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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechnya Draws Threat to Impeach

Enraged State Duma deputies threatened to impeach President Boris Yeltsin on Monday after he caved in to Chechen separatist demands and signed a decree withdrawing the last Russian soldiers from the region for which they fought a bloody two-year war.

Nationalists and communists in the Duma also attacked a related economic and political conciliation deal signed in Moscow on Saturday by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and the premier of the Chechen coalition government, Aslan Maskhadov, shortly after Yeltsin's decree came to light.

Top government officials over the weekend, however, hailed both Yeltsin's decree and the agreement as decisive steps toward securing peace in the war-torn region.

The decree was described by presidential press spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky as a "gesture of goodwill," demonstrating "the president's view that there can be no military solution."

"The Chechen people have been given the opportunity to make their choice not at machine-gun point," Yastrzhembsky said, Itar-Tass reported.

But Duma Chairman Gennady Seleznyov announced in an open letter to Yeltsin that the parliament would hold a special meeting Friday to debate the government's latest decisions on Chechnya, Interfax reported.

Asked if the Duma meeting would start impeachment procedures or a vote of confidence in the government, Seleznyov replied, "If there are offenses against the constitution," Interfax reported.

He hinted however that such offenses had occurred. "If the status of Chechnya is to be amended, a constitutional bill is needed which has to be passed by a vote of two-thirds of the Duma and three-quarters of the Federation Council members," Seleznyov said.

The procedure for impeaching Yeltsin is so complex as to be almost impossible. If the Duma votes no confidence in the government, the president has the power to dismiss it.

Yeltsin's decree, announced Saturday morning ahead of Chernomyrdin and Maskhadov's meeting in Moscow, ordered the withdrawal of the 101st Interior Ministry Brigade and the 205th Defense Ministry Brigade from Chechnya, the last two brigades numbering some 10,000 men, which were not covered by the August peace accords.

In effect the Yeltsin decree signals the final retreat of Russian forces from Chechnya after a bloody and disastrous military campaign which ended with a humiliating defeat at the hands of rebels in Grozny in August.

The continued presence of Chernomyrdin and Maskhadov also represented a landmark in relations, "defining principles of cooperation" between the two sides. Billed as a temporary accord until a new government and president is elected in January, it agreed to reopen the civilian airport in Grozny, and allow free movement of railway and road traffic.

By Dec. 1, the two sides are to work out customs rules for goods entering and leaving the republic and a special agreement on the transport and refining of oil and gas with the Chechen side guaranteeing the security of the pipelines.

A crucial oil pipeline that is supposed to carry millions of tons of oil from a huge project in the Caspian Sea runs across Chechen territory.

Payment of pensions and salaries will also be addressed urgently under the deal as will compensation for those who suffered war losses. It also recognized the need to cooperate on defense, agreeing not to take any action that could threaten the other's security.

The agreement remains valid until a new leadership is elected in January when a new deal establishing special economic relations will be worked out.

The Chechen delegation welcomed the deal and Yeltsin's decree as a sign Russia had rejected a military solution. But careful not to stir up Russian nationalist opposition, they refrained from claiming victory for themselves.

"It was not our goal to defeat the Russian Army, that was not what we were looking to do," he said. "We fought with all the strength we had so that on our territory, there would not be even one Russian soldier," Maskhadov told the "Itogi" television program in an interview Sunday.

"This was a great victory for the democratic part of Russia," Chechen Vice Premier Movladi Udugov told reporters at a press conference Sunday.

Nationalists and communists who dominate the Duma were not mollified. Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party, the largest Duma faction, attacked the agreement as unconstitutional. Yeltsin's decree "legalizes the beginning of Russia's disintegration, all of which is making one raise the question of no-confidence in the Russian government," Interfax reported him saying.

The withdrawal of troops would turn Chechnya into a "criminal separatist state" which would import arms from other countries, he said Monday at a news conference. "Two generations will pay with their blood," for this solution to the Chechen issue, he said.

"The communists have shown their true face," said Sergei Ivanenko of the reformist Yabloko faction. "In fact they stand for a military solution to the Chechen problem," he told Interfax.

Rybkin hit back at the government's critics in the Duma in an interview with "Itogi" on Sunday. Calling the war in Chechnya a "bleeding wound," he said the most ardent critics should "go to Chechnya and look at the soldiers lying in the mud and suffering from the cold."

"Now that I have visited the Russian units and talked with the soldiers and their mothers, I can say that the step made was courageous and not easy. I wish the leaders who are criticizing this decision could have as much courage," he said.

Rybkin added that while Defense Minister Igor Rodionov supported the withdrawal of his men, Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov did not.

Colonel General Anatoly Shkirko, the commander of Russian Interior Ministry troops in Chechnya, said the 101st brigade would be removed from Chechnya within two months, Interfax reported.

He added, however, that the move was linked to demilitarization of the Chechen fighters, something he did not see happening.