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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechnya Vote Key for Peace, Russia

You can tell the presidential election campaign in Chechnya is well underway, because the pitch of the rhetoric has suddenly turned raucous.


Candidate Aslan Maskhadov has accused Moscow of trying to scuttle the elections, while officials in Moscow have accused the Chechen government of training guerrillas at special camps and of accepting foreign money to fund the polls.


Candidate Shamil Basayev, notorious for his hostage-taking sortie to the southern Russian town of Budyonnovsk in which about 150 people died, has said that if elected he will push for the trial in an international court of Russia's highest leadership. And Basayev remains Russia's most wanted man.


But if tensions run high in anticipation of the Jan. 27 vote, perhaps this is only natural. It is hard to imagine a less conducive atmosphere for free, fair and calm elections than today's Chechnya. The republic was brutalized by war and flooded with guns. Its population was dispersed and its infrastructure reduced to rubble.


When elections took place under similar circumstances in Bosnia, many argued it was too early. A vote would merely entrench the advantages that the various sides were holding by force, they said. Is it also too early for Chechnya to benefit from elections?


The answer has to be no. The situation in Chechnya is quite different. The republic has not been divided into parts. It will elect a single president and a parliament. Chechnya is in desperate need of a central government with universally acknowledged authority, and January's elections can provide that.


Fortunately, there are signs that the people who count in Moscow are still forging ahead in support of the vote. Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin is apparently the Kremlin's point man on Chechnya, and he seems to be holding course for the elections to take place.


The long-term aim for Rybkin should be to see that the Chechens get the de facto independence they have been looking for, but without the de jure independence against which Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov recently warned. Only in this way can the administration ensure that the war does not start again, while avoiding political suicide.


Moscow has a clear interest in seeing these elections take place successfully. In the coming few years, life will be far simpler for the Kremlin if it has a single, authoritative leader to negotiate with in Grozny. The alternative -- factional warfare similar to the situation in Afghanistan -- may suit Russia's Federal Security Service or the country's vengeful hawks, but it would not prevent a renewed war, head off the spread of terrorism, or secure the safety of Russia's oil pipeline in Chechnya.