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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Dudayev Lot Should Not Block Talks

The death of Dzhokhar Dudayev may well have come as a relief for President Boris Yeltsin, for whom the Chechen rebel leader has been a nagging thorn in the side for the past four years, but it will not necessarily bring the end of the war any closer.

On the contrary, there is a serious danger that the removal of Dudayev will clear the way for some other even more hardline figure to take over the rebel leadership. There have already been calls for vengeance, which could come in the form of hostage-taking raids of the sort carried out by Shamil Basayev last June in Budyonnovsk or by Salman Raduyev in Kizlyar in January, or by bomb attacks in Moscow or other major Russian cities.

In the days preceding Dudayev's death, there had been some faint movement forward in the peace process, with both Dudayev and Yeltsin indicating their willingness to hold indirect negotiations through a neutral mediator. That opportunity is now over.

On the other hand, Yeltsin does now have a fresh chance to put a new impetus into the peace process. Since the start of the war he has described Dudayev as a bandit and vowed never to sit down at the same table with him -- a pledge it would have been difficult for him to go back on without losing face.

But he has made no such vow regarding Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, Dudayev's immediate successor. While Yandarbiyev is certainly no moderate -- in fact he is regarded as more radical than Dudayev -- he, too, has an interest in bringing an end to this war that has shattered his country and brought so much suffering to his people.

And unlike Dudayev, he has not painted himself into a corner on terms for a settlement. For both sides, there is suddenly much more room for negotiation and compromise.

It is vital that Yeltsin waste no time in taking advantage of the situation to get the peace talks going again. The longer he prevaricates, while Russian bombs and artillery shells continue to rain down on Chechen villages, the smaller the chance of this happening and the greater the likelihood of a real hardliner, determined to pursue the war to the end, whatever the cost, assuming the Chechen leadership.

At the same time, the Chechens should not waste the opportunity either. And it must be said that the first move from their side, to appoint Shamil Basayev as their chief negotiator, is scarcely conducive to improving relations with the Russians. The object was clearly a show of defiance, but there was no need for that. Both sides must now work to end the war.