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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lebed Merits Support for His Courage

Alexander Lebed's claim that he has ended the war in Chechnya is almost certainly premature, but never mind. After all the hypocrisy and dodging of responsibility that has come before, he deserves great praise simply for the courage he has shown in making such a deal.

Of course we still do not know all the details of the agreement he struck Saturday. In fact, the probability is that the deal has precious few details, its modest aim being no more than to stop the fighting and make room for compromise.

That may sound flimsy, but however much the authorities may huff and shrug at Lebed's achievement, saying that it "needs work" or is no more than a start, the reality is that Lebed's peace plan is one of only three realistic possibilities for government policy and, of these, the only acceptable one.

The first possibility is just to go on fighting the same kind of bloody, half-hearted, unwinnable and pointless war in which Russia's armed forces have been mired for the past 21 months. Only now it would be harder, because Russian troops would have to take Grozny all over again.

The second possibility would be to end the war by simply declaring part or all of Chechnya a war zone and bombing everything in it that moves. That way, military strategists might argue, Russia could end and win the war.

But, as the United States discovered in Vietnam, the success of such a scorched-earth policy is by no means guaranteed. It also has a fundamental drawback. It amounts to genocide.

That leaves the third option, which is to end the war through negotiations. Given that Moscow will not budge on its sovereignty over Chechnya and the separatists are uncompromising in their claim of independence, any solution must start with an agreement that stops the fighting until compromise becomes possible and allows all sides to save face. This is what Lebed has done.

The risks he takes in striking such a deal are vast. If the Chechens, for example, are perceived as having won independence, Lebed may be widely lambasted as the "traitor" who gave up a piece of Russian land. And of course, if the deal falls apart, he will be branded a failure.

Yet the government is likely, however grudgingly, to back Lebed's peace initiative simply because it has little choice. To stop the fighting and then jockey for advantage in arranging a new status for Chechnya is probably the only morally and politically acceptable way out of this war.

At this moment, Lebed is isolated politically and alone in having the courage to tell blunt truths about the war. He deserves support.