Prague, April 3 (RFE/RL) - Russian President Boris
Yeltsin cannot afford to pull his troops out of Chechnya. That would
be admitting defeat. And it would cost him his re-election.
Yeltsin also says he cannot afford to let the war continue, or he
will not win a second term.
The result was something akin to an "April Fool's" peace plan, which
has unleashed much ink but halted no bullets.
Yeltsin's generals, under the guise of self-defense, continue to
battle the separatists across southern Chechnya and Chechen leaders
continue to scoff at the Kremlin. In short, little has changed.
Yeltsin's peace plan, clearly timed with an eye to Russia's June
presidential elections has so far achieved one goal: it has caught
the Communists off balance and highlighted their lack of any original
ideas to end the conflict. But Yeltsin is the one who began the armed
conflict in Chechnya and for him, the conflict remains as intractable
The Russian press is nearly unanimous in agreeing that no meaningful
peace can be achieved without some sort of negotiations with
separatist leader Dzhokhar Dudayev.
As part of his plan, Yeltsin proposed indirect negotiations, but he
still balks at direct talks and continues to call Dudayev and his men
"bandits." Meanwhile, Dudayev, in an yesterday's interview with
Azerbaijan's Turan news agency, called Yeltsin's plan an electoral
ploy. And he noted that "after the so-called cessation of combat
operations, combat actions escalated with new strength in some
regions of the republic and are still continuing."
That assertion has been supported by journalists as well
as Yeltsin's own commanders in Chechnya, General Vyacheslav
Tikhomirov, and his deputy, Major General Stanislav Kondratiev. Both
men confirm renewed fighting across southwestern Chechnya.
Dzhokhar Dudayev has said he would be willing to accept indirect
negotiations with the Kremlin, but his proposal of intermediaries-
former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev and Yabloko party leader
Grigory Yavlinsky - make such negotiations all but impossible. Both
Yavlinsky and Gorbachev are running against Yeltsin in the
presidential race. Yeltsin would be unlikely to allow either man to
negotiate on his behalf in Chechnya - and take credit for any
In any case, Chechen leader Dudayev clearly wants Yeltsin out of
office. He is not likely to agree to any plan that will improve
Yeltsin's image before elections unless he can win some key
concessions - the main one being Kremlin recognition.
For now, short of a brief pause in the fighting to allow his men to
rearm, Dudayev has no need for Yeltsin's peace plan. Yeltsin may be
fighting for political survival, but the separatists are fighting for
their lives and their homeland. There is no better incentive in war,
and the contrast between the highly-disciplined separatists and the
demoralized, frightened Russian concripts tells the story.
Yeltsin may have succeeded in momentarily disorienting his Communist
rival, but that may not be enough to win the election, as long as the
coffins with Russia's soldiers keep returning to Moscow.