President Boris Yeltsin on Wednesday disowned a cease-fire agreement that his prime minister had reached with officials from Chechnya the day before.
“We do not want to conduct negotiations with Dudayev, as long as he is committing genocide against his own people,” Yeltsin said, referring to Gen. Dzhokhar Dudayev, president of the breakaway republic with which Russia has been at war for nearly six weeks.
On Tuesday, Russia’s prime minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, met with Chechnya’s ministers of justice and economics, and called for a cease-fire. Even then, the terms and timing of this truce were vague.
However, Yeltsin’s remarks Wednesday, made to reporters during a ceremony at the Kremlin, took away any legitimacy the meeting may have had and served notice that no peace talks of any sort were to be held with Dudayev or his emissaries.
The Russian government’s press spokesman, Valery Grishin, said Chernomyrdin’s meeting was of an “unofficial character.” To think otherwise would be to view Dudayev as the legitimate leader of Chechnya - which Russia considers unacceptable.
Yeltsin said he would sanction discussions only with Chechen “grass roots leaders, including military commanders, tribal chiefs and local administrators.”
Certainly there was no sign of a truce Wednesday in Chechnya, where heavy fighting continued on both sides. Military sources told the Interfax news service that over 1,100 Russian troops have been killed in the war so far. Some observers consider even this number to be on the low side.