya

Anybody who has had to report on a war will remember the words "cease-fire" and "negotiations" with deep frustration. Nine times out of ten, cease-fires raise false expectations of peace when in fact they are merely tools to further the interests of each side in their war.

Chechnya has been no exception to this rule. There have been several cease-fires and sets of negotiations, all of which have collapsed within moments of beginning. So is there any reason to think the current talks in Grozny will be different?

The answer is yes, there are compelling reasons for the two sides to strike a truce now. But the obstacles ahead are huge, and the military is still looking at these talks as a means to war.

It is clear from the words of Colonel General Anatoly Kulikov shortly after the Grozny talks began that he feels the talks are a waste of time now that the Budyonnovsk hostages have been freed. He issued an ultimatum to the Chechen side to hand over Shamil Basayev within three days or he would end the cease-fire.

He wants to get his war over with, exact revenge for the humiliation of Budyonnovsk -- when Basayev and his band slipped past tens of thousands of Russian troops, seized 1,000 hostages, beat back Russia's crack troops and got away with it -- and then declare victory.

The government in Moscow, however, promptly rebuked Kulikov for overreaching his authority. Why? We do not know for sure. But it should be because the tragedy in Budyonnovsk has proven that even when the army has "won," and there is no territory in Chechnya left under rebel control, a terrorist war will continue. "Victory" is likely to be bitter indeed.

On the Chechen side, there is little question many rebels would rather fight forever than capitulate. But Chechen leaders also know they are in a desperate situation. Basayev's bloody raid on Budyonnovsk showed how desperate the rebels have become.

Tens of thousands of people have died and Chechnya is already little more than a pile of rubble. But at this point in the conflict, with the territorial war literally kilometers from conclusion, there is a chance to prevent decades of bloodshed and terrorism.

It seems Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has recognized the risks that Russia and his own political future face in Chechnya. Ultimately, though, it is not he, but the military that decides whether to shoot or not to shoot.

And whether its resistance can be overcome depends entirely on Russia's increasingly disengaged president, Boris Yeltsin.