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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Peace Process in Chechnya on Hold After Shakeup

GROZNY -- The peace process in Chechnya has ground to a halt as all sides in the conflict wait to see how the momentous shakeup in the Moscow government will play out.


On Thursday, President Boris Yeltsin fired the key figures in the "party of war" -- Alexander Korzhakov, Mikhail Barsukov and Oleg Soskovets -- who had favored a forcible end to the republic's bid for independence.


Soldiers listened open-mouthed to the news of the sackings but would not voice a comment. In the center of Grozny, a government official, who asked to remain anonymous, commented on the decisive role in the drama played by Yeltsin's new security tsar, Alexander Lebed, saying " Look at that, what a man. Now there will be order."


Lebed, who has called for an immediate withdrawal of Russian troops and a quick, negotiated end to the fighting, agreed Thursday to join the Russian government's commission on settling the 18-month conflict. He will begin attending commission meetings next week, Itar-Tass reported.


As the news of the latest sackings in the Kremlin reached Chechnya, representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe arrived at the Russian base in Khanakala, outside Grozny, for talks. But the topic under discussion is still how to get the key players together.


Negotiations between the two sides to work out the withdrawal and Chechen demilitarization have been paralyzed since the peace deal was signed in Nazran on June 10, and little is expected to happen before the second round of Russia's presidential elections, scheduled for July 3.


The leaders of the commissions on military questions have failed to meet, unable to work out how and where to do it, said an OSCE official.


"Neither side is interested in meeting," he said. "Now they are waiting to see the results of the personnel changes in Moscow."


But if peace has not broken out, certainly the war has slowed down. The skies are quiet with no reports of air strikes for a week. Soldiers at checkpoints are relaxed. Clashes have continued on a small scale.


Small groups of fighters are still operating, it appears, blowing up a Russian armored vehicle here and there and killing or wounding several soldiers each time.


Russian soldiers shoot through the night, at shadows mostly, they admit, or to light up the sky with flares.


At the village of Stary Atagi, Chechens were buying gas Thursday from Russian soldiers who drove up from their base south of the village. The Russians left with bags full of soft drinks and food. Farther down the road, Chechen fighters, appointed as the village defense unit last year, manned a post at the village's entrance, only three kilometers from the Russian position.


Only two days before, Russian armored vehicles had destroyed the Chechen post, blowing away the tent and killing at least one fighter and two civilians, according to the Chechen commander of the village.


The fracas began after a Russian truck ran over a little girl in the village. and soldiers and fighters started to fire at each other. A Russian major was killed and the fighting quickly escalated when four Russian armored vehicles drew up in the field and fired on the village for two hours.


But two days later, all was quiet. The local administration head and Russian commander had talked and the fracas was over.


Both the fighters and soldiers at the post on the edge of the Russian base agreed that the only way to avoid similar clashes was for Russian forces to leave.


"Only a Russian withdrawal could end the war," said Bilan Matsiyv, commander of the Chechen unit in the village, dressed in a suit and open-neck shirt.


"We will go home, that's how [the fighting] will end," said a young officer in charge of the Russian checkpoint.