Breaking a long public silence, President Boris Yeltsin said Thursday he supports the Chechen peace plan negotiated by his security chief - except for the quick withdrawal of Russian troops from the separatist republic.
Yeltsin’s reticence about the plan worked out by the man he personally appointed to end the war has raised concerns both about the status of the peace effort and about how much control Yeltsin is wielding.
Security chief Alexander Lebed pushed the peace process forward another step Thursday, reaching an agreement for a coalition government which reportedly would include rebels and members of the Kremlin-installed Chechen government.
The accord also calls for the continuation of joint Russian-rebel patrols in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya; the demilitarization of the devastated city; and continued efforts to exchange prisoners of war, said the Interfax and ITAR-Tass news agencies.
The agreement reportedly calls for a new phase of the Russian pullout to begin Sunday. Troops already have withdrawn from Grozny.
Lebed also went a symbolic step further, appearing at a peace rally with Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov. It was a scene that hardly could have been imagined as little as three weeks ago when Russian troops and rebels were fighting fiercely in Grozny.
“Either you choose peace and we will achieve it together, with common sense, or we extend this bloody orgy for decades,” Lebed told the rally in the town of Shali.
“Peace!” the crowd shouted in response.