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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Sends Careful Congratulations


President Boris Yeltsin congratulated Chechnya's new leader over the weekend on his election victory, calling the vote "an important step" in resolving Moscow's conflict with the breakaway republic.

The Russian president sent the head of his Security Council, Ivan Rybkin, to Chechnya to deliver the message to the president-elect, Aslan Maskhadov.

Rybkin met Saturday with Maskhadov, who says he is determined to lead Chechnya to independence. Itar-Tass reported Sunday that Maskhadov called on Turkey to recognize Chechnya's independence and invited the Turkish premier to his inauguration.

Itar-Tass also reported that Maskhadov's inauguration date had been moved to Feb. 12 from Feb. 10 to allow the secessionist republic more time to prepare.

Maskhadov, the chief rebel commander considered a moderate by Russian leaders, won an overwhelming victory in elections Jan. 27.

Yeltsin's note to Maskhadov avoided language that could be interpreted as a recognition of Chechen independence.

"[Improved relations] will require a great deal of time, goodwill and effort from all sides. I am convinced that only by the path of dialogue and cooperation can we solve all existing problems," Interfax quoted Yeltsin as saying in the message.

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin also sent a separate note of congratulations to Maskhadov, Russian news agencies reported Monday.

Yeltsin, fearing Chechen independence could encourage separatism elsewhere in the vast and disparate Russian Federation, has said formal independence is out of the question. Mashkadov has pledged to pursue full independence for the small Moslem region, though Moscow says it will not tolerate Chechnya's secession.

Rybkin said Sunday that he had emphasized during his meeting with Maskhadov the need to continue work on a treaty defining the power-sharing relationship between Moscow and Chechnya, Interfax reported. Several drafts of the treaty had already been prepared, he added.Interfax also quoted Rybkin as telling Maskhadov the new Chechen president would have to cooperate more actively with neighboring republics in the north Caucasus. He added that Russia did not intend "to stay aloof" from this process.

In a separate report Sunday, Interfax said Maskhadov and the president of neighboring Ingushetia, Ruslan Aushev, discussed doing away with their common border.

Before the Chechens unilaterally proclaimed their independence, Chechnya and Ingushetia, whose populations are ethnically similar, formed a single republic.

Interfax quoted Maskhadov and Aushev as saying they were concerned that the border, which has never been clearly defined, might become a source of friction between their two peoples.

Interfax said they also discussed Chechen refugees, of whom 20,000 are now living in Ingushetia, according to official reports.

Yeltsin sent troops into Chechnya in December 1994 to try to crush Chechnya's drive to independence. The 21-month campaign proved disastrous for the Russian army and ended in a peace deal allowing elections, the withdrawal of Moscow's troops and deferral of the issue of sovereignty for five years.

Maskhadov, however, has said he will soon raise the issue of full independence with the Kremlin.