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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Winning the Postpeace War

On Tuesday, President Boris Yeltsin, in his usual unambiguous style, made clear to everyone the real meaning of the peace accord that was signed July 30. This agreement was not, as many have claimed, a "face-saving formula" or a "fudge" to enable Russian troops to withdraw from Chechnya. From the Russian point of view, the Grozny agreement means the disarmament of Chechen detachments, which should in turn mean the end of Dzhokar Dudayev's independent Chechen state. And this is exactly how Moscow intends to proceed with implementation of the accord.


For Russia's ruling elite, an independent Chechnya is absolutely unacceptable since it contradicts Russia's long-term interests. This opinion has been repeatedly expressed in public by Russian officials of widely differing political backgrounds, from Yeltsin and the "dovish" Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to Yeltsin's "hawkish" chief of security, General Alexander Korzhakov.


Now, in the middle of August, Russia's position remains the same as it was last December when Yeltsin sent the Russian Army into Chechnya. From time to time, the methods by which the administration is trying to achieve its goals in Chechnya change, but the goals themselves remain constant. The conflicts between the "parties of peace and war" in the Kremlin that are so widely discussed in the press, are essentially superficial, tactical disputes. That is why the sacking of Federal Counterintelligence Service chief Sergei Stepashin and Interior Minister Viktor Yerin, whom the liberal press hold responsible for the military incursion into Chechnya, has not led to any real policy changes.


This week, Yeltsin once again stated that the Chechen "bandits" will be disarmed, and Chernomyrdin backed him 100 percent. Moreover, they obviously made their statements independently, and not under pressure from the last of the remaining "bad boys," Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, who is now on vacation. The theory that one or another insider group -- either the "party of war" or the "party of peace" -- was manipulating the president at one time or another was always purely an invention.


During the course of the peace process that began in mid-July after the attack on Budyonnovsk, the Russian leadership has accomplished most of its true goals. The Chechens have agreed to disarm and in doing so have voluntarily acknowledged that their units are illegal. The legal status of Chechnya remains unchanged: It is an integral part of the territory of the Russian Federation. And in exchange for these concessions, Moscow merely agreed to withdraw some of its forces from Chechnya.


The reason for the Chechens' sudden agreeableness is that legal contracts are not really considered important in the North Caucasus. In this region, as in Russia generally, legitimacy usually comes from the muzzle of a Kalashnikov. Dudayev and many of his commanders never intended to disarm. They simply needed a break from the offensive that the Russians waged in May and June.


But the Chechens did not realize that in the West, a signed agreement is an important thing. Moscow has already received its reward for its good behavior in Chechnya in the form of a very advantageous temporary agreement on partnership with the European Union. Renewed military action in Chechnya will most likely not seriously change the West's position since it will have a solid, legal basis -- "necessary measures" to liquidate isolated "illegal armed formations" violating the peace accord.


All the recent actions by the Russian forces in Chechnya, including the partial withdrawal of troops from populated areas, are preparations for a change of tactics. Russian generals are concentrating their forces for carrying out strikes against isolated, "unreconciled" Che-chen units. Small outposts in villages are vulnerable because Chechen women can cut them off, allowing Chechen fighters to penetrate the village and take Russian troops hostage. It is even possible that in some Chechen towns, the military authorities will tacitly allow a return to the lawlessness of the 1991-94 period so that local civilians will invite Russian forces to return.


While liquidating the "bad" Chechens, Moscow will simultaneously try to pursue dialogue and cooperation with the "good" Chechens, including some field commanders and the Che-chen chief of staff, Aslan Maskhadov. The Kremlin still has not decided who will run Chechnya after Dudayev, but it is actively looking for an appropriate candidate.





Pavel Felgenhauer is defense and national security editor for Segodnya.