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Russia: Khasbulatov Is Still Fighting The Kremlin On Chechnya

Prague, 9 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Ruslan Khasbulatov is the former chairman of the Russian Supreme Soviet, or parliament. In 1993, he opposed then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin's moves to dissolve the legislature and spearheaded a confrontation with the Kremlin. After Yeltsin ordered the army to crush the parliament's resistance, Khasbulatov was briefly imprisoned before being amnestied.

A native Chechen, Khasbulatov has always been critical of the Kremlin's policy toward his home region and has tried to promote a peaceful settlement of the Chechen war that would require the intervention of the international community. A longstanding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Khasbulatov was a keynote speaker at Radio Liberty's 50th anniversary commemorations at its Prague headquarters on 6 June.

Question: Ruslan Imranovich, the State Duma (the lower chamber of Russia's parliament) today overwhelmingly passed a Kremlin-sponsored resolution designed to amnesty guerrillas fighting Russian troops in Chechnya. This document also considers amnestying any Russian soldiers guilty of human rights abuses against Chechen civilians since 1993. In an attempt to justify the amnesty, Russian President Vladimir Putin's aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky has said the measure would help save "hundreds of human lives." Do you share this point of view?

Khasbulatov: Even the idea that this amnesty could save human lives makes me laugh. The only way to save human lives is to stop this war of extermination directed against the [Chechen] people, to take concrete steps -- including at the international level -- to enhance the safety of the people, and to do many other things to help restore the economy or rebuild the country. In other words, things that would demonstrate that the Kremlin cares for the Chechen people. But the measures that have been taken so far [by Moscow] are speculative and clearly pragmatic in nature.

To my view, this amnesty has two main aims. The first aim is to prevent federal troops from possibly being investigated, say, by an international criminal court which advocates say should be similar to the one that exists for the former Yugoslavia. I know -- and it is pretty obvious -- that the Russian officer corps fears any such possible development. Besides, nobody says anything [about the actions of the federal troops]. Everybody points at the Chechen fighters, but nobody even mentions the actions of the federal troops, as if they could be ignored. This is the first aim.

The second aim of this amnesty is to legalize the network of agents among the Chechens and others who supposedly work for the [separatist] fighters but who, in fact, work for the [Russian] secret services. This is why I think that, with regard to the future or the well-being of the Chechen republic or the Chechen people, this amnesty project has absolutely no positive significance. It is only significant in a negative way.

Question: Prior to the parliamentary debate on the amnesty, the Kremlin organized a referendum on a tailor-made constitution designed to keep Chechnya within the Russian Federation. They say it was adopted with 96 percent approval. In a few months' time the Kremlin will call presidential elections in Chechnya. Would you say that all these steps are part of a carefully thought-out strategy on Moscow's part? If so, how would you describe this strategy?

Khasbulatov: Of course it's part of a strategy, one which apparently is being implemented very easily. They organized a referendum, and cheated the people through ballot-stuffing and other vote-rigging schemes. Everything went very smoothly. In the same way, they'll pick out a brainless man and declare him president. All this, of course, is part of this general idea that despite [what we witness every day], Chechnya can be subdued by force -- through military victory not over fighters, but over the [Chechen] people. It is all part of a general plan to break the will of the people, to deprive it of its productive element, to annihilate its spirit and the moral and cultural values it carries. It is all part of this overall strategy. It has absolutely nothing to do with the humanitarian values of the modern world.

Question: Some people believe that one of the aims pursued by the Kremlin in granting the pro-Moscow Chechen administration as many powers as possible is to add fuel to internecine disputes and to wage a large-scale civil war among the Chechens. Do you share this assessment?

Khasbulatov: The Kremlin has spent many years pushing the Chechens to fight each other and it is doing everything possible to make that happen. One can even say that they've been successful, to a certain extent.

Question: Two months ago, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a resolution supporting the idea of an international war crimes tribunal for Chechnya. Do you support this idea?

Khasbulatov: This tribunal is absolutely necessary. I have always said and written that people on both sides who are guilty of war crimes should be tried. Of course, we would have to evaluate the gravity of the crimes under which these people could be brought before a court. But I think each side should bear equal responsibility for the crimes that have been committed in Chechnya. To me, there can be no doubt about this.

Question: Chechnya has long been a bone of contention in relations between Russia and Georgia. Georgia initially denied having Chechen fighters on its territory. Then, after six or seven months, they eventually admitted to the presence of a limited number of armed separatists. Finally they launched a security crackdown on the Pankisi Gorge, near the Chechen border, and now they say that, yes in fact, Chechen fighters have been using the Georgian territory as a training base. How do you explain these changes in Georgia's policy toward Chechnya?

Khasbulatov: By nature, politics is a capricious thing. It always depends on a number of circumstances, on certain actions, on concrete steps taken by certain people. What happened concretely [with Georgia] is difficult for me to say. But I must say that we've all witnessed the fury with which the Kremlin pressured Georgia, accusing its leaders of all possible sins and blaming them for a situation that had been generated by its own decision to launch war [against Chechnya]. I think Tbilisi is doing what it believes meets its interests.

Question: Would you say Georgia's more confident stance was the result of "friendly" pressure by the United States, or of a not-so friendly pressure by Moscow, which at one point threatened to intervene militarily in Georgia?

Khasbulatov: I don't believe that Russian could possibly launch an airborne operation against Georgia. Possible military actions against Georgia are the least of my fears. Any army that would try to launch an offensive against Georgia in this mountainous terrain would be defeated -- even the Russian Army with all its might. But to combine military and political means and to make good use of one's allies, is, unfortunately, part of the modern diplomatic struggle.