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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Empty Talk Extends War In Chechnya

The recent military operations in Chechnya signalled an end, not only to the peace process begun in Moscow and formalized in Nazran, but also to the illusion that politicians might actually be held accountable for campaign promises.


The Nazran peace accords and the dramatic cease-fire signed between President Boris Yeltsin and Chechen leader Zelimkhan Yandarbyev barely survived the second round of Russia's presidential election. Just days after Yeltsin's triumph at the polls, the army was pounding away at Chechen villages with its former fury.


Despite Russian talk of Chechen "bandits," it seems clear that the latest escalation of hostilities originated in Moscow. Now the two adversaries seem poised for another long war of attrition, in which neither side is willing to give up, and neither side can win.


One lesson that Russia must have learned in the 19-month conflict is that a purely military solution to the war is not possible. Sooner or later, the two sides will have to meet again at the negotiating table, and Russia's current behavior will not make the process any easier.


But if a military victory is not the goal, then what is?


Some observers, as well as some of the participants in the conflict, speak darkly of "vested interests" who want to keep the war going for their own, mainly financial, ends.


As horrific as it would be to contemplate a nation sending its young men off to kill and be killed to line someone's pockets, this explanation has the virtue of providing a thread of logic in the turbulent, chaotic war.


Others have suggested that Yeltsin is using the war to distract the military's attention away from his failure to reform the army.


Whatever the reasons, Yeltsin's talk of peace now appears little more than a cynical manipulation of the Russian electorate.


The same can be said for Yeltsin's new security tsar Alexander Lebed, who also has failed to stick to principle. During the campaign he preached independence for Chechnya, saying on numerous occasions that there was no sense in having a hostile enclave within one's borders.


The retired general has changed his tune in the past month. Lebed left little doubt that he supported the new round of fighting.


Ultimately, one must question what exactly Yeltsin and Lebed stand for. Forgetting their promises of peace, the administration seems only concerned with Russia's status as a "great power." That sentiment does not square well with allowing a small southern land to dictate its policies to Moscow.


It is time for Yeltsin, and his team, to show that the Nazran accords were not just empty campaign talk, but a genuine step on the long road to peace.