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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechnya Need Not Fear Hawks In Kremlin




Recent violence in the North Caucasus region has spurred sharp rhetoric from Russia's leaders, but won't prompt the Kremlin to radically change its policy of restraint in the restive area, despite not-so-veiled threats to crack down, experts said.


The past two weeks alone have seen a powerful bomb explode in the North Ossetian capital of Vladikavkaz and several police and border guards killed or kidnapped near Chechnya's borders.


But, while likely to continue to threaten Grozny with force and increased isolation, the Kremlin hawks have few options other than drift, even though the deadline for deciding Chechnya's status is approaching, analysts say.


In August 1996, Security Council chairman Alexander Lebed and Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov signed a truce in which the two sides agreed to determine Chechnya's status in 2000. But no negotiating process is under way, aside from frequent promises from President Boris Yeltsin to meet Maskhadov.


This week an inflammatory "analytical report" was distributed to officials depicting Russians in Chechnya as in dire straits. The report, whose authorship is unclear, backs the Kremlin hawks' warlike stance on Chechnya, saying that as many as 46,000 Russians have been enslaved in the lawless republic and 21,000 more have been slain since 1991.


The bomb attacks, kidnappings and murders that continue unabated in the North Caucasus region may indeed help Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin and other hawks to continue the rhetoric.


But that's all.


"There is no party of war left [after the Kremlin's abortive military campaign in Chechnya] but there is a party that advocates threatening the use of force," said Alexei Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center.


Chechnya, which has been running its affairs independently, says it will not accept anything short of full-fledged independence and billions in reparations from Russia.


"Russia can agree to discuss the issue of full independence, but only if Chechnya agrees that all the scores havebeen settled [about monetary demands]," Malashenko said.


But even if Chechnya agreed to drop its financial demands, Russia would be unlikely to grant full independence.


That, most of Russia's ruling elite realizes, would encourage secessionist trends in other ethnic republics, as well as inflame the public.


Therefore, whoever replaces Yeltsin after the June 2000 elections will probably try to negotiate some kind of a quasi-independent status for Chechnya, perhaps something similar to what ultranationalist State Duma Deputy Vladimir Zhirinovsky has suggested, Malashenko said.


Zhirinovsky has submitted a bill that would give Chechnya the status of an interim self-ruling territory within the Russian Federation in exchange for a promise to drop compensation demands.


Such a territory would not be subject to Russian law and would have its own currency and borders as well as all the other paraphernalia of an independent state, except for full legal independence.


Even full independence would not solve Russia's headaches. Neither Maskhadov nor any of his rivals would be able to ensure complete obedience from the armed groups who make a living kidnapping people, siphoning off oil from pipelines and plundering livestock all over the North Caucasus.


It would be impossible to peacefully isolate Chechnya from the rest of Russia by sealing the borders, said both Malashenko and Alexander Iskandryan of the Center for Caucasian Studies.


But without a sealed boarder, Chechen-based gangs will continue to raid neighboring Russian provinces, unless Maskhadov can build at least some resemblance of a national law-enforcement community, Iskandryan said.


According to Malashenko, however, neither financial help nor training of Chechen police will help Maskhadov establish full control.


And even if Maskhadov meets with Yeltsin to sign a raft of cooperation agreements, that will change little since the Kremlin has no financial resources and Maskhadov lacks the power to implement any deal, experts said.