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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lebed Gets Sweeping Chechnya Mandate


President Boris Yeltsin handed control of the Chechen war to his security chief Wednesday, signing a decree that gives Alexander Lebed sweeping powers to resolve the 20-month-old conflict.

According to RTR Russian Television, the decree outlines a completely new system for ending hostilities in the war-torn region. The document gives "strategic direction on all aspects of the Chechen problem" to the Security Council, on which Lebed serves as secretary.

The decree also dissolves "previously existing structures which have not justified their existence" -- a strong hint that the State Commission on Chechnya, which is headed by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and which up to now has had primary responsibility for resolving the conflict, had fallen out of presidential favor.

It will be replaced with a commission "on the material, technical, and financial aspects of restoring the Chechen economy and social spheres," which will be answerable to the Security Council.

A committee on coordinating the armed forces will be set up, also under the Security Council, and will include the chief of staff of the armed forces as well as representatives of the Interior Ministry, the Border Guards, the Emergency Affairs Ministry and the Federal Security Service.

Interfax reported Wednesday evening that Lebed would leave for Chechnya on Thursday morning for a "brief work Maskhadov on Sunday that is credited with jump-starting talks between the Russians and the separatists to end the bloody eight-day siege of the Chechen capital, Grozny.

A Tuesday meeting between Maskhadov and top Russian commander in Chechnya, Konstantin Pulikovsky, gave hope that a cease-fire would go into effect Wednesday, but sporadic battles still raged throughout the day.

Senior rebel commander Akhmed Zakayev said rebels in the Chernorechye section of the city were observing a cease-fire.

"We've had an order since 8 a.m. to hold our fire, and that is what we are doing," Zakayev said in a newly established command post that indicated the rebels were not planning to leave the capital soon. "But, as you can see, the helicopters are still flying overhead, and the warplanes are still bombing. The party of war doesn't want peace and doesn't want to give up. You can stop war only with war. We are waging war for peace."

Rebel spokesman Movladi Udugov said Maskhadov had given the order to stop shooting at midday.

"If the Russian side continues military operations, it will be completely their responsibility, and we will see who it is that is supporting the war," Udugov told Reuters.

He told Russian news agencies that the two sides were in radio contact and that any truce violations would be investigated. He accused the Russians of breaking the truce by attacking a column of refugees almost as soon as the truce was supposed to start.

Representatives of the Russian and Chechen military commands met Wednesday near a Russian checkpoint between Shali and Novye Atagi and exchanged complaints on cease-fire violations. The two sides signed a document agreeing to investigate each incident.

Residents said the Chechen capital was quieter than it had been since rebels attacked Aug. 6. But Russian helicopters circled overhead and unleashed rockets around midday, when the rebels had said a cease-fire would take effect.

Refugees flooding out of Grozny to the west said they saw no Russian soldiers on the streets of the city center, where the rebels seemed to have confined the troops to their bases.

The Russian military, which feels that previous cease-fires have played into the hands of the rebels, denied reports of a truce, but said confusingly that it had agreed not to fire first and accused the rebels of ignoring the deal.

"We have confirmed to each other that we would suspend fire along the line of fighting to prevent people being killed," said Pulikovsky.

Pulikovsky, who met Maskhadov on Tuesday, earlier told journalists that no agreement had been reached and that the rebels had been firing at Russian troops.

Pulikovsky sounded an uncompromising note in an interview with Russian television Wednesday evening, in which he said he had broken off talks with Maskhadov when Maskhadov reiterated the rebel demand that Chechnya be given independence.

"I told him I was a Russian general and did not intend to sign any agreements with separatists," said Pulikovsky.

"Peace will come to Chechnya," he added. "But only as a part of Russia."

Maskhadov was not encouraged by his meeting with Pulikovsky, he told German television journalists Wednesday. In an interview in southern Chechnya, he said that if his agreement with Lebed did not work, there was little hope for any agreement between the Chechen and Russian sides.

His fighters, in any case, would not be leaving Grozny, he added.

According to one Chechen observer, Maskhadov and Pulikovsky had a less-than-cordial meeting Tuesday.

The Russian commander refused to come to the home of Rizvan Lorzanov, who had provided the venue for many previous rounds of negotiations, including the Sunday-Monday meeting between Maskhadov and Lebed.

The three-hour meeting was held on the road not far from Lorzanov's house, and, he said, Pulikovsky refused to shake Maskhadov's hand.

Lorzanov also maintained that a cease-fire was agreed at Tuesday's meeting, despite Pulikovsky's later denials.

Lebed, in contrast, had come to the house, arriving by car without bodyguards, said Lorzanov. Lebed sat with Maskhadov until 4 a.m., when he drove away the way he came.

"I liked [Lebed]," said Lorzanov, a former chief of Chechnya's cement industry. "He said he wanted to end the war. I think he is a man of his word.

"I think there will be a definite move toward peace if the [Kremlin] mafia does not remove him or kill him," he added. ()