Chechen Plan Hammered Out

The recent discussions in Liechtenstein on the future of Chechnya were the most serious attempt yet to forge a compromise between the warring sides.

Chechen Plan Hammered Out

The recent discussions in Liechtenstein on the future of Chechnya were the most serious attempt yet to forge a compromise between the warring sides.

A recent meeting in the duchy of Liechtenstein on Chechnya saw prominent Russians and pro-independence and pro-Moscow Chechens go some way to burying their differences, as they laid out a compromise plan for the war-torn republic.

While it is too early to say whether the August 16-19 talks will bear any fruit - it had no official backing in the Kremlin - it was the strongest indication yet of a growing desperation for peace amongst different parties in the Chechen conflict, who have in the past held radically different views.

The gathering took - organised in part by the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya, two of his whose co-chairmen are the prominent American politicians Zbigniew Brzezinski and Alexander Haig - took place over three days in a small mountain village in Liechtenstein and was financed by the government of the duchy.

The committee felt the time was ripe for such a dialogue, particularly as many Chechens with previously divergent views, all of them horrified by the continuing bloodshed at home, have been coming together in Moscow. "There's a lot of rapprochement going on among the Chechens in Moscow," said Glen Howard, executive director of the committee.

Some reports of the talks have appeared in the Russian press - what follows is a detailed account based on information gleaned from participants at the meeting, who do not wish to be identified.

Amongst the delegates from Moscow were two former speakers of the Russian parliament, Ivan Rybkin and the Chechen Ruslan Khasbulatov and two parliamentary deputies, the well-known journalist Yury Shchekochikhin and the Chechen Aslambek Aslakhanov.

Representing rebel president Aslan Maskhadov was his deputy prime minister Akhmed Zakayev. (Zakayev continues to represent Maskhadov abroad, while his new special negotiator Kazbek Makhashev is apparently talking directly to the Russians).

The participants did not intend to make the substance of the three-day meeting public, but a controversy over the involvement of the Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky pushed it into the spotlight. Berezovsky, who took a lead in formulating Moscow's policy in Chechnya in 1997-9, has or had close links with many of the participants in the meeting. After a bitter falling-out with the Putin administration, he now lives in London.

So when Alexander Goldfarb, a lawyer close to Berezovsky, turned up in Liechtenstein and said he was representing the magnate, the organisers asked him to leave. He did - but only after a protracted argument. The others were afraid that a link with Berezovsky would devalue their meeting in Moscow. Goldfarb was more closely involved in a separate meeting between Rybkin and Zakayev in Zurich.

As the participants got down to business, they discussed two peace plans for Chechnya, the "Khasbulatov Plan", drawn up by Ruslan Khasbulatov last month, and the "Brzezinski Plan", outlined in an article by Brzezinski and Haig in the Washington Post in June. At the end of the meeting, they agreed to merge the two into a "Liechtenstein Plan" incorporating elements of both - although disagreements remained on two key issues.

Khasbulatov's plan for Chechnya is based on the idea of giving it "special status" with international guarantees provided by the OSCE and the Council of Europe. It would be free to conduct of both its own internal and foreign policy, with the exception of those functions it voluntarily delegated to the Russian Federation.

However, the republic would remain within Russian administrative borders and keep Russian citizenship and currency. The main guarantee of peace would be the demilitarisation of the republic, while maintaining Russian border guards on the southern frontier.

Much discussion was given to the delicate issue of an international presence - whether of peacekeepers or monitors - in Chechnya. One of the Americans canvassed the views of the four visitors from Moscow on this. Their replies differed: one of them conceded the possibility, while another organiser said categorically that Moscow would never agree to it.

Maskhadov's representative, Akhmed Zakayev, was besieged with questions. The others wanted him to explain the behaviour of Maskhadov, who while constantly calling for peace talks with Moscow, had also appointed Shamil Basayev - a man subject to an international arrest warrant - his deputy in his "state defence council"?

If Maskhadov's supporters were so keen on peaceful dialogue, could they also unilaterally free 29 captive Russian soldiers as a good will gesture? Zakayev was asked. If this happened after the meeting, he was told, it would definitely strengthen the case for negotiations and demonstrate that Maskhadov was genuinely seeking peace. And why did Maskhadov give orders to kill those Chechens who were working for the pro-Moscow administration and police? Surely that just worsened the situation and sucked more and more Chechens into blood feuds.

The others present immediately felt that Zakayev did not like these questions. He answered in a brusque and categorical manner. He said that Maskhadov had got close to Basayev again for propaganda reasons - to show Moscow that he controlled all his field commanders. There would be no good will gestures and the soldiers would remain in captivity. The national traitors who served Kadyrov would suffer punishment. And, said Zakayev to the Moscow guest asking the question, "What kind of Chechen are you?"

However, it seemed that the organisers liked hearing these questions put to Maskhadov's envoy. After the meeting, one of them said the exchange had been very useful, as these were the topics, which would come up in official negotiations with Moscow. The Russians are vitally interested in how flexible Maskhadov and his supporters are prepared to be.

After three days, a common version of the two peace plans was hammered out. However there was no agreement on two important points, which were dropped from the compromise plan: a model for Chechen autonomy based on the republic of Tatarstan and the idea of deploying Russian troops on Chechnya's southern frontier.

The Kremlin has kept silent about the Liechtenstein meeting, which might be construed as a sign of progress. After a similar gathering last year in Zurich, Moscow instantly issued statements saying that the Duma deputies who had attended it had gone on their own initiative. Other deputies who were planning to attend the talks received phone calls from the Kremlin, warning them not to go.

This time, it was different. Possibly, they realised that it was pointless to make loud denunciations and will wait and see what Aslakhanov, the deputy head of the State Duma's commission on Chechnya, reports to his colleagues.

However, there is no sign as yet that the Kremlin will use either Rybkin or Khasbulatov as negotiators on Chechnya.

For the moment, Putin is pursuing his own track of laying the ground for a constitutional referendum in Chechnya in November, with new elections for the head of the republic six months after that.

Sanobar Shermatova is a correspondent with Moscow News. Thomas de Waal, IWPR's Caucasus Editor in London, also contributed to this article.

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