Install

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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

This Truce Should Be Different

Like in a bad dream, it has all happened not once but many times before. We have had plenty of cease-fires in the war in Chechnya, but after the initial euphoria, they have all broken down in blood and violence.


What makes this time any different? Will the deal struck between national security chief Alexander Lebed and Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov prove a lasting one ?


There are a few hopeful signs. Lebed is a military professional with experience in resolving a similarly messy situation in Transdnestr who is not stained by the bloodletting, corruption and incompetence of the past.


Lebed's cease-fire deal, with its careful system of joint patrols and defined spheres of control, looks set to create some real mutual trusts between the two sets of forces and some system of accountability.


Moreover, this time we have one of the key power brokers in the Russian government dealing seriously and as an equal with the Chechen rebel leadership, a quantum leap from the grudging dialogue through clenched teeth that was the norm in previous deals.


But there is a long list of reasons why this cease-fire will fail. Lebed is a controversial figure in the cabinet and Yeltsin and his staff, especially Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, are deeply suspicious of him. They will be reluctant to implement a deal if it means Lebed emerges as the peacemaker in the Chechen war.


Furthermore, the entrenched war lobby -- the Russian generals and the pro-Moscow Chechen government -- is sure to try to undermine the cease-fire on the ground.


The demands of the Chechen rebels could also send the peace deal off the rails. When Lebed presents his political blueprint for a long-term solution to the conflict, they will have to accept some compromise, at least a symbolic one. Neither Lebed nor anyone else can publicly offer the Chechens full independence from the Russian Federation.


But the one lesson of all the abortive cease-fires of the past is that the power of peace and war lies with one man: President Boris Yeltsin. If he chooses to, he can slap down the hawks who have profited from the war. He can take over from Lebed the mantle of peacemaker, much as he took the credit for concluding a peace deal in the Kremlin in May. He can build up or destroy trust among the Chechen rebels.


He is in failing health but he has also shown time and again he knows how to take radical decisions. He now has a chance to stop the war. He should take it.