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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Maskhadov: Peace Talks 'Inevitable' for Chechnya

Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov said in an interview published Monday that eventual peace talks with Russia were "inevitable" but there was no one yet in Moscow able or willing to hold them.

Maskhadov said in an interview with Novaya Gazeta that he was prepared for talks with no preconditions to determine "mutual relations" between Russia and Chechnya.

The Kremlin responded by calling for new laws to prevent newspapers from printing Maskhadov's words.

"Negotiations are possible. And inevitable. Wars end only through talks. And this war will end through them. I am convinced of that," Maskhadov said.

"I think the problem is that today there is nobody in the Kremlin with whom you can speak soberly, reasonably. Even about the interests of Russia and about what would benefit Russia first of all. Listen: there is nobody with whom to hold talks."

Maskhadov was the military commander of Chechen rebels during a 1994-96 war with federal troops but was quickly seen as a relative moderate by Moscow and became the preferred partner at lengthy peace talks. He negotiated a 1996 peace deal that included a troop withdrawal and was elected Chechen president in 1997 with the Kremlin's blessing. But Russia later accused him of failing to crack down on kidnapping gangs and radical Islamic warlords. He is wanted in Moscow on charges of leading an armed uprising.

"It is sad that yet again a well-known Russian newspaper offers its pages to one of the leaders of the Chechen separatists and terrorists," said Sergei Yastrzhembsky, presidential aide and chief Kremlin spokesman on Chechnya.

"It seems the time has come to add legislation calling for harsher sanctions for offering air-time or newspaper space for the distribution of extremist views," he said. His office confirmed the remarks, made to Interfax.

The newspaper's political editor, Yelena Afanasyeva, defended the decision to publish the interview. "We understand our role as part of the media a bit differently from Mr. Yastrzhembsky," she said. "We published the direct words of a figure who is obviously a newsmaker."

She said Kommersant earlier was warned by the Press Ministry for publishing an interview with Maskhadov but got the warning lifted in court.

Also Monday, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov issued a new death toll for federal troops in Chechnya of 2,682 — nearly 400 fewer than the official toll Yastrzhembsky's office published two weeks ago. An official in Yastrzhembsky's office acknowledged the discrepancy, saying: "I think this [Ivanov's figure] was either a simple slip or not everything was added in."