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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Premier Affirms Chechnya Visit

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin reconfirmed his plans Monday to meet with Chechen rebel leaders in the near future, after the Security Council's controversial new deputy secretary, Boris Berezovsky, spent the weekend in Chechnya preparing the way.

"In Chechnya, in Grozny or here, wherever necessary, such a meeting will take place," Chernomyrdin said at a Security Council session Monday, Itar-Tass reported. "Yes, we are for a peaceful way out of the crisis in the Chechen republic," he said.

"We need to continue those processes begun," he said, while also voicing support for elections in the republic at the end of January -- a signal of Moscow's determination to stick with the peace process.

Chernomyrdin would not be drawn to name a date for the meeting, saying it was essential beforehand to "prepare our platform, and also our actions."

Berezovksy, the media mogul and business tycoon turned special envoy to Chechnya, spent the weekend doing just that.

Still rumbling with outrage at his appointment as deputy chief of the Security Council in charge of financing the reconstruction of the war-damaged republic, Berezovsky left Moscow for two days of discussions with Chechen rebel leaders.

He met with Chechen Vice Premier Movladi Udugov and head of national security Akhmed Zakayev Saturday in the presidential residence in Nazran, the capital of Chechnya's neighbor, Ingushetia.

Before leaving Moscow, Berezovsky said that he would prepare the ground for the meeting between Chernomyrdin and Maskhadov. "We even considered the document that might be signed" by the two leaders, Udugov said afterwards.

Udugov also told Russian television that Chechen anxieties over the dismissal of the previous Security Council chief, Alexander Lebed, who clinched the August peace deal with the rebels, had been laid to rest.

After visits last week by Lebed's successor, Ivan Rybkin, and now by Rybkin's deputy, Berezovsky, Udugov said the Chechen leadership was convinced that Moscow intended to continue with the peace process.

Talks, which continued Sunday morning, mostly focused on plans for the economic revival of Chechnya, with Berezovsky voicing the need for a "tight mechanism" to control funds.

Berezovsky then headed for Grozny on Sunday afternoon to meet with the Chechen chief of staff, now prime minister of the rebel government, Aslan Maskhadov. There was no information of the results of that meeting.

Chernomyrdin praised Berezovsky's efforts Monday, saying "he has done a lot of work there."

The Chechen reaction to Berezovsky's appointment was far less alarmed than the reaction in opposition circles in Moscow.

Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev praised the appointment in an interview with Agence France Presse, saying that the businessman was not a radical Russian nationalist.

Berezovsky had "shown sympathy towards us," Yandarbiyev said. His nomination "shows that Moscow wants to involve Russian financial circles in the reconstruction of Chechnya, because the Russian budget is inadequate," he said.

Itar-Tass said the separatists were impressed with Berezovsky's performance during talks. "We saw more pragmatism in Boris Berezovsky's approach to the problem than emotion -- it is emotion which, more than anything, stands in the way of finding a common language," a source in the Chechen delegation was quoted as saying.

Opposition politicians in Russia have protested the appointment of Berezovsky, one of Russia's richest businessmen, arguing he lacks the experience for a post in the Security Council.

Izvestia also queried Berezovsky's security credentials on the grounds that he holds Israeli citizenship alongside his Russian citizenship, in a front-page article Saturday.

Berezovsky, who does not hide the fact that he is Jewish, lashed back in an interview Sunday on NTV Independent Television, saying he would sue Izvestia for libel. "I am a citizen of Russia and whatever I have done in my life had to do with Russia alone. I want to make it clear that I do not think that I am a patriot to a lesser degree than those whose last names end with 'ov' or whose fathers' names are Ivan," he said.