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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechen Aid Can Further Peace Deal

New Security Council secretary Ivan Rybkin was right to waste no time in establishing personal contact over the weekend with the Chechen separatist leaders. The guns may have fallen silent in Chechnya, but the issues that set them off in the first place are still lurking like minefields.


The fragility of peace in Chechnya is in large part a result of the ambiguity and vagueness of the peace deal which Alexander Lebed, Rybkin's predecessor, and Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov signed to end the war.


The sleight-of-hand which made that agreement possible was that it ended the fighting but fudged the underlying issues which had led to the conflict, especially the question of whether Chechnya will stay part of Russia.


Rybkin has inherited a situation where he must give practical effect to that paradox. He must work out a formula whereby Chechnya can be both "inside" and "outside" the Russian Federation at the same time.


In the immediate term, this means juggling the two fundamental issues of guns and money.


The Chechens now insist that Russia withdraw the last two army brigades it has based on Chechen soil, deployed at two airports within a few kilometers of the capital city of Grozny.


With elections to a new Chechen government scheduled for January, separatists see the troops as a knife pointed at their throat.


But removing the troops will be anathema to Russia because with no troops on Chechen soil, it will lose even the appearance of control over the region.


The two sides now also want some agreement on their financial and trading relations. The Chechens want Russia to drop any direct financial role in the region and negotiate only with the Chechen separatist government on the terms of compensation, social support and trade -- also a stumbling block.


But Russia will argue that if it loses its economic role in Chechen internal affairs, it has conceded de facto independence.


It is highly unlikely that Russia will concede to a complete troop withdrawal, but Rybkin can try to prevent Russian troops in Chechnya from staging provocations that could jeopardize the peace process.


Rybkin should also be able to use the economic issue as a way of encouraging Chechnya's integration with Russia. When he signed a deal in September with Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, separatist president Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev publicly accepted Russian financial support which would come with strings attached. Russian aid and the promise of open trade with Russia should oil the wheels of peace.