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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Refugees May Vote Outside Chechnya

Moscow's envoy to Chechnya said Tuesday that refugees may be allowed to vote in some Russian cities during the war-torn republic's Jan. 27 elections, and the Chechen interior minister said the republic would abide by some of Russia's federal criminal laws.

But it remained unclear how far the tentative moves would go toward curbing the postwar crime wave that has engulfed the republic or enhance the credibility of balloting that is supposed to restore a measure of stability.

"The participation of refugees in the vote is necessary for the elections to be recognized as honest and democratic," said Ivan Rybkin, the head of Russia's Security Council and the Kremlin's point man on Chechnya.

He said Moscow, Rostov, Volgograd and Stavropol may set up polling booths allowing Chechen refugees in those cities to cast ballots for president.

Under an August peace agreement that ended 21 months of warfare, Chechnya is allowed to vote for the president and parliament of a "coalition government," although the republic's political status with regard to Russia would not be decided until the year 2000.

Nearly half of Chechnya's prewar population of 1 million citizens is believed to have fled the Northern Caucasus republic in the war that followed Russia's military offensive to crush a separatist movement.

Most now live in temporary shelters scattered throughout Russia and the Northern Caucasus. Many are believed to be ethnic Russians or Russian sympathizers, and Moscow has made their participation a prerequisite to what it would consider a valid election.

Some separatist leaders, for their part, oppose balloting outside Chechnya for fear that it could enhance the chances of pro-Moscow candidates.

Meanwhile, Russian Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov and his Chechen counterpart, Kazbek Makashev, signed a vaguely worded "temporary agreement" on how to fight a crime wave that has imperiled the forthcoming election.

The agreement says Russian federal criminal laws will apply to Chechnya -- but "only as long as they are not inconsistent with the Chechen Constitution," Makashev told reporters.

Kulikov, the hawkish general forced to preside over the humiliating withdrawal of Interior Ministry troops from Chechnya, said the accord would help bring crime in the region under control.

A series of high-profile murders and abductions has swept the republic, including the murders of six Red Cross workers in Novye Atagi in early December. Last Thursday, two Russian Orthodox priests disappeared. Very few of the cases have been solved, although about 20 suspects have been arrested in connection with the Red Cross slayings.

Interviewed Tuesday on NTV Independent Television's "Hero of the Day," Makashev spoke of "a circle of suspects" and a "working version" of how to solve the case, but he did not elaborate.

The crime wave has jeopardized plans to have the elections monitored by foreign observers, which many believe would help validate the results. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady Tarasov said Tuesday that Moscow does not oppose monitoring by foreign observers as Chechen leaders take responsibility for their safety.

Some Chechen presidential candidates, meanwhile, are pulling no punches in their expressions of disdain for Moscow. Strongman Shamil Basayev told the German newspaper Bild that he would attempt to try Russian "devils" responsible for the military offensive as war criminals if he won the presidency.

Aslan Maskhadov, the former rebel field commander, said Russia has lately been doing everything it can to undermine the election.

"This is the reason for the anti-Chechen hysteria in Russia and the return of the image of the Chechen bandits," Reuters quoted him as saying.act. Analysts say Russia is considering steps it can take to counter the perceived threat from NATO expansion. But republics such as Ukraine are only too happy to court NATO as a counterbalance to Moscow.

Ultimately, most analysts believe, the fate of the CIS will depend on the CIS republics' economic fortunes. If the Russian economy improves substantially, this will attract the other republics, Kremenyuk said. Similarly, as the economies of the other 11 former republics recover from the Soviet collapse, their need for integration will decrease.

None of these evolutions, however, are going to be resolved by next month's summit, meaning that the CIS will for now remain a shadowy entity caught in an economic and political balancing act.