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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Let's Have Talks, Not Vague Talk

Vladimir Putin says there's no one to negotiate with in Chechnya, but Putin suddenly has more important tasks - Thursday he had to attend a birthday party in the Urals. (At least it was a war-related event: The founder of the Kalashnikov machine gun had turned 80.)

With Putin away, the Kremlin deputy chief of staff, Igor Shabdurasulov, floats the idea of negotiating with Chechnya. In Helsinki, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov also talks of talks.

True, these negotiation proposals - like Putin's, back before he decided there was no one to negotiate with - pile on conditions so harsh they are not serious. Russia is bombing Chechnya, not the other way around - and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has repeatedly called for negotiations - but Ivanov and Shabdurasulov insist that Maskhadov has to take even more initiative.

In Shabdurasulov's proposal, for example, Maskhadov has to renounce Chechen independence. That's absurd - because the second Maskhadov does anything of the kind, he will simply be ousted or killed, and Russia will be left to deal with dictator Shamil Basayev, or some other hawkish Chechen warlord. (It is possible, of course, that this would suit the Kremlin fine.)

In addition to being absurd, the Shabdurasulov proposal is also unfair. President Boris Yeltsin and Maskhadov signed a peace treaty in May 1997 based on the Khasavyurt accord, which postponed all decisions about Chechnya's aspirations for independence until 2001. Here it is 1999, and Shabdurasulov - who is just some Kremlin functionary - is tearing up that deal?

It seems that Shabdurasulov and Ivanov are not so much seeking peace as they are rhetorical ammunition for next week's OSCE meeting in Istanbul, when Yeltsin - or his proxy - will have to explain the war.

The West should therefore be highly skeptical and critical at this meeting of any vague claims about vague possible negotiations. It would be wonderful to see other world leaders pinning Yeltsin down and asking: Aren't you violating the May 1997 agreement about postponing decisions on Chechnya's status? And why are you still bombing?

For that matter, we're still waiting for the new UN war crimes prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, to weigh in. There's plenty of work for her here. She could start by asking Anatoly Chubais: On what grounds have you unplugged all electricity to Chechnya?

This tough line can be taken without any hand wringing about what "the generals" will think. "The generals" are the West's new post-Pristina-airport bogeymen. But a little bluster aside, they are not a serious concern. The army is impoverished and sullen, and the generals have no political clout.