Yesterday, reformist leader Grigory Yavlinsky became the first high-profile Russian politician -- and likely presidential candidate -- to put forth a peace plan for Chechnya. On RFE/RL's Russian Service late yesterday, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov responded to the plan. RFE/RL's Sophie Lambroschini sends this report from Moscow.
Moscow, 10 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- It took the Russian political establishment six weeks of war in Chechnya to come up with a semblance of a peace plan. Grigory Yavlinsky, head of the reformist Yabloko party, yesterday finally called for a halt to massive Russian airstrikes on the separatist republic. But at the same time, Yavlinsky urged that tough conditions be imposed on the Chechen leaders if they wanted peace.
So, Moscow analysts asked, was it a peace plan or an ultimatum? Yavlinsky's statement mixed praise of the Russian military for a job so far well done with offers of peace talks to the Chechens. Yet, if the talks fail, he proposed to hand over the entire problem to the generals.
As a precondition for peace, Yavlinsky said Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov must free all hostages held on his territory, disarm unofficial armed groups and surrender all so-called "terrorists." If Maskhadov refuses to comply, Yavlinsky's plan would give the civilian population 30 days to leave Chechnya. After that, the Russian military would be allowed to solve all the issues "independently" -- meaning, apparently, with very little, if any, civilian control.
For several weeks previously, Yavlinsky had given Prime Minister Vladimir Putin his full support for the government's military actions in Chechnya. Yesterday, Yavlinsky displayed what appeared to be an extremely cautious mix of criticism and praise of Russian policy in the republic.
Yavlinsky stressed that Russian attacks in Chechnya had produced many civilian casualties and even more who have fled the republic -- more than 200,000 so far. These are facts that Russian officials have minimized. He also raised the possibility of a conflict between the country's political and military leadership which, despite recurring rumors, has been officially denied.
Yavlinsky said as well that the situation in Russia was becoming increasingly tense and unstable. For that reason, he urged Russia's political authorities to seize the opportunity given to them by the armed forces. Yavlinsky said the military had created "the first convincing prerequisites for beginning a political [peace] process."
Maskhadov himself has made several peace proposals in recent weeks. The last one was made public 10 days ago through Ingush president Ruslan Aushev. It defined Chechnya as a "subject of international law." But it also conceded the republic could be a common defense space for both Chechens and Russians, and agreed to reduce the size of Chechnya's armed forces.
Maskhadov yesterday spoke with RFE/RL by satellite phone from an official residence near Chechnya's capital, Grozny. Maskhadov said Yavlinsky's plan in fact only repeated his own previous proposals and therefore he accepted all of Yavlinsky's conditions:
"Yavlinsky should have informed himself of my peace proposals. Everything [he said] is written there -- concerning the hostages, the war and the provocations by bandits and terrorists .... [But] as a sober and reasonable politician, Yavlinsky understands that there are only two possibilities. The first is to continue the war until a victorious end. The second is that the Russian leadership, especially the Russian military -- the generals -- should pull back their army, while saving face and giving the army the feeling of having fulfilled its duty."
Maskhadov also said that he is ready to bring to what he called an "independent court" all Chechens responsible for terrorist acts -- provided there is sufficient evidence of their crimes. He said that was true "whether their name is Maskhadov, [Ruslan] Gilayev, [or Shamil] Basayev". Gilayev and Basayev are Chechen field commanders.
There was no official reaction from the Russian government, either to Yavlinsky's statement or Maskhadov's reaction. Other Yabloko representatives apparently tried to play down the peace-plan aspect of Yavlinsky's proposals. Yavlinsky's deputy (unnamed) stressed that the proposal was actually an ultimatum. He also implied that Yavlinsky was not acting against Putin by saying that the plan had been discussed with the government last week as one of several possibilities.
The Russian daily "Niezavisimaya Gazeta" -- which vigorously supports Putin's policy in Chechnya -- called Yavlinsky's proposal a free campaign advertisement in advance of December parliamentary elections. The paper said Yavlinsky's proposal was also an attempt to discredit Putin, a potential opponent in next June's presidential elections. The head of the Moscow-based, non-governmental Center for Strategic Studies, Andrey Piontkovsky, also commented on Yavlinsky's proposal and Maskhadov's response in an interview with RFE/RL. Piontkovsky stresses the importance of both men's statements, whatever their outcome:
"All of [Yavlinsky's] tough conditions were accepted by Maskhadov ....And let's not forget that the tough terms Yavlinsky set are indeed necessary for Russia to solve [its problems] in Chechnya and in the Caucasus. It is also [necessary] for Chechnya to [help] solve [them]. Slave trade [meaning forced labor by hostages held in Chechnya, frequently sold by one rebel group to another] is a disgrace for both Russia and Chechnya." Piontkovsky also says that, in the context of Russian politics today, "Yavlinsky's initiative is a very courageous step." He notes that the military exerted considerable pressure on Russia's civilian leaders. Other politicians who were even slightly critical of the official line on Chechnya have been labeled as traitors in the pro-government press. Yavlinsky's proposals, Piontkovsky concludes, could save lives without giving up any of the justified aims of Russia in resolving the Chechen problem.