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Chechnya: Khasavyurt Accords Failed To Preclude A Second War

Boris Yeltsin (right) and Aslan Maskhadov at peace talks in the Kremlin on August 18, 1996 (ITAR-TASS) PRAGUE, August 30, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- On August 6, 1996, as OSCE Grozny Mission head Tim Guldimann was seeking to mediate talks between Chechen resistance fighters loyal to acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev and the Russian military, the Chechen forces launched a major attack on Grozny, taking control of the city within days.

On August 12, Russian President Boris Yeltsin dispatched his recently appointed Security Council secretary, Aleksandr Lebed, to Grozny for talks on a cease-fire with Aslan Maskhadov, chief of staff of the Chechen resistance forces. Over the next few days, Maskhadov met several times with the acting Russian military commander, Lieutenant General Konstantin Pulikovsky, but successive tentative agreements they reached on a cessation of hostilities were routinely ignored.

Then, on 22 August, Maskhadov and Lebed met in the village of Novye Atagi south of Grozny, and during eight hours of talks drafted and then signed a nine-point cease-fire agreement -- to take effect at noon on August 23 -- on the technical aspects of demilitarization, including the withdrawal of both sides' forces from Grozny and the creation of a joint headquarters to preclude looting in the city.

Eight days later, late on August 30, Lebed met again with Maskhadov, this time in Khasavyurt, Daghestan, close to that republic's border with Chechnya. After hours of negotiations, Maskhadov and Chechen Vice President Said-Khasan Abumuslimov, for the Chechen side, and Lebed and one of his deputies, Sergei Kharlamov, for Russia, signed a declaration and a document entitled "On the Principles for Determining the Bases of Bilateral Relations," universally known thereafter as the Khasavyurt accords.

Agreeing Not To Agree

The preamble to the declaration declared that it reflected the shared desire to create "mutually acceptable preconditions for a political solution to the armed conflict." Those accords detailed measures for normalizing the situation in Grozny. They also envisaged the withdrawal of all federal forces from Chechnya by December 31, 1996. And crucially, they stipulated that a formal agreement on the controversial question of the relations between the Chechen Republic Ichkeria and the Russian federal government need not be signed until late 2001.

Maskhadov (right) and Shamil Basayev in 1999 (ITAR-TASS)

They did not, however, address with any finality the issue of Chechen independence. "The Khasavyurt agreement has been interpreted, including by some international experts, as a proof of the Russian recognition of Chechnya's independence," Guldimann, the former OSCE mission head, told RFE/RL on the occasion of the accords' 10th anniversary. "I wouldn't read such a thing in this agreement. The wording was not that clear. There were some references of dealing with each other according to international law, but that in itself does not mean the recognition of independence."

In an article published on October 23, 1996, in the Russian daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Russian State Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova cited international precedents for delaying a decision on a region's formal status, such as that on the reunification of the German Democratic Republic and the German Federal Republic. Lebed, according to Starovoitova, had cited the example of the French overseas territory of New Caledonia. At the same time, Starovoitova noted the urgent need to form new power structures in Chechnya.

Misplaced Optimism

The Khasavyurt accords paved the way for the signing of two further agreements between Russia and Chechnya. In mid-November 1996, Yeltsin and Maskhadov signed an agreement on economic relations and on the payment of compensation to Chechens who had been "affected" by the 1994-96 war. Six months later, Maskhadov, who was elected Chechen president in January 1997 in a ballot monitored by the OSCE and acknowledged by the international community as free and democratic, traveled to Moscow where he and Yeltsin signed a formal treaty "on peace and the principles of Russian-Chechen relations" that Maskhadov predicted would demolish "any basis to create ill-feelings between Moscow and Grozny."

But Maskhadov's optimism proved misplaced. Over the next two years, despite all his efforts, many of Maskhadov's former comrades-in-arms set out to undermine his authority and transform Chechnya into a state based on Islamic law. After those radicals, led by field commander Shamil Basayev, launched their ill-fated incursion into Daghestan in the summer of 1999, the beginning of a new war, and with it the irrevocable eclipse of the hopes engendered by the Khasavyurt accords three years earlier, were only a matter of time.

Officials like Guldimann who were involved in the negotiations say the accords, despite their unavoidable limitations, achieved what they set out to do. The Khasavyurt agreement, he conceded "led to a politically unstable situation in Chechnya after the total withdrawal of Russian military forces, which then led to a confrontation later on in 1999." But the agreement itself, he added, "made the maximum of what was realistically possible. It left open certain questions, but it would be wrong to say that the agreement would have lasted if it had been better drafted."

The Chechnya Conflict

The Chechnya Conflict

The aftermath of a December 2002 Chechen resistance attack on the main government building in Grozny (epa)


The fighting in Chechnya has raged, with short breaks, since 1994. It has brought misery, death, and destruction to the North Caucasus republic and to Russia as a whole. View an annotated timeline of the conflict.


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