Prague, 29 April 1997 (RFE/RL) - Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin says yesterday's explosion in southern Russia that left two dead and more than 20 wounded was an attack of terrorism. But Chernomyrdin said today that the blast at a train station in Pyatigorsk, near the Chechen border, would not affect the peace accord signed last August with Chechen officials.
Russia's Federal Security Service and Interior Ministry blame Chechen terrorists for the attack. Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov said two women have been detained in connection with the blast.
Kulikov today said that violence was spinning out of control in and around the North Caucasus republic of Chechnya, and threatened that Moscow could take "harsh measures" against Chechen "bandits."
Kulikov, who spoke with reporters in Moscow, said that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov may be losing control and that the Chechen "regime" may become "a criminal one." He warned that "the people of the North Caucasus had demanded that harsh measures be taken against the bandits." He also hinted that the Russian public might start "Chechen pogroms" in retribution for "terrorist acts."
Chechen authorities have denied involvement in the bomb attack, and First Deputy Prime Minister, Movladi Udugov, today called for a meeting between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov.
Yeltsin had said yesterday that Chechnya could not hope for dialogue with Moscow unless it restores order and halts attacks on Russia.
Earlier today, the Russian press agency Interfax reported that the commander of Russian forces in the North Caucasus, Partagen Andriyevsky, announced that the Russian police had clashed with a Chechen "gang" in Dagestan near Chechnya's border. There was no immediate information when the clash might have occurred. No independent confirmation of the alleged incident has been possible.
Kulikov is to meet with vacationing President Boris Yeltsin tomorrow in the Black Sea resort of Sochi to report on the "crime situation in southern Russia." Yeltsin's spokesman Sergey Yastrzhembsky said yesterday that the President was "extremely concerned over the terrorist act in Pyatigorsk." Yastrzhembsky also said that Yeltsin called on the Interior Ministry and the police forces to adopt effective means "for uncompromising energetic actions to curb terrorist acts."
The Chechen government has strongly denied any involvement in the incidents. Speaking with a Moscow radio station, Chechen vice president Vakha Arsanov categorically ruled out any Chechen participation "in the terrorist acts on Russian territory." Arsanov suggested that the incidents might have been staged by Russian "special services" themselves to foment problems in the Russia-Chechnya relations.
The Russian police and Interior Ministry troops were heavily involved in the losing struggle against the Chechens. The conflict subsided in the middle of last year, with a signing of a ceasefire agreement in August. Kulikov was regarded then as one of the principal opponents of the agreement.
Moscow and Grozny have conducted continuing negotiations on future relations, but little progress has been achieved so far. The main obstacle is Chechnya's insistence on gaining full independence. Moscow has refused to accept that, still considering Chechnya part of the Russian Federation. No country has officially recognized Chechnya as independent.
But the Chechens are determined. In the latest move to assert the right to independence, President Maskhadov yesterday called on members of the international Caspian oil consortium to reach agreement on safe transit of oil with the republic. Maskhadov said that after the agreement is signed, Chechnya will "guarantee the security of the pipeline." The pipeline starts in Azerbaijan and runs across Chechnya to Russia's Black Sea port of Novorosiisk.
The call was embarrassing to Russia, which has assured the other members of the consortium that it controlled the route.
Also yesterday, Maskhadov told the Russian press agency Itar-Tass that his government wants to reach a lasting peace accord with Russia to stop conflicts and confrontations. He went on to say that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) should play an important mediating role in the Russia-Chechnya negotiations.
OSCE played a major role during 1995 and 1996 in bringing the two sides together for talks on ending the armed conflict. But Moscow has recently said that the OSCE should limit its current operations in the republic to monitoring human rights and refugee problems, and should stay away from political issues.
The Russians clearly want to reduce the Chechen problem to a purely domestic issue. Maskhadov insists on drawing international attention to his government and his country.
And the situation there is still difficult. Crime is rampant, conditions chaotic and there is a perceptible absence of even a semblance of law and order.
But there are also signs that things could improve. A few days ago the Muslim Chechen government declared Orthodox Easter a Christian holiday, allowed for shipment of food and humanitarian aid, and provided free-and-safe transportation to Christian cemeteries in a series of gestures of good will to mainly Russian Orthodox faithful.
The Russian government has failed to acknowledge these moves.