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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lebed Says 'War Over,' Yeltsin Quiet

National security chief Alexander Lebed was back in Moscow on Monday, searching in vain for presidential approval of a new Chechen peace agreement he signed over the weekend, which he said would end the 21-month-old war for good.


"We have just now signed a statement and attached the basic principles of relations between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic," Lebed told dozens of people crowded into a conference room in Khasavyurt, Dagestan, early Saturday morning.


"That is it, the war is over," he said, according to agency reports, after signing the deal with the chief of staff of the Chechen separatist forces, Aslan Maskhadov, at the end of eight hours of talks.


The deal, if it holds, would end a bloody conflict that has cost at least 30,000 lives, most of them civilian, and which has left the tiny Northern Caucasus town of Chechnya in ruins.


For Lebed, however, the war appears simply to have moved to Moscow.


The former paratrooper general presented his agreement to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin in a 75-minute meeting held Monday morning.


Chernomyrdin, in turn, then met for two hours with President Boris Yeltsin at his holiday retreat 125 kilometers from Moscow, according to Itar-Tass. But by Monday night, no word of approval had come from either man.


Later, in a live television interview on ORT Russian Public Television, Lebed said he had tried to reach Yeltsin by telephone but without success.


By contrast, Yeltsin's chief of staff, Anatoly Chubais, told a news conference Monday that he had held two telephone conversations with Yeltsin and that the president sounded "energetic."


In the interview on "Chas Pik," or "Rush Hour," Lebed twice stressed that the Chechen peace plan was nothing more than an "outline of principle" and not a direct agreement over the political status of the region.


Published details of the agreement are sketchy, but it appears to delay any resolution of the issue of Chechnya's political status for five years, to work out proposals on financial relations between Russia and Chechnya as well as a program for the social and economic recovery of the region.


Lebed said in Monday's television interview that the prime minister had seemed satisfied with his report.


"[Chernomyrdin] didn't say anything bad. Everything that is written here met with his full approval," Lebed said, holding a version of the truce he signed with Maskhadov and adding that the final agreement was different from the one he had taken with him from Moscow.


"Some points were cleared up, so the original protocol document signed by the prime minister, by me, all the power ministers and the speaker of the Duma differs slightly from the document that was signed [in Khasavyurt]," he said.


But Lebed's version of his meeting with Chernomyrdin was contradicted by an official statement released by the prime minister's press service and broadcast on NTV Independent Television.


"The prime minister's statement does not mention a single word of support for these actions," read NTV newscaster Tatyana Mitkova. "Chernomyrdin stressed that future negotiations must be rooted in the principle of territorial indivisibility of Russia."


But if the peace deal's reception in Moscow was tepid, it was warmly welcomed in Chechnya.


Lebed's words at the announcement were shouted by a rebel fighter to crowds waiting outside the negotiating hall in Khasavyurt, which responded with cries of "Allah-u-Akbar" (God is Great) and "Lebed for president."


Maskhadov, who signed the agreement for the Chechen side, was unstinting in his praise for Lebed.


"We could have ended the war long ago, but only now has a politician emerged who was capable of closing the bloodiest page in the history of the Chechen people," he said.


Separatist leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev hailed the agreement as little less than an outright victory.


"To interpret this as going back to our current status is not correct," he told Reuters soon after the agreement was signed Saturday. "We are not a part of Russia. We are simply leaving a lot of space -- in time and politically -- for the establishment of bilateral relations. We are an independent state."


On Monday, Interfax reported a source in Yandarbiyev's office as saying that Chechnya's Independence Day would be fixed for Sept. 6, with rallies as well as soccer, chess and arm-wrestling championships planned.