Akmed Zakayev, the head of the pro-independence Chechen Republic Ichkeria, has announced he and an official from the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership had reached agreement on convening a world congress to promote the further unity of Chechen society.
The August 12 statement followed two days of consultations in London between Zakayev and Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov, the parliament speaker of the Kremlin-backed Chechen Republic.
The two sides first embarked on consultations two months ago in hopes of achieving such a rapprochement between the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership and the representatives in exile in Europe of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria, against which Russia launched two successive wars, in 1994 and 1999.
Two previous rounds of talks took place in Oslo, mediated by Norwegian businessman Ivar Amundsen, who heads the London-based Chechnya Peace Forum. Amundsen described the second round of talks, which took place in late July, as "a very constructive and positive dialogue" that the two sides hoped would lead to the "reshaping of the political stability of Chechnya.”
Kadyrov has a serious image problem in many parts of the world because, among other things, his critics have a tendency to turn up dead
Both Zakayev and Abdurakhmanov gave a positive assessment of this week's talks in London. Zakayev described them as "very good." At the same time, he noted that "this is only the beginning," and expressed the hope that the next round will be franker and more open.
Abdurakhmanov, who says the entire consultation process was initiated by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov with the full support of Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, denied that there were any "difficult aspects" to the talks.
Neither Zakayev nor Abdurakhmanov disclosed what specific issues they discussed in London. They have not said whether representatives of the armed resistance headed by Doku Umarov have been, or will be, invited to join the dialogue.
Nor is it clear whether, and to what extent, the talks can contribute to stability as long as resistance fighters continue their attacks on police and government officials across the North Caucasus. Just Good PR?
Umarov said in a recent interview he would not trust any peace overture from Moscow. And resistance fighters have ignored Zakayev’s appeal to cease as of August 1 any offensive operations against pro-Moscow Chechen police. Abdurakhmanov on August 12 dismissed that appeal as "purely symbolic."
Similarly unclear is the agenda for the planned world congress and what it might achieve. Zakayev told RFE/RL's Russian Service on August 12 that he is certain the resolutions the congress will adopt will have a positive impact, and that otherwise the Russian and Chechen governments would not have agreed to convene it.
Abdurakhmanov, by contrast, said that while the Chechen government and Chechen society will follow the congress proceedings with great interest, the Chechen leadership will not be obliged to act on all its recommendations.
That formulation suggests that the Chechen Republic leadership may view the planned congress merely as a grandiose public relations exercise intended to underscore that, as Abdurakhmanov said August 12, "There is an understanding in Chechnya that the people are united and the people have one national leader, and that is Ramzan Kadyrov.”
RFE/RL North Caucasus Service Director Aslan Doukaev, who attended the London consultations, similarly thinks that the "negotiating parties have different, perhaps even antithetical agendas."
He says the pro-Kremlin organizers of the congress "will probably attempt to run the Kadyrov policies in Chechnya up the flagpole and see who salutes," while Zakayev "will attempt to draw attention to the Chechenization of the conflict that increasingly resembles stage one of a civil war."
Doukaev stresses the Kadyrov regime's urgent need for a public relations success following a series of murders of human rights activists in Chechnya that have triggered widespread condemnation in the West.
“Kadyrov has a serious image problem in many parts of the world because, among other things, his critics have a tendency to turn up dead," Doukaev said.