September 1, 1996 in Nation/World

Russians Ambivalent On Chechen Peace People Tired Of War But Fear Disintegration Of Russia

Lee Hockstader Washington Post

The peace deal for Chechnya brokered by Russian national security adviser Alexander Lebed received scant support in Moscow Saturday, with newspapers attacking it, the public all but ignoring it, and Boris Yeltsin’s press secretary casting doubt on it.

Press spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky suggested Lebed may have deviated from his superiors’ orders in hammering out the deal with Chechen guerrillas who have been waging a war for independence from Russia for 20 months.

He said the peace plan “requires additional analysis and evaluation” and that Yeltsin is awaiting a “detailed report.”

The agreement calls for the formation of a joint commission within the next month to monitor a complete withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya. But, the ambivalence surrounding the attempt to end the war was a fair reflection of its chances for success. Millions of Russians are angry with the Chechen war, which has cost at least 30,000 lives, but there remain large obstacles that could still swamp Lebed’s plan.

Chief among the problems is that Lebed and Chechen rebel leaders essentially agreed to disagree temporarily about what remains the most contentious issue separating them: Chechnya’s claim to independence. By putting the question off for five years, the two sides finessed the problem but did not solve it. Indeed, it may only fester.

And conditions for festering seem ripe. Yeltsin and nearly everyone else in the Russian political establishment have ruled out independence for Chechnya, fearing it could lay the ground for disintegration of Russia. Yet in Grozny, the Chechen capital, guerrillas who insist on full independence have been in substantial control since they overran Russian forces three weeks ago.

That has stung and enraged many Russians, and not only hard-core nationalists.

Vitaly Tretyakov, editor of the moderate newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, wrote in today’s issue: “What is needed is to demand the resignation of a stupid government (that) signed a surrender at the hands of a foreign, rebellious, armed people who are far from guiltless.”

The ultranationalist newspaper Zavtra was more blunt. “LebedTraitor” was the headline on Page 1 of today’s issue.

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