Washington, 26 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, long involved in peace efforts in Chechnya, is urging the president of Chechnya's separatist leadership to take clear and immediate steps to end to hostage standoff in Moscow.
In an interview with RFE/RL, Brzezinski said the crisis at the Moscow theater -- in which Chechen militants are threatening to kill 700 hostages unless Russia pulls its troops out of the North Caucasus republic -- could end in a horrible tragedy but says it also presents a political opportunity.
Brzezinski says Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov can seize that opportunity -- and help resolve the standoff -- by immediately and clearly declaring that hostage taking has nothing to do with Chechen tradition or the way the Chechens conduct their struggle for independence.
Then, Brzezinski said, Maskhadov must lay down his arms: "He [Maskhadov] should announce unilaterally that he is declaring a cease-fire in the hope that it will contribute to a peaceful resolution to the situation in Moscow -- and express the hope that the Russians will also respond."
After that, Brzezinski said the democratically elected Maskhadov must take steps to engage the Russians in direct talks: "President Maskhadov should announce that he's ready to send an emissary to Moscow, a high-level emissary, on his own behalf. Even, on under some conditions, one could even consider himself being willing to do that, to help negotiate a peaceful resolution to the hostage crisis -- provided the Russian side would guarantee the freedom of movement for any such person."
Finally, Brzezinski says Maskhadov should seek to create the proper climate for resolving the tense standoff by expressing hopes that Russia will engage his emissary in serious negotiations regarding a possible political solution to the conflict in Chechnya. "By doing all of the foregoing, in my view, President Maskhadov would make it easier for [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin to take some constructive steps on this tragic issue without otherwise appearing to be doing so under the threat of terrorism."
The hostage takers say they will start killing their captives unless Putin declares the war in Chechnya to be finished and shows evidence that Russian troops have started to withdraw from the North Caucasus republic. Putin says his main concern is the welfare of the hostages.
But Brzezinski, who served in the late 1970s under former U.S. President and recent Nobel Peace Prize-winner Jimmy Carter, reiterated that Maskhadov must take the first step -- and take it clearly: "It is very desirable -- in fact, very required -- that President Maskhadov make very clear his disassociation with the notion of taking hostages and threatening the lives of innocent people -- irrespective of whatever may motivate the sense of suffering and resentment on the part of the Chechens."
Brzezinski is one of the most prominent former senior U.S. officials to take an active and vocal role in the Chechen conflict and has made well-received proposals for achieving a political solution in the breakaway republic.
Since hostilities resumed there in 1999, Brzezinski has co-chaired the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya, a private, independent, and bipartisan organization in Washington.