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Moscow Intent on Concluding Agreement With Zavgayev

By Anthony Wesolowsky

Prague, May 31 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's desire to reach a power-sharing accord with the leadership of essentially, its proxy government in Chechnya threatens to scuttle the ceasefire agreement reached between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and separatist leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev Monday. The author of the proposed accord, delineating powers between Moscow and Grozny, Sergei Shakhrai, said the treaty would be signed by Doku Zavgayev because, in his words, "it is a treaty on a division of power."

The treaty, announced Wednesday, would grant the republic broad powers. but that would fall short of the total independence separatists have sought since declaring independence in 1991.

Russian officials say the accord is similar in many ways to the power-sharing agreements reached with 15 of its 89 regions. In particular, Shakhrai, formerly deputy Prime Minister for Nationalities and a legal expert, says Chechnya's status of "limited sovereignty" would practically mirror the treaty signed with Tatarstan in February, 1994, granting Kazan substantial control over its own affairs.

Shakhrai had supported such a plan before Russian troops were sent into the Caucasus republic in December of 1994.

Such power-sharing treaties have met with mixed results. Tatarstan, for example, is hailed as a showpiece demonstrating Moscow's willingness to let power trickle down to the regions.

But it is Moscow's insistence on concluding the pact with Doku Zavgayev that has cast doubt over recently resumed peace efforts with the separatists. It was the Yeltsin-Yandarbiyev talks that resulted in the ceasefire agreement, and Yeltsin's four-hour whirlwind tour to Grozny.

Shakhrai's pronouncement makes it unclear what role Moscow sees the separatists' playing in further peace talks to end the 18-month-old conflict, which has taken some 30,000 lives.

Shakhrai did say Moscow is willing to hear separatist proposals, but only within, what he called, "the framework of an inter-chechen dialogue."

Moscow has insisted Zavgayev play a role in resoloving the conflict. Earlier, the Kremlin gave its backing to a Zavgayev plan to sign separatist peace agreements with Chechen villages. It was generally seen as an attempt to boost his authority.

But the Chechen separatist leadership is unwilling to sit at the negotiating table with Zavgayev, branding him a puppet of the Kremlin.

Russian officials admit it is unlikely lasting peace can ever be reached in Chechnya without imput from the separatists.

Vladimir Zorin, the chairman of the Duma committee for nationality affairs and a negotiator, says Yandarbiyev cannot be excluded from the talks because of the backing he reportedly enjoys among Chechen field commanders. It was influential separatist commander Shamil Basayev - viewed as one of the most uncomprimising Chechen separatist figures - who sanctioned Yandarbiyev's trip to Moscow for the peace talks.

Zorin, speaking in as Moscow Komsomolets interview this week, also said the commanders may be more willing to unite behind the new Chechen separatist leader. Otherwise, he said, they would lose political legitimacy if they were to abandon Yandarbiyev.

But the mood among the field commanders already seems to be souring. Chief Chechen military commander Aslan Maskhadov has said his forces will abide by the ceacefire, which is set to take effect at midnight Friday. But he expresses concern that Yeltsin's latest peace overture is nothing more than a pre-election ploy to try to minimize the Chechnya conflict as an major campaign issue.

Maskhadov told France AFP news agency yesterday that he "seriously doubts" the peace talks will lead to peace. He said the Chechen separatists would not play the role of actors in what he called Yeltsin's "election manuever.

More talks with separatist representatives are scheduled tomorrow in Dagestan's capital, Makhachkala. The talks will deal with issues such as full implementation of the ceasefire, disarmament and prisoner exchanges. But these talks take place after the Kremlin has clearly stated it is only interested in concluding a power-sharing deal with the man installed by Moscow, and ensured his position by Russian military force: Doku Zavgayev. Zavgayev is widely regarded in Chechnya and the rest of Russia as an illegitimate leader.

Will the ceasefire hold ? Will the talks move forward? And more basically, will the Chechen separatists show up at the negotiating table? All these question await answers.