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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

President Supports Lebed on Cease-Fire

As a truce took hold in Chechnya on Friday, national security chief Alexander Lebed pledged to fight hard for a long-term peace with rebel fighters, and received tentative backing from President Boris Yeltsin.

Lebed reported to Yeltsin by phone late Friday night and the president gave general approval to Lebed's first steps toward resolving the conflict, the presidential press service told Itar-Tass..

The president authorized Lebed to devise an agreement to resolve the question of Chechnya's political status with the reservation that the breakaway republic remain an "inalienable" part of the Russian Federation.

The cease-fire Lebed struck with the Chechen rebels Thursday night went into effect at noon Friday and was apparently effective, leaving the capital Grozny peaceful after two weeks of some of the worst fighting the region has seen in 20 months of war.

Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, Russian military commander in Chechnya, told Interfax that despite a few shooting incidents, "The situation has noticeably normalized by comparison with previous days."

Lebed pledged that he would make sure the cease-fire deal was observed on the Russian side, saying "I am in command here. I have legitimate authority to fulfill the duties I have to tell as many people as possible what is really going on in Chechnya, and about the results of the agreement signed on steps to stop the fighting in Grozny and elsewhere in Chechnya."

Lebed refused to comment Friday on a television address Thursday in which Yeltsin said he was "not completely satisfied" with Lebed's handling of the war in Chechnya. Lebed's only response was that he had not met Yeltsin in person for some time.

Yeltsin gave Lebed sweeping powers to solve the crisis two weeks ago, but Lebed, a rival to Yeltsin in the presidential elections who only joined the government two months ago, has complained of a lack of support from the Kremlin, saying he was given the job by enemies in the hope that he would "break his neck on it."

Lebed returned to Moscow Friday and was expected to meet with Yeltsin to brief him on Chechnya, but the Kremlin did not receive him. Yeltsin, believed to be in poor health, has appeared only sporadically in public over the past few weeks, although he made a rare television appearance Thursday.

Kremlin press officers said no meeting with Lebed was on the agenda for Friday, while Itar-Tass said Yeltsin was waiting for a written report.

Interfax, quoting Kremlin sources, said Yeltsin would meet with Lebed probably next week after another "routine round" of negotiations had been completed.

Lebed was to leave again Saturday for Chechnya -- his fourth trip in two weeks -- to hammer out a political document on Chechnya's future status. The current truce covers only disengagement of forces and plans for joint military patrols to police the cease-fire.

Apart from Yeltsin's phone call, the only other feedback Lebed received was from Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who sent Lebed a muted congratulatory telegram.

"Viktor Chernomyrdin emphasized that the results of Alexander Lebed's mission are just the first important step, which must be reinforced," Itar-Tass reported.Chernomyrdin and Lebed have been rivals in the government for influence on Chechnya. In making Lebed his representative in Chechnya, Yeltsin dissolved a standing committee on Chechnya headed by Chernomyrdin, which Yeltsin said had failed to prove its worth.

Chernomyrdin appears to be trying to seize back the limelight. Ruslan Khasbulatov, the former Supreme Soviet speaker and a Chechen himself, told Interfax Friday that he had met Thursday with Chernomyrdin and was ready "at the earliest opportunity to leave Moscow for Chechnya, to brief [Chechen rebel leader] Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev on Thursday's meeting and to voice [Khasbulatov's] own view on political ways to settle the conflict."

News that the Lebed-Yeltsin meeting was not held left the Chechen peace process in limbo. Before that news came out, Sergei Kovalyov, Russia's leading human rights activist, told Interfax, "The president's expected personal meeting with Lebed will clarify everything. Much, very much indeed, depends on this meeting."

With Yeltsin's public silence Friday, it remained unclear how free a hand Lebed has to make policy on Chechnya.

Kovalyov said that despite Yeltsin's criticism Lebed was succeeding where others had failed. However, he added that he feared Yeltsin was probably upset because "the affair is heading toward independence for Chechnya, whereas the president has repeatedly stated that this republic has been and will be a part of Russia."

Lebed's position on independence for Chechnya is unclear. As a candidate he advocated that the Chechens decide on independence themselves via a referendum, but after joining the Kremlin team he dropped that position.

Analysts said Lebed knew he would not get satisfaction from the Kremlin -- where Yeltsin has adamantly opposed Chechen independence -- and so had gone over Yeltsin's head to the people.

"[Lebed] understands that the only way he can win his position is through public diplomacy. This is the only way to put pressure on Yeltsin and the ruling power, and perhaps to create support for himself in the Duma, perhaps to create a wide coalition of backers," said Andrei Kortunov, an analyst with the Russian Science Foundation.

Kortunov said Lebed's team was also lobbying Duma factions to win their support for his plan.

"I would like to hope that the president's words were prompted by a purely emotional reaction on his part to some of Lebed's tough statements, such as his comment that the constitutional system is not established with aerial bombing and shelling," Kovalyov told Interfax on Friday.