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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Zavgayev: Kremlin's Straw Man In Grozny

As Russian forces continue their offensive in Chechnya and peace talks seem further away than ever, the head of the rebellious republic's Moscow-backed government has been busy in Moscow, single-mindedly pursuing his own agenda.

Doku Zavgayev, a lugubrious, old-style communist apparatchik who was brought back into power by Moscow last fall, does not stray too far from his seat of power.

"His task is not in Chechnya, he cannot decide things there, he fulfills his task here [in Moscow], channeling money for Chechnya, filling the post [of Chechen head of government] in name only," said Alexander Iskandryan, director of the Center for Caucasian Studies in Moscow.

This week Zavgayev presented presidential adviser Sergei Shakhrai with a draft for a power-sharing treaty between Chechnya and Russia which he said would be ready for President Boris Yeltsin to sign in two weeks.

Shakhrai said a package of 17 additional agreements was planned to be signed along with the treaty in mid-August after Yeltsin's inauguration, Interfax reported Wednesday.

But Zavgayev has no real support within Chechnya, and his busy negotiating carries little weight.

"Zavgayev reflects those in Moscow who do not want [peace] talks and who want to administration who simply do not understand that Zavgayev's support in Chechnya was so low, Iskandryan said. Zavgayev has managed to convince them that he has secured the support of virtually all the 400 villages in Chechnya, give or take a few in the mountains where rebels remain, he added.

But, according to Iskandryan, there are also people, including the military, who simply did not want to understand.

Zavgayev's powers of persuasion were stretched to the limit at a press conference Wednesday when he claimed, contrary to all other reports from the war zone, that "not one bomb fell, nor was one shot fired by federal forces" in Chechnya over the last eight days.

An NTV Independent Television report followed his comments with news footage from Chechnya, showing Russian forces in the midst of a battle, firing missiles into the wooded hills of southern Chechnya.

But Zavgayev was not looking for votes in Chechnya, he was speaking for his masters in the Kremlin, Iskandryan said. And they need a man in power who is their own. "It is not like in the 19th century when Russia simply fought the Chechens and established their own power. Now they need to place a person who has a so-called moral legitimacy. So they hold elections which are not really elections at all, but seem to create a legitimate power," he said. "It is done to deceive the West, also," he added.

Zavgayev would at first seem to be an odd choice of leader for President Boris Yeltsin. As the former Communist Party boss of Chechen-Ingushetia, he sided with hardliners in the attempted coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991. Yeltsin was on the opposite side.

Zavgayev was then swiftly ousted from power in Chechnya and left for an obscure government job in Moscow. Dashing air force general Dzhokhar Dudayev, who electrified the republic with speeches for independence, became president in October 1991.

A clever manipulator of the power structures, Zavgayev was back in power in Grozny within four years, placed by Moscow after the original leaders of the anti-Dudayev opposition failed to do the job. His hard work in Moscow is, meanwhile, showing signs of paying off.

Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov spoke this week in favor of increasing Chechnya's police force by 15,000 men to help combat crime in the tumultuous region. Last week, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov promised Zavgayev 1 trillion rubles ($192 million) toward the reconstruction of Grozny.

Nationalities Minister Vyacheslav Mikhailov joined Zavgayev at a meeting with the Chechen diaspora Wednesday and spoke in rosy terms of the unity of the Russian nation and suggested resurrecting the Soviet slogan "friendship of peoples."

But Ruslan Khasbulatov, an ethnic Chechen, former speaker of the Russian parliament and sworn enemy of Yeltsin, was bitterly critical in an interview in Tuesday's Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

"Zavgayev's administration should simply be recalled, it is falling apart, it has no social base," he said.

Khasbulatov, who has been invited by the Chechen separatist leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev to join peace talks in an advisory capacity to the rebels, said Zavgayev's presence was hindering relations between the two sides and was a major cause in the breakdown of negotiations last year. "The stubborn obstinacy of Kremlin policy amounts to their attempt to put a puppet in power," Khasbulatov said. "The Russian Army is waging war not for national interests but for the Zavgayev regime."

But the strategy was doomed to failure, Iskandryan said. "I know, I simply know that it cannot succeed. Zavgayev is a man with a negative rating."