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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Peace Accord Is a Fragile Opportunity

Little fanfare accompanied Sunday's military agreement between the Russian and Chechen negotiating teams in Grozny. Wisely, neither side is trying to say that the problem is now solved -- or even that the fighting will stop immediately.


The differences of opinion between the Chechen commanders in the field make it virtually certain that some will reject the accord and try to press on with the war. There are serious doubts even that the Chechen rebel president, Dzhokhar Dudayev, will endorse the cease-fire.


On the Russian side too, there are plenty of hawks who would like to take the conflict on to what they see as its natural conclusion -- the annihilation of all Chechen forces. And even without such do-or-die strategists, the lack of control or discipline among the fighters on both sides makes it inevitable that gunfire will continue to reverberate around Grozny for some time to come.


The agreement also goes nowhere toward settling the main issue dividing the two sides: the status of Chechnya and its affiliation with the Russian Federation. After numerous dramas and exchanges of insults over the past few weeks of negotiation, Russian Nationalities Minister Vyacheslav Mikhailov said Moscow had finally agreed to decouple the politics, and settle for now for a military deal.


It was an admirably sane move. The question of Chechen independence has been simmering, often violently, for 200 years. It was absurd to think that it could be resolved with a few hours of talks. On the contrary, as Mikhailov acknowledged, this will take months or even years to resolve.


He also rather unambitiously described Sunday's agreement as a means of opening the way to peace. That is enough for now. The paramount task at this stage is to stop the war and the slaughter of thousands of Russians and Chechens alike.


What this agreement can achieve is to lay the basis for a long-term process of peace and reconstruction. It goes beyond a cease-fire by setting out a program for military disengagement, and most importantly, for the withdrawal of most Russian forces from Chechnya. Only when this is seen to happen can one start to look ahead and work out the next stage of the peace process, freed from the hysteria that comes with war.


This is a rare opportunity that must be seized, and it will not be easy. The two sides must be as good as their words. The Russian troops must actually start pulling out, and the Chechen fighters must begin handing in their weapons. There will doubtless be ample excuses for delay and prevarication -- all that is needed is the will to ignore them.