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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lebed to Hold Talks on Threatened Peace Deal

Security Council Secretary Alexander Lebed will fly to Chechnya on Tuesday for talks over disputes that are threatening to derail the peace agreement he worked out with separatist leaders three weeks ago.


The announcement Monday by Lebed's office came after a weekend in which all signs pointed to the peace process being in trouble, as the Russian commander in Chechnya announced a halt to troop withdrawals and each side accused the other of massing troops outside Grozny.


On Saturday, hundreds of people were reported fleeing Grozny in fear of attack, but soldiers manning the city's guard posts said the rumors were unfounded. No significant attacks materialized.


In Moscow, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin appeared to use his newly acquired powers over the so-called "power ministries" to assert his control over Chechnya policy, holding a meeting with Lebed and other top officials to decide what steps to take next.


The upshot was a restatement of the Kremlin policy that any agreement must not breach Russia's territorial integrity. Lebed's agreement had stipulated a five year transition period, after which a referendum would be held on Chechen independence.


Justice Minister Valentin Kovalyov recently said Lebed's agreement with the separatists has no legal force, leaving the door wide open for a reassessment in Moscow.


Lebed's report to Saturday's closed door meeting included a statement that effective resolution of the Chechnya conflict would "require a collective mind," an apparent reference to continuing hesitation in Moscow on whether to fully support his peace initiative.


The trouble in Chechnya began last week, when Russian commander Lieutenant General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov announced he was stopping troop withdrawals, because the Chechens were not abiding by the agreement on exchanging prisoners.


After that came the rumors of massing forces, and on Sunday Chechen separatist commander Aslan Maskhadov was quoted on NTV's "Itogi" current affairs show saying the peace process was "very fragile."


Maskhadov, who signed the deal with Lebed in August, went on to say, "The situation depends on how politicians in Moscow work it out amongst themselves." Noting that he had already signed several agreements with the Russians, Maskhadov said, "I'm doing the best I can. But if the agreement is violated, then what can we do? We'll fight."


Lebed's office said Monday he would meet Russian and Chechen rebel military commanders to discuss the exchange of prisoners, the deployment of Russian forces and other problems.


Lebed met again with Chernomyrdin on Monday to discuss plans to form a coalition government in Chechnya, another troublesome issue.


As a first step, a joint commission would be created to address specific issues of the settlement, including rebuilding Chechnya's ruined economy, Itar-Tass reported.


In Chechnya, the separatists have held their own congress to choose a government, offering three seats to the supporters of the Moscow-backed government of Doku Zavgayev. But Moscow has not recognized the decisions of the congress.


On Sunday, Interfax quoted a high-ranking Russian official as saying Moscow would accept only a coalition made up in equal parts of federal Russian representatives and Chechens, with the Chechen side including members of Zavgayev's government.


Such an arrangement would ensure Moscow's dominance in the transitional government.


Zavgayev, also quoted by Interfax, said Sunday he was ready to discuss a coalition government, but added that nobody currently in Chechnya is capable of leading it or rebuilding the republic.


Zavgayev and most of his cabinet fled to Moscow when separatist forces overran Grozny early last month, and his statement appeared to be aimed at restoring his government's influence in the republic. But there is no sign of the separatists accepting Moscow's plan for a coalition.


"We have a government of our own, we have our own authorities, we have a constitution,'' Maskhadov said Sunday.


Lebed's peace efforts have received only lukewarm support from the Kremlin and have been blasted by the Communists and other hardliners as a sellout of Russia's interests.


"The army has found itself in an idiotic position," ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky said in a statement Monday. "It has never understood why it was sent to Chechnya, and now it doesn't understand why they are pulling it out.''


A Russian position in Grozny came under fire late Sunday, but nobody was hurt, military officials said. Troops of the joint Russian-Chechen force set up to police the cease-fire in the capital were mobilized to sweep the area for the unidentified attackers who escaped, they said.