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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Accord Sets Right Tone In Chechnya

The peace accord between Russia and Chechnya signed in the Kremlin on Monday was long on symbolism, short on substance. At this stage, that is just the right recipe for relations between the two longtime foes.


In a simple text of just a few dozen words, the parties pledge to abide by "principles and norms of international law" -- leaving that passage open to interpretation -- and renounce the use and threat of force in their relations. It wisely steers clear of the contentious question of independence, still due to be settled by 2001: Tempers have not yet cooled enough to try to fudge an issue that is so black and white.


Hawks in the Russian leadership had objected most to the phrase about the "centuries-old confrontation" between the two nations. President Boris Yeltsin's signature on this point is a notable concession of the imperialist nature of Russia's past. Conveniently, it also allows the sitting president to ascribe responsibility for the war he alone started to larger historical forces.


Yet it was the atmospherics of Monday's signing ceremony that were most striking. Yeltsin treated Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov as a dignified equal, smiling and chatting as state leaders do. He even referred to the separatist republic by the name Chechens use, "Ichkeria."


The evident personal rapport struck up between the two leaders in their first meeting is likely to prove useful as future disagreements erupt.


Monday's scene contrasted sharply with Yeltsin's humiliating treatment of Maskhadov's predecessor, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, in an awkward Moscow visit last June. Inevitably, it also led one to think that red-carpet treatment and a symbolic declaration with the late Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudayev several years ago could have averted the terrible bloodshed of 1994-96.


Thankfully, hardliners who blocked such overtures are, for now, out of power or marginalized; Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov was dispatched to the Far East for the duration of Maskhadov's visit. The agreement, already positively received in Chechnya, bolsters the moderate Maskhadov in dealing with his own radical factions.


The economic accords signed separately Monday could prove just as significant as the political document. If Moscow hopes to moderate Chechen demands for outright independence down the road, it can do so only by providing true incentives for staying formally within the Russian Federation.


The key for everything is the spirit underlying the peace treaty. The two presidents have hitched their fortunes to each other, and underscored that the most important thing they can deliver their citizens is peace.