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Press Review: Ceasefire in Chechnya?

  • Don Hill

Prague, April 1 (RFE/RL) - A ceasefire in Bosnia promised by Russia President Boris Yeltsin is greeted by Western commentators with near unanimous skepticism.

Lee Hockstadter writes from Moscow today in The Washington Post: "Yeltsin ordered a unilateral cease-fire (yesterday) in the shell-shattered southern region of Chechnya and a phased withdrawal of some Russian forces as part of what he cast as a milestone peace plan to end the 15-month-old conflict. In a sharp departure from recent Russian policy, Yeltsin declared on national television that Moscow is prepared for mediated talks with Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudayev.... The war, deeply unpopular throughout Russia, dominates the television news night after night with its ghastly images of charred bodies, smashed homes and weeping refugees."

The London Times says today in an editorial: "President Yeltsin's new strategy for settling the conflict in Chechnya, unveiled yesterday, may well go the sad way of previous failed initiatives. This brutal 27-month conflict... will not easily be halted.... But with the thawing of Russia's winter snows, Mr. Yeltsin appears to be recovering some of his old energy.... The Chechnya plan is politically astute.... If the plan succeeds, he can claim authorship. If it fails, his opponents will be able to blame him alone no longer. This time, they too will have been involved."

In an analysis published today in the United States by newspapers of the Cox newspapers group, Marcia Kunstel and Joseph Albright write: "Yeltsin's nationwide television address... represented his most flexible approach yet to the Chechen conflict.... In promising to restart talks that broke down last December, (he) suggested Dudayev could play a role in subsequent Chechen elections.... Yeltsin also tried to spread the responsibility for achieving a peaceful settlement, announcing creation of a new commission with members from the executive branch and both chambers of parliament to tackle the job."

From Moscow, Helen Womack writes today in the British newspaper The Independent: "(Yeltsin) has admitted (that the Chechen war) is likely to make or break his chances of being reelected as Russian president in June.... It remains to be seen how effective his plan will be, given that Moscow's forces were bombing Chechen villages up to the last minute before Mr. Yeltsin spoke and in view of the fact that no consultations were held with General Dudayev, who still considers that he is at war with Russia."

In the U.S. newspaper Newsday today, Susan Sachs contends: " Yeltsin, who is facing an uphill fight to win a second term, needs to extricate himself from the war without being seen as relinquishing Russian territory. He has tried before to negotiate, but the talks always collapsed over Chechnya's political status. The conflict has been devastating, not only to Yeltsin's standing at home and internationally, but also to Russian self-esteem.... Remaining within the Russian political embrace is unlikely to hold much attraction for Dudayev. The dapper former Russian air force general, whose forces have frequently humiliated the Russian army, has said he will accept nothing less than full independence."

New York Times writer Michael Specter says in an analysis published in the newspaper today: "This is not the first peace plan Yeltsin has offered, and it may not be any more successful than those that have come before it.... The Russian commander in the region, Gen. Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, said it would be impossible to turn war to peace so quickly. But that was not Yeltsin's goal.... Yeltsin made two purely political, yet potentially effective, decisions.... First, he put his prime minister, Viktor S. Chernomyrdin, in charge of the peace effort. Chernomyrdin..., unlike Yeltsin..., is not detested by the Chechen rebels.... Yeltsin also discussed amnesty for Chechen separatists."

The Neue Zuercher Zeitung said today: "Yeltsin said that the Chechen conflict is the most difficult problem Russia confronts. He said all possible options for a settlement of the conflict have been tested. Yeltsin said that after discussions among different bodies of the Russian leadership, a program has been worked out consisting of a number of measures aimed at reestablishing peace, calm and stability in the Chechen Republic. He said that he will submit a proposal to the state Duma of an amnesty for people who participated in actions against the Russian army. but (not for those who) committed serious crimes."

In Britain's The Daily Telegraph today, Alan Philps writes from Moscow: "An hour after the (ceasefire) deadline artillery shells were pounding the village of Govskoye, three miles from the Russian border.... There was no immediate word from General Dudayev.... He has given no sign that he is ready for a ceasefire, and (he) is demanding full independence.... The best offer from Moscow would (have to be limited to) a broad form of autonomy, which is unacceptable to the Chechens."

Carol J. Williams says in an analysis today in the Los Angeles Times: "A simultaneous vow to continue fighting against 'terrorist acts' suggested that Yeltsin's latest endeavor to stop the war he instigated 15 months ago was little more than a repackaging of failed initiatives from the past.... Dudayev told the Los Angeles Times and other news organizations in an interview two weeks ago that he would spurn new negotiations with the Yeltsin regime because he had lost all trust in the current leadership and would rather see the Communists return to power.... Previous ceasefires have failed to stop the fighting in Chechnya because they, like the one announced yesterday), leave federal troops in the region vulnerable to (rebel) revenge attacks... that have invariably provoked a return of fire."

From Moscow David Hearst writes in an analysis published today in Britain's The Guardian: "With the Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov recently ruling out independence for Chechnya, no new political breakthrough is expected even if talks do come about.... There was widespread skepticism in Chechnya about the ceasefire on both sides of the line.... The recent Russian offensive has recaptured much of the ground lost when Russian troops halted their operations last year to start direct peace talks in Grozny."