Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Peace Talk Officials Back War

On the eve of an official visit to Chechnya, Moscow's three top negotiators for peace in Chechnya endorsed Russia's use of military force in the rebellious region Friday, subscribing to what one presidential aide called "a coercion to peace."

"When it is necessary, force is being used," said Sergei Stepashin, secretary of the State Commission on Chechnya. "But in principle, [we are using] peaceful means," he added.

"The main line everywhere is the political line. But as for those who impede this, who do not want peace, we will use force and we have said that," said Nationalities Minister Vyacheslav Mikhailov.

"[We will] hold special operations, and use other measures to isolate those who make the emphasis on terror, on acts of subversion and not on talks," he said.

Mikhailov and Stepashin were speaking to the press in the Moscow's White House. Vladimir Zorin, head of the Duma Nationalities Committee, was also present.

Stepashin and Mikhailov said they were flying to Chechnya on Saturday for talks but admitted they had no new offers to make to the separatists and did not even have a firm meeting set up.

The situation in the rebellious republic has deteriorated rapidly since early July. Peace agreements signed in Moscow on May 27 and in Nazran on June 10 barely survived Rus have to seek a political decision," Satarov said. "I think that the tactic of forceful coercion to peace will be continued," he added, at the same time hinting that the general picture in Chechnya could change significantly in the next two months.

Mikhailov agreed with Satarov's remarks, but insisted Moscow wanted peace. "We are for peace. We are searching for various means," he said.

The nationalities minister also claimed Moscow was united in its policy on Chechnya. He denied there was any conflict between the work of the State Commission on Chechnya, set up by President Boris Yeltsin to mastermind the peace effort, and the commander of Russian forces in Chechnya, Lieutenant General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, who launched the latest military offensive July 9.

"I categorically disagree that the State Commission rules in one way and somebody else, for example, General Tikhomirov, acts in his own way," he said.

But he avoided answering a question as to whether the Russian side was using the "good cop, bad cop" method to soften up the Chechens, with the commission talking peace and the army playing war and inflicting heavy civilian casualties. "War always means cruelty. War always brings death and blood," he replied.

Tikhomirov's ultimatum before the latest offensive had been an effort to get the rebels back to the negotiating table, said Mikhailov.

Stepashin said he had informed Tim Guldimann, head of the Grozny mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, late Thursday night of their planned four-day visit and their desire to meet with the Chechen side.

"When we arrive there tomorrow we will raise the question of resuming these discussions and contact," Mikhailov said.

But Chechen rebels said Friday they were unaware of the visit of the Russian officials and had no plans to meet them, Interfax reported. Earlier in the week, Chechen spokesman Movladi Udugov ruled out any talks in the near future "on moral grounds" after the repeated bombardment of villages in southern Chechnya.

Mikhailov accused the Chechen rebels of trying to avoid meeting them in an effort to blame the Russian side for the breakdown of peace.

Nevertheless, if peace talks do go ahead, the key issues will be those of the original peace deal signed in the Kremlin May 27, in the presence of Yeltsin, calling for a cease-fire and exchange of prisoners, he said.

"We cannot go further without solving these problems," Mikhailov said.

The two sides had already resumed meetings on the exchange of prisoners and another meeting was scheduled for Saturday, Stepashin said. The Russian side had brought four prisoners to Grozny and was bargaining to exchange them for Russian servicemen, he added.

The specter of terrorism and the re-emergence of Salman Raduyev, who has claimed responsibility for several bomb blasts in Russia and promised more, would not necessarily derail chances for peace, they said. But, added Mikhailov, it would be a severe test for the authority of the Chechen leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev.

The three negotiators, together with the spokesman for the peace talks, Sergei Slipchenko, said they had arranged the press conference in Moscow on Friday to counter much of the bad press the Russian side has received over the breakdown of peace in Chechnya.

The officials tried to clear up several myths that have absorbed the Russian press. The head of the pro-Moscow Chechen government Doku Zavgayev had been "somewhat exaggerating," Stepashin said, when he claimed Wednesday that not one bomb had been dropped or one shot had been fired in the last eight days in Chechnya.

The possibility of Dzhokhar Dudayev, reported killed in April, returning alive, was also probably a myth, Mikhailov said.

Foreign mercenaries did not play a decisive role in the fighting in Chechnya, Stepashin said. Despite previous Russian statements, there were in fact "not many" foreign mercenaries in the region, he said.

He also said that of the 146 Russian prisoners reportedly held in Bamut, only 23 had survived, the rest being killed in the heavy bombing in April and May, just before the Kremlin's peace initiative.