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Russia: Faction Leader Urges Putin To End Chechen War

  • Francesca Mereu

Boris Nemtsov, the leader of the Union of Rightist Forces political faction in Russia's State Duma, recently visited RFE/RL's Moscow bureau. He discussed the ongoing conflict in Chechnya and outlined his faction's proposal for resolving the two-year-old war in the breakaway republic. RFE/RL Moscow correspondent Francesca Mereu reports.

Moscow, 21 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Russian politician Boris Nemtsov has been a public critic of President Vladimir Putin's policy in the breakaway republic of Chechnya, where a two-year-old war drags on with no resolution in sight.

Putin, who in 1999 ordered Russian troops back into Chechnya as Russian prime minister, promised a relatively quick and effective engagement. The war has proved anything but. Nemtsov, who leads the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) faction in Russia's State Duma, says it is time to find a political solution to the military conflict.

As the first step toward negotiation, Nemtsov recommends establishing Chechnya as an administrative district with its own presidential representative. Although he says a popularly elected Chechen official should be included in all peace negotiations, Nemtsov adds that in order to gain Putin's confidence, the presidential liaison should not be a Chechen:

"[Putin's] representative can only be a person who is close to him, preferably from his intelligence services. And Chechens themselves understand that if this position was held by someone like [Defense Minister Sergei] Ivanov or [Federal Security Service director Nikolai] Patrushev, they would truly be Putin's representative, and would have full power to conduct negotiations. But if the person was someone like [Chechen administration head] Akhmad Kadyrov, of course, it wouldn't be possible [to reach any agreement]."

Another pressing problem the Russian government should address, Nemtsov says, is the hundreds of thousands of Chechen refugees living in miserable conditions in neighboring Ingushetia and elsewhere throughout Russia. The SPS leader says the government has dedicated neither money nor energy to resolving the refugee crisis:

"Another thing that should be taken into consideration [are] the 400,000 refugees; 150,000 in Ingushetia and the rest all over the country. There isn't any government plan for dealing with them. There's nothing in the government budget; a government plan doesn't even exist. We think there should be government help for refugees. [I'm not talking about] forcing them back into Chechnya. [But we believe] they will go back [there willingly] if there are good living conditions."

Nemtsov admits it will be difficult for Putin to take the politically charged step of initiating negotiations. But he says he believes the Russian president must find the resolve to stop the conflict -- much as he credits then-President Boris Yeltsin with doing in 1996, when he signed a peace deal with Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov ending the first (1994-96) war in the republic.

"He [the president] has to find the strength to say it's time to begin the negotiations. This won't be a defeat [for him]; it is the only chance to save people's lives, to save face, and to say before the 2004 presidential elections, 'These four years were very difficult, but now we can be sure there will be peace throughout Russia.'"

Nemtsov warns, however, that a solution to the Chechen crisis is still far off. "First of all," he says, "Putin has to rid himself of the prejudice that all Chechens are bandits."