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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lobov in Grozny: Hawk Turns Dove?

The appointment of Security Council secretary Oleg Lobov as President Boris Yelstin's personal representative to Chechnya signifies the president's resolve to take the peace process in the secessionist region into his own hands, politicians and analysts said Friday.

Lobov's reputation as a hawk and a member of the so-called "party of war" caused the Chechen's chief negotiator, Khozhakhmed Yerikhanov, to criticize the appointment Friday. But observers in Moscow said that Lobov would adhere to Yeltsin's wishes in Chechnya and wouldn't necessarily lean toward continued fighting as a way to settle the crisis.

Yeltsin confirmed Friday that Lobov, 57, will soon travel to Chechnya as his representative with broad powers to run the region and control the peace talks. The president originally announced the appointment Thursday night to liberal legislator Vladimir Lysenko during one of a series of the president's pre-election meetings with liberal leaders.

"Yeltsin spoke to me only about a peaceful solution and said he wanted to take charge of the process personally," Lysenko, leader of the Republican Party, said in an interview Friday. "Despite his reputation, Lobov seems to me a soft enough and flexible man who can get a good sense of the situation."

Yerikhanov voiced apprehension at Lobov's appointment Friday. The Chechen negotiator told Interfax that he would like to see "a person of a more peaceful orientation and with a better knowledge of the Caucasus than Oleg Lobov" as Yeltsin's proxy to the region.

Casting some doubt on Lobov's image as a hawk, a report in the daily Izvestia Friday said that in January, 1995, when Russian aviation bombed the Chechen capital, Grozny, Lobov worked out a plan to evacuate civilians from the city, but Defense Minister Pavel Grachev vetoed it.

At a press conference in January, Lobov stressed that he had insisted that the federal forces give Grozny residents advance warning before the raids so they could leave their homes.

"My immediate reaction to Lobov's appointment was to remember that he was one of the most active organizers of the publicity campaign to defend the war" in December and January, said Andrei Piontkowski, head of the Center for Strategic Studies, an independent Moscow think tank. "But Lobov is a figure without any hawkish or dovish preconceptions. He is simply loyal to Yeltsin and everything now depends on what stand Yeltsin will take."

Though rumors of Lobov's appointment have circulated for months, the Security Council secretary has been reluctant to travel to the region.

"My only problem with that appointment is that Lobov has not been to Chechnya for at least two months, and valuable time has been lost since the peace accord was signed July 30," Lysenko said.

"It's clear that Lobov does not particularly want to go there," Piontkowski said. "Chechnya is a political Chernobyl, and people who cleaned up after the real Chernobyl were risking their lives. There is no way to earn glory in Chechnya."

Yeltsin told Itar-Tass Friday that Lobov will be permanently based in Grozny for "a year or so," only traveling to Moscow for Security Council sessions.

Piontkowski said Lobov's appointment is part of a campaign by Yeltsin's staff to take over initiative in the peace process from Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who started the talks.

Arkady Volsky, whom Chernomyrdin asked to take part in the talks on his behalf, had a high profile during the first phase of the negotiations but has now all but disappeared from public view, with rumors of his resignation circulating in the Russian press.

Lobov, on the other hand, is a Yeltsin ally. In the 1980s, he was number two to Yeltsin, who was then Communist Party boss in Sverdlovsk, in the Ural Mountains.