Washington, April 2 (RFE/RL) - Russian President Boris
Yeltsin's new peace plan for Chechnya -- a unilateral truce, mediated
talks with Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudayev, willingness to offer
Chechnya a status "very close" to independence -- is both less and
more than it appears.
On the one hand, the plan -- announced Sunday in a nation-wide
television speech -- will yield less than Yeltsin hopes. It is
unlikely to lead to a quick end to the fighting. It isn't going to
lead to any quick agreement with the Chechens. And it is unlikely to
win Yeltsin the support he seeks for his re-election campaign.
On the other hand, the plan will have consequences far beyond those
that Yeltsin intends. If nothing else, it represents yet another
Russian concession, one that points toward ultimate Chechen
independence. It is certain to lead other parts of the Russian
Federation to demand more rights from Moscow. And it will lead
Yeltsin's communist and nationalist opponents to denounce him for
As his aides have pointed out, Yeltsin's proposal is very much part
of his election campaign. But despite the hoopla surrounding his
peace plan, it is unlikely to have the impact he intends. Yeltsin's
generals have already pointed out that stopping the fighting won't be
easy. The Chechens have been offered much less than they want -- real
independence and the withdrawal of all Russian troops. And Yeltsin
gave his forces political cover for new fighting: he said that his
forces would respond harshly to any Chechen action in the future.
Any talks that do follow Yeltsin's announcement will also be
First, Moscow will find it almost impossible to identify a mediator
who would agree to play that role and whom both sides will accept.
Second, Yeltsin has offered the Chechens more than ever before but
not as much as the Chechens want. Moscow will find it difficult to
back down from what it has now offered, and by changing its position
yet again, it has invited the Chechens to continue to press their
case in the hopes of winning their ultimate goal.
The only serious limiting factor in this case -- one that Yeltsin
may be counting on -- is that the Chechens also are watching who will
win the Russian presidential elections. And they may have decided
that they can get more from Yeltsin now than they could get from him
or any of his much more hardline opponents after the June 1996 vote.
And third, Moscow and Chechnya will not be the only participants in
any talks direct or otherwise that do take place. And that may be the
most important result of Yeltsin's latest move.
Many of Russia's regions -- first and foremost the non-Russian
regions in the North Caucasus and elsewhere but also many distant
Russian oblasts and krays as well -- will be watching to see what
If Yeltsin makes more concessions to the Chechens, ever more leaders
and peoples in these other territories will soon be asking -- indeed
some already are -- why they shouldn't get treatment at least equal
to that of the Chechens.
In short, Yeltsin's speech suggests that he may now be caught in the
same trap Mikhail Gorbachev found himself in 1990-91 with respect to
the Baltic states . If the Russian leader treats one republic better
than others, he will find that the others will soon demand equal
treatment and thus put pressure on the center that it cannot contain.
If on the other hand, the Russian leader refuses to treat one
republic that differs so obviously from the others in a different
way, he will be forced to use force. Five years ago, that logic led
to the destruction of the Soviet Union when the traditional forces of
order found that they had no support and when Yeltsin opposed force
in the name of freedom and democracy.
Now, that logic could have equally fateful consequences for the
Russian Federation and for Moscow's efforts to reunite some of the
former Soviet republics into a new union of one kind or another.
Yeltsin's speech fails to tell us which side he will be on this