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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Now Is Time For a Deal In Chechnya

If there has ever been a moment since the war in Chechnya began when a deal between the rebel leaders and Moscow was possible, it is now.

This may sound far fetched, granted that the level of ill-feeling between the two sides probably has never run higher. The death toll from recent ambushes on Russian columns and the apparent assassination of Dzhokhar Dudayev have made sure of that.

Indeed, the fighting now continues unabated and President Boris Yeltsin's proposal for three-way peace talks has been skeptically received in Chechnya. But there are a few powerful motives for peace that are exerting themselves.

The first of these, which has been noted many times before, on one occasion by none other than the president, is that Yeltsin needs to show progress in ending the war in Chechnya if he wants to be re-elected. Whatever nonsense he may have spouted about the "operation" in Chechnya in the past, Yeltsin understands that his electorate blames him for starting a brutal and unnecessary war.

The flip side of this coin is that the Chechen rebels too must know they will never have a better hand with which to force a deal. If Yeltsin wins re-election, the pressure now on him will be off. And if Gennady Zyuganov wins, there is nothing in the Communist campaign rhetoric to suggest they will give Chechnya the independence Yeltsin has refused. On the contrary.

The trouble is that while reason may speak in favor of a deal, militating against it is the logic of violence, a total lack of trust between the two sides, thirst for revenge and the simple interests of guerrilla fighters who have nothing good to expect from the kind of peace that could now be brokered.

The bottom line is that the Chechens want, and can feel safe, only with independence: not sovereignty, special status or anything else that Moscow will offer. And so long as they remain united behind a single leader, Moscow cannot expect to succeed in marginalizing the rebels to a controllable level.

But what can the Chechens expect from Moscow without a deal? In fact, they cannot know and therein, perhaps, lies the strongest argument for the Chechens to negotiate. The best they can probably expect is that they will receive the same kind of treatment, over years if not decades, as the Kurds in Turkey. That is, armed oppression, total lack of human rights and life in a police state.

The worst scenario is that Chechens become the victims of total war, as did the Kurds in Iraq, against whom Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons. What guarantee can Chechnya have that some future Russian government will not be ruthless enough to resort to genocide and mass deportation?