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Analysis From Washington -- Is Peace at Hand in Chechnya?

  • Paul Goble

Prague, June 12 (RFE/RL) -- The Moscow-Chechen accord signed on Monday calling for the withdrawal of Russian forces and the postponement of local elections has more to do with the Russian elections than with the genuine peace in Chechnya.

That conclusion is suggested by the timing of the accord and by its provisions. By suggesting that peace is at hand immediately before the Russian presidential elections, Boris Yeltsin will get a boost in the polls. And there will not be time for a more skeptical consideration of just what this agreement means and what it does not.

On paper, the accord's key provisions give the Chechens two things they have demanded: the withdrawal of Russian troops and the postponement of new local elections until after the Russian troops are gone.

But the first of these is only a promise and one that Moscow could go back on at any time -- especially after the presidential vote -- if as seems likely the fighting continues. And the second is less a concession than it seems. As all reporting from Chechnya confirms, there is no real possibility that an election could, in fact, be held there.

More significant, however, are the things the two sides have not agreed on. They have not agreed on whether and how the Chechens will lay down their arms. They have not agreed on whether Moscow will recognize the Chechen leadership of Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev or continue to insist on dealing with the puppet government the Russians installed in Grozny.

And they have not agreed on the future status of Chechnya. The Russians continue to insist that Chechnya is part and parcel of Russia; the Chechens have not dropped their demand for independence.

Until that is resolved, there is unlikely to be any final agreement, and the war is almost certain to go on.

Whatever the negotiators may say or even agree to, the leaders and people behind them on both sides are far more committed to their respective positions than many observers may think.

Yeltsin clearly hopes that he can portray himself as a peacemaker, but he is unlikely to continue that line if he is reelected. Indeed, he may -- as have others who have proclaimed "peace is at hand" before an election -- take an even harsher line after the presidential vote.

The Chechens, on the other hand, also are likely to go back to fighting both because they have not yet achieved what they want and because they believe that time is on their side.

They know that, as insurgents, they win as long as they do not lose, while the central authorities lose as long as they do not win. They know that the Russian war weariness that Yeltsin is attempting to exploit for his own electoral purposes will only grow.

And they know that Yeltsin or whoever is president of Russia will keep coming back to them for talks, and that as long as they keep the pressure up in the field, they will be able to win concessions from the Russians.

In short, a durable peace in Chechnya does not appear to be at hand. Instead, this latest accord is but one more step on what has been and will be a very long road.