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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Hails 'Real Opportunity' for Peace

President Boris Yeltsin told the nation Thursday in a rare public statement on Chechnya that this week's military agreement between the warring sides was a watershed event that provides "a real opportunity" to establish peace in the war-torn republic.


"Over the past few days, an event of great importance has taken place," he said in a nine-minute speech from the suburban sanatorium where he is recuperating from a mild heart attack. "The negotiations for the settlement of the situation in the Chechen republic have been crowned with their first success."


Dressed in a dark suit and appearing in good health, Yeltsin said, "The entire country awaited this agreement with hope and anxiety.


"For the first time in many months, a real opportunity has emerged for the total cessation of hostilities and the establishment of peace in Chechnya and in Russia." He added, "I believe peace and stability will soon return to Chechen soil."


Yeltsin made clear, however, that peace would be on Moscow's terms.


"It is my conviction that mutually acceptable solutions to the remaining problems can and must be found with reliance on the Constitution of the Russian Federation," Yeltsin said, a formula which would block Chechen hopes for independence.


Yeltsin used the speech, only his third major address to the nation on the war since it began last December, to try to reestablish his preeminent role in the peacemaking process. A trip abroad and his subsequent illness have kept him out of the loop for almost two months. Yeltsin also used the speech to pay tribute to the families that suffered losse his stewardship of the war got a boost Monday from the Consitutional Court, ruling that he acted in accordance with the constitution when he dispatched troops to Chechnya. Yeltsin trumpeted that decision in his speech.


Further indicating little intention to grant Chechnya independence, he said, "representatives of Chechnya, as well as of the other regions of Russia, should be in both the Federation Council and in the State Duma," thus tying them to established organs of Russian federalism.


Yeltsin's speech, broadcast across the nation at 9 p.m. Moscow time on Channel One, came after rebel troops shelled federal forces three times, killing two Russian servicemen and injuring three, Interfax reported. Intense shelling continues to erupt in Chechnya, in spite of a military accord ending the war and repeated calls for a lasting cease-fire.


He acknowledged that silencing the war down to the last gun will be a difficult task. But he indicated that Russians would no longer use force in the region.


"It is no secret that there still are forces both in Chechnya and outside it with an interest in continued struggle. Our task is to curb them, but by peaceful means," he said.


Yeltsin also said the disarmament of Chechen troops at the hands of the Interior Ministry has already begun. One brigade each from the MVD and the Defense Ministry will remain permanently stationed in Chechnya, and he will appoint a personal representative to oversee the peace process, he said.


Yeltsin has been out of the country or hospitalized during some of the war's most dramatic developments. When armed Chechens raided a civilian hospital in Budyonnovsk, he was at a meeting of the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations in Halifax, Canada. His absence turned into a windfall political victory for Chernomyrdin.


On July 11, the 64-year-old president was hospitalized for two weeks because of his heart condition. He has been convalescing at a sanatorium ever since, thus distancing him from direct involvement in the peace talks being held in Grozny.


Yeltsin made a direct, but delicate appeal to Chechnya, taking care to walk the narrow line between nationalities.


"Dear Russians, residents of the Chechen Republic," he began. "The peoples of the North Caucasus have always been noted for their wisdom and for being true to their word. I have no doubt that the weighty word of the elders at this historical point will help avoid mistakes. I urge all of you to take up creative and peaceful work."