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Western Press Review: Russia, Chechnya Don 'Fig Leaf' Accord

  • Don Hill

Prague, 13 May 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Boris Yeltsin tried yesterday to pour calm on troubled oil by signing a euphemistic peace treaty with separatist Chechnya.

The war-devastated republic contains much of the route of an essential pipeline between Azerbaijani oil fields and the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossisk.

Western press commentary generally appraises the treaty doubtfully, labeling it mainly a psychological gesture.

LONDON GUARDIAN: Maskhadov had little option but to turn to Russia for money

The paper refers in a headline this morning to a "fig-leaf treaty." In the ensuing analysis, David Hearst writes: "To widespread skepticism (Yeltsin) signed a four-paragraph peace treaty with the leader of separatist Chechnya, Aslan Maskhadov, claiming to be putting an end to 400 years of hostilities between their two peoples."

Hearst says: "After failing to induce Saudi Arabia and other Arab states to recognize Chechnya, Mr. Maskhadov had little option but to turn to Russia for money to rebuild the republic's shattered economy, He insists that Russia must start paying pensions in the republic before the oil will flow. Russia desperately wants the pipeline to work."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The document is hardly a breakthrough toward normal relations

Miriam Neubert comments in today's edition that the document is more for show than for real progress toward normal relations. Neubert writes: "For bilateral relations between Russia and Chechnya to be truly normalized, an agreement signed amid great pomp in the Kremlin will not be enough. There will have to be significant, concrete action -- by both sides."

She writes: "Despite still-unexplained bomb attacks and the brazen kidnapping of three Russian journalists in Chechnya, the Russian and Chechen presidents have concluded months of negotiations with the signing of a long-awaited peace pact.

"The ceremony and subsequent firm handshake between Boris Yeltsin and Aslan Maskhadov here will be of the greatest psychological importance. For they not only showed a willingness to maintain the peace, but signalled that hawkish backers of a hard line against Chechnya will have a difficult time prevailing in Moscow. By itself, however, the document -- in which each side pledges not to use violence against the other -- is hardly a breakthrough toward normal relations."

WASHINGTON POST: Yeltsin referred to Chechnya as Ichkeria

In a news analysis today, David Hoffman writes from Moscow that the treaty is "intended as a show of force against the still-potent attacks of violent opponents to the peace who have staged a series of bombings in Russia and kidnappings in the breakaway region."

While the treaty fails to address key issues, as, for instance, whether Chechnya now is an independent state, Hoffman writes, Yeltsin's nonverbal behavior during the signing ceremony spoke loudly. The writer says: "The peace treaty, a brief five sentences, formalizes the cease-fire reached last August. It does not mention, or resolve, Chechnya's demand for independence." He adds: "Breaking a taboo, Yeltsin, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Maskhadov, referred to the region as both Chechnya and 'Ichkeria,' as the Chechen separatists call their self-declared state."

Hoffman writes: "The future stability of Chechnya is important to Russia because one of the potential routes for shipping Caspian Sea oil to the West passes through Grozny on its way to the Black Sea."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Maskhadov has become a voice of moderation as president

Moscow writer Richard C. Paddock concludes in a news analysis this morning that the very imprecision of the agreement serves a diplomatic purpose. He writes: "The brief agreement did not resolve the pivotal question of whether Chechnya is an independent nation or remains a part of Russia. But tacitly acknowledging Chechnya's goal of secession, the treaty provides that Russia and Chechnya will maintain relations in accordance with the 'norms of international law.' "

Paddock says: "For almost entirely two centuries, the Muslim people of the North Caucasus region fought intermittently with Russia, until the mountainous area was annexed in 1859 by the Russian empire." He writes: "Maskhadov, a former Soviet colonel who led the Chechen troops in the war against Russia, has become a voice of moderation as president. By traveling to the Kremlin and meeting with Yeltsin to sign the peace accord, he was able to demonstrate that his strategy of pursuing peace is working."

The writer says: "The treaty itself is short and simple -- only 63 words in Russian -- and it appears to be sufficiently ambiguous that both sides can interpret it favorably."

LONDON INDEPENDENT: Sending troops to Chechnya is the worst blot on Yeltsin's record

In an analysis, Phil Reeves writes from Moscow that the treaty is an example of the desire defining the deed. He says: "In remarks which owe more to wishful thinking that anything in the hard print before him, Boris Yeltsin yesterday forecast an end to 400 years of conflict between Russia and Chechnya."

Reeves says that the signing suggests that the sides are near agreement on oil -- "one of the issues that contributed to the Kremlin's decision to send in the troops in December 1994, resulting in the loss of some 80,000 lives and by far the worst blot on Mr. Yeltsin's Kremlin record."

The analysis says: "Exactly how much weight yesterday's treaty will carry ultimately will depend on a multitude of factors. The mere sight of Mr. Yeltsin sharing a platform with Mr. Maskhadov, complete with his lambskin hat, will deepen the outrage already felt by hardliners in Russia who oppose the peace deal."

BOSTON GLOBE: Chechnya is isolated by the international community's unwillingness to upset Moscow

David Filipov writes today in a news analysis that the Yeltsin administration is striving for a delicate diplomatic balance between exerting influence on the Chechen leaders and inciting the Chechens to new rebellion. Filipov says: "Under (yesterday's) agreement, both sides pledged 'to reject forever the use of force or threat of force in resolving all matters of dispute,' according to a text of the document distributed by the Kremlin."

He writes: "The Russian leader could afford to be gracious. Russia has rebounded from its Chechen debacle, which produced little domestic or international protest, and did not prevent Yeltsin from winning reelection last year." Filipov adds: "For the war hero Maskhadov, on the other hand, things have gone downhill since his landslide election victory after the last Russian troops pulled out in January. Chechnya is isolated by the international community's unwillingness to upset Moscow, and split by feuding among powerful clans vying for a stake in Chechnya's potentially lucrative oil business."

Filipov concludes: "Moscow's problem is how to put just enough pressure on Maskhadov without forcing a new conflict in the Caucasus."