Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said Saturday that he is personally involved in talks to end the 6-month-old war in Chechnya.
“We will not stop. We now need to reach the point of local-rule elections in Chechnya,” he said in remarks reported by the ITAR-Tass news agency.
Chernomyrdin’s comments appeared aimed at bolstering talks between Russian and Chechen rebel negotiators, who tentatively agreed Friday to organize elections and extend a shaky cease-fire. They were to meet again Tuesday.
Russian negotiators returned to Moscow from Grozny on Saturday and were expected to meet with Chernomyrdin this morning, ITAR-Tass said. It was unclear whether Chernomyrdin, who has taken a higher-profile role in the conflict in the last week, or President Boris Yeltsin was directly in charge of the negotiations.
Talks began Monday at the demand of rebel commander Shamil Basayev, leader of a group of gunmen who attacked a southern Russian city June 14 and seized about 2,000 hostages. The gunmen released the hostages and fled into the Chechen hills Tuesday after winning Russian concessions.
Scores of people were killed or wounded in the raid on Budyonnovsk and during attempts by Russian troops to storm a hospital where the hostages were held.
Chernomyrdin negotiated personally with the rebels, appearing on national television as he spoke with them by telephone.
Handling of the crisis and the war in secessionist Chechnya prompted the parliament to demand Friday that Yeltsin fire his “power ministers,” those in charge of the army and security forces.
Earlier in the week, parliament passed a no-confidence resolution against Yeltsin’s government. It was nonbinding, but Yeltsin would have to act if a second vote, set for July 1, succeeds.
Among his options would be disbanding the parliament and calling early elections, a potentially destabilizing development just as post-Soviet economic reforms appear to be taking hold.
The latest cease-fire, like all others, appeared to be disintegrating.
Late Saturday night, the sounds of heavy machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades were audible from Grozny, indicating a firefight was occurring south of the capital.