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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechen Secession a Real Danger: Primakov

Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov told Cabinet leaders in Moscow on Thursday that Chechnya's secession from Russia, either "de facto or de jure," was a real danger.

"The main task facing the Russian government now is to place shock absorbers on this path in advance," said the foreign minister, according to Interfax.

In the peace deal worked out between Moscow and the Chechen separatists who now run the government in Grozny, the issue of whether Chechnya should be fully independent or remain a part of the Russian Federation has been set aside for five years, until 2001.

All five main contenders in the upcoming Chechen presidential election campaign are staunch separatists who led the fight against Moscow. While Moscow officially is keeping its distance from the election process, the outcome hardly bodes well for the Kremlin, which remains firmly opposed to Chechen independence.

Observers note, however, that the elections in giving the new leadership a popular mandate can only strengthen Chechnya's de facto autonomy, if not its claim to independence.

Primakov's statement to the Cabinet leaders will raise questions in Grozny.

"Many people in Russia are not reconciled to the peace with Chechnya," said Charles Dick, head of the Conflict Research Studies Center at Britain's Sandhurst Military Academy. "Apart from the humiliation, they fear it could spark further secessionist movements among the peoples of the North Caucasus."

Primakov, he added, "is perhaps putting down a marker that the problem has not been solved and that they cannot allow it to go to extremes."

Primakov said that to forestall Chechen independence, Russia should establish contacts with the Organization of the Islamic Conference and with organizations uniting the Chechen diaspora, reported Interfax.

Many Chechens fled the republic during the war while many ethnic Chechens live in Russia and in Kazakhstan, where their entire nation was deported by Stalin.

Primakov appears to have been in a particularly trenchant mood at Thursday's cabinet meeting. He also said Moscow could slap economic sanctions on states accused of mistreating their Russian minorities, Itar-Tass reported.

"[Russia] must not be afraid to impose economic sanctions," the agency quoted Primakov as saying.

Primakov reportedly singled out the example of relations with Estonia. Moscow has already the separatists' military leader.

Kutayev is leader of the National Independence Party, which supports the candidacy of Maskhadov, the campaign favorite.

Fifteen ministers in the Chechen government, members of the National Independence Party, offered their resignations Thursday to protest Kutayev's dismissal, Interfax reported.

The fate of many Russian soldiers missing in Chechnya is still unclear. A department chief of Moscow's commission for prisoners of war and soldiers interned or missing in action, Sergei Osipov, told Interfax on Thursday that only 500 of some 1,100 Russian soldiers missing in Chechnya may still be alive.

More than 300 unidentified bodies are still lying in a military morgue in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, while another 200 soldiers are buried in unmarked graves throughout Chechnya, said Osipov.

About 200 soldiers are still held in Chechnya as hostages, Osipov said, or working "as slaves in Chechen families."

The Chechen military command said this week that 1,380 Chechens had been reported missing, according to Reuters.

Moscow citizens support the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya but have little sympathy for Chechen independence or concern for the rebuilding of the shattered republic, according to the results of an opinion survey released Thursday.

In a telephone poll of 720 respondents carried out in December by the public opinion service Mnenie, 66 percent of those surveyed considered the peace deal and full withdrawal of troops to be right.

Asked whether they thought Russia should restore the destruction of Chechnya, however, 60 percent replied it was unnecessary. Just over 18 percent said it was necessary.

More than 69 percent of respondents supported the statement that Chechnya "should not be given a single ruble until it confirmed finally and irrevocably that it belonged to Russia."

Nearly 46 percent of those polled considered that they or their families could become victims of a Chechen terrorist act.