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Russia: Officials Fear Chechnya Heading To Civil War

Moscow, 21 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Russian officials today expressed concern that mounting tensions in the Russian republic of Chechnya could lead to civil war. Special envoy to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Ivan Rybkin, said he feared that if civil war does erupt, it could spread to neighboring Caucasus republics. The situation in Chechnya worsened after a clash between armed groups in Gudermes last week that left at least nine dead.

Chechen President Aslan Mashkadov, who accused fundamentalist Wahhabis of inciting the clash, disbanded Islamic paramilitary units, called up reservists, and extended a state of emergency. Maskhadov's spokesman today dismissed as disinformation reports that key roads out of the capital Grozny had been blocked today amid a security search for fundamentalists.

Rybkin called for a government negotiator to be appointed to resolve problems in the Caucasus. He also said that stability cannot be restored in Chechnya without mediation of regions bordering the breakaway Russian republic.

Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) director Nikolai Kovalyov described the situation in Chechnya as chronically aggravated. He said all efforts must focus on averting a civil war.

Alexander Lebed, the general who brokered an end to Russia's 21-month war with Chechnya, today criticized the Russian government for failing to respond to the threat of further violence in Chechnya. Lebed, now Krasnoyarsk governor, accused Russian lawmakers of going off on summer holidays when events in Chechnya were serious and unpredictable.