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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lebed Seeks Advice In Achieving Peace

Security chief Alexander Lebed met with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on Monday to discuss a peace proposal for Chechnya that may allow the Chechens to vote on some form of independence in a national referendum, albeit some years from now.

Chechnya has been unusually calm since Lebed struck a cease-fire deal with Aslan Maskhadov, the rebel chief of staff, late last week. Sunday night in Chechnya was, according to a spokesman for the Russian Interior Ministry interviewed by Itar-Tass, "perhaps the quietest night in the last year and a half."

Already some Russian troops have been withdrawn, and Grozny was being patrolled over the weekend by joint Russian-Chechen teams.

On Saturday, Lebed and Maskhadov moved from negotiating a simple cease-fire to the much more difficult task of achieving a lasting political peace. Lebed has a mandate to do that from President Boris Yeltsin, who in a telephone conversation Friday told Lebed to negotiate a political solution that would stop short of granting Chechnya independence.

On Sunday, Lebed put talks with Maskhadov on hold and left for Moscow, saying he needed to consult with Yeltsin, as well as with experts from the ministries of foreign affairs, nationalities and justice.

"I hope that the president will approve of my activities. I will return to the Chechen republic to continue the negotiations with documents, impeccable from the legal point of view, in my hands," Lebed said Sunday.

Exactly what those documents will say remains unclear. Izvestia theorized in its Tuesday edition -- based on "slips of Lebed's tongue and vague hints from the people around him" -- that the Chechens had proposed a formula whereby Chechnya would be "an independent state under the protectorate of Russia."

In an interview on Russian Television on Sunday, Chernomyrdin said Lebed's proposals -- which he did little to explain -- had been fully approved by the Kremlin. He added that Chechnya's political status should be decided "by the people" in a referendum some five years from now, when the war has ended and passions have cooled.

However, it remains unclear whether even a referendum in 2001 would entertain the question of complete independence for Chechnya. "Chechnya should be part of the Russian Federation. That's simple," said Chernomyrdin. "But when, how and with what status?"

Lebed tempered his optimism Sunday by adding, in remarks reported by Reuters, "There are many people in Moscow waiting for me to sign a document they can turn down and so wreck the peace process."

This is a possibility Lebed has brought up often. When Yeltsin sent him to Chechnya, Lebed suggested it was part of a Kremlin intrigue to get an ambitious ex-general and a one-time political opponent of Yeltsin's to "break his neck on this assignment."

Past cease-fires in the 20-month Chechen war have been used by both sides as an opportunity to rest and resupply before continuing to fight.

Questions remained Monday about why this cease-fire ought to be seen any differently, particularly since the Russians opened talks at a time when they were in desperate need of a breather: A Chechen offensive launched Aug. 6 killed more than 450 Russian soldiers in two weeks of some of the war's fiercest fighting, and the Chechens now control much of the capital Grozny.

While Lebed has seemingly had success in winning the trust of the rebels and the obedience of the Russian generals, his authority to mediate the conflict still rests solely upon Yeltsin's approval. Yet Yeltsin has not met with Lebed since putting him in charge of Chechnya policy, and has offered, through the news media and the Kremlin press service, more criticism than praise.

On Friday, Lebed and Yeltsin did speak by telephone, and the president gave general approval to his first steps in solving the conflict, the Kremlin press service said.

Lebed and Chernomyrdin met at the prime minister's offices in the White House Monday morning. Lebed briefed Chernomyrdin on proposals offered by the rebels, and for 90 minutes the two discussed plans for a political, lasting peace, according to Chernomyrdin's press secretary Viktor Konnov.

Chernomyrdin and Lebed have been fighting over turf in the government since the day of Lebed's appointment as national security adviser and secretary of the Security Council -- advisory positions with little real powers other than those Yeltsin grants.

Until this month, Chernomyrdin was the man in charge of Chechnya policy. He headed a standing committee on Chechnya that Yeltsin dissolved upon appointing Lebed.