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Chechnya: The Fall Of Doku Zavgayev--An Analysis

Prague, 29 August 1996 (RFE/RL) -- The sad reality of war, especially an ethnic war, is that there is no middle ground. You have to take sides, and if you do not, you will likely be killed or driven out, forced to become a refugee.

Doku Zavgayev, though officially still Moscow's man in Chechnya, has become a refugee in the Russian capital. Zavgayev along with most of his cabinet, says it is because he tried to steer a middle-ground between the Kremlin and the Chechen separatists.

The separatists do not see it that way. They say Zavgayev betrayed his people and has no place in Chechnya. Russian National Security chief Aleksandr Lebed says Zavgayev was not steering a middle course, he was just lining his pockets.

Regardless of what role Zavgayev was once playing, one thing appears clear: his days in Chechnya are over. Once Lebed began directly negotiating with the separatists, the opposing sides in the war were brought together. There was and is no longer any need for Zavgayev and his government.

Zavgayev, still intent on retaining some influence, has been granting interviews and staging press conferences to denounce the Lebed peace moves. He says the separatists are "bandits" who "have nothing in common with the Chechen people." Zavgayev asks Lebed why he has "not met the population, the refugees, the victims of the carnage, the intelligentsia, the clergy, the parliamentarians, the labor collectives?"

Zavgayev has always tried to marginalize the separatist fighters, to say that they do not represent the vast bulk of the Chechen population, which seeks a middle ground. Perhaps this once was true, but the few who hold the middle ground in Chechnya are powerless -- they either have no weapons, or else they have been driven out of the war-torn republic. There is really little point in trying to seek them out. It will not end the conflict.

In any case, it is doubtful that if there were some sort of middle lobby, that it would support Zavgayev. He has been tied to the Kremlin for too long. The proof of where Zavgayev's loyalties are, is that unlike most refugees, he has fled straight to Moscow.

The Russian paper "Kommersant Daily" predicted this week that Chechnya will likely follow an "Afghan pattern." According to the paper, this means that after the Kremlin negotiates a withdrawal of Russian troops with the Muslim rebels, the rebels will kill the remaining pro-Moscow officials in the republic.

Afterwards, as in Afghanistan, they will likely turn against each other. In that case, both sides may one day fondly recall the days of Doku Zavgayev. Cold comfort for now.