Moscow, May 2 (RFE/RL) - Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said today that Moscow is ready to hold peace talks at any level with Chechen separatists, within the framework of President Boris Yeltsin's peace plan.
Chernomyrdin spoke to reporters in Moscow before leaving for Sweden. He said talks could be held with "all those who can really exert influence in settling the Chechnya problem." But he added that the Russian government would continue to use "political as well as military means" to end the conflict.
Chechen separatist leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev said yesterday he is ready for peace talks with Moscow, but he added that a full withdrawal of Russian forces from the breakaway republic is a necessary precondition.
Yandarbiyev resurfaced yesterday to dispel reports of his death. He held a conference with separatist commander Aslan Maskhadov. Maskhadov said his forces were beginning a new phase of the
fighting intended to, in his words, "inflict the maximum casualties
possible on the enemy."
Itar-Tass reports the situation was generally quiet in Chechnya overnight, except for some reports of sub-machine gunfire around Grozny. Russian troops are surrounding the Chechen town of Shali today. They have threatened to storm the town unless separatists in Shali lay down their weapons today.