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Competing Plans of Chechen Politicians

Influential group of Chechen and Russian politicians continue to promote Chechnya peace plan, despite hardening of Moscow's policy towards the breakaway republic
By Sanobar Shermatova

The Kremlin has toughened its policy on Chechnya and ruled out any peace talks with Chechen rebels, in the wake of the theatre siege in Moscow in which more than 120 hostages died.


The change in tactics has polarised relations between two groups of Chechens, both of whom profess loyalty to Moscow, but who have radically different visions of the way forward for their republic.


The hard liners, led by Moscow's resident leader in Chechnya, Akhmad Kadyrov, are pressing ahead with plans for a constitutional referendum in the republic next March to be followed by new presidential elections. This would cement Kadyrov's regime and shut out any dialogue with the rebels


The "doves", a group of Russian and Chechen politicians who want a more inclusive political process, had been putting together a peace plan over the past year. They are now on the defensive but are still looking for a window of opportunity.


The most influential voice in the latter group is Russian former foreign minister and prime minister Yevgeny Primakov, who, in an article in the government newspaper Rossisskaya Gazeta in September, strongly criticised the dominant role of the military in Chechnya.


Primakov accused the generals of deliberately distorting the information they gave to the politicians and pursuing their own agenda in Chechnya. He gave as an example the unsuccessful meeting last November between Russian official Viktor Kazantsev and Chechen rebel peace envoy Akhmed Zakayev. According to Primakov, the negotiations led nowhere because Kazantsev misrepresented Putin's words.


Until now Primakov's plan for Chechnya had not been made public, but this correspondent has obtained details of it. It was prepared by a group of experts who worked on the peace process which ended the war in the Central Asian state of Tajikistan in the mid 1990s and borrows many of the ideas from that.


The authors of the plan start from the idea that, as in Tajikistan, a civil war is going in Chechnya with Russian forces fighting on one side in it. They extrapolate from this that negotiations have to take place between a wide spectrum of groups from Chechen society, including leading members of Chechen "teips" (clans), businessmen and politicians.


The talks should come up with a formula under which fighters can return to civilian life, as they did in Tajikistan, where armed groups merged with the security forces in the country and kept their own commanders.


This is where the Tajik model ends. For obvious reasons, the problem of the status did not affect Tajikistan and is one of the thorniest issues for Chechnya. Primakov's advisers proceed from the first principle that Chechnya should remain part of Russia, but many different formulas are possible that would define Chechnya's relationship with Moscow.


Another difficult issue is the role of Moscow, which cannot act as a neutral mediator in the Chechnya talks. The authors suggest that someone else, possible the autonomous republic of Tatarstan, could play that role.


The authors of the plan believe that these talks have to take place before a referendum is held in Chechnya, which the Kremlin is planning for next spring. Generally, one of the advisers said, a constitutional plebiscite like this only divides society, when the goal is to bring people together and reach a consensus.


Tajikistan has two further lessons for a Chechen peace process. The first is that the personal interests of the military command have to be heeded. During the Tajik negotiations, one Russian general openly asked Tajik opposition leader Akbar Turajonzoda whether the financial interests of Russian commanders would be respected when opposition fighters returned to Tajikistan. "You understand we don't want to lose what we have now," the general explained.


In the event, the Russian military kept its presence in Tajikistan and their interests were taken into account. What about Chechnya, where the military has a strong stake in the local oil industry? Member of parliament Alexei Mitrofanov recently told a meeting in Moscow that the military was deliberately sabotaging any attempts to withdraw troops from Chechnya or begin a peace process.


The other problem is that of the radical fighters. In Tajikistan, negotiations were held with everyone, including those "who were elbow deep in blood".


The authors of Primakov's plan believe that the Chechens themselves should decide who should take part in talks.


However, since the Nord-Ost theatre siege, the Kremlin has ruled out any talks even with the moderates with whom they have talked in the past, such as Maskhadov and Zakayev.


The Russian authorities are now trying to extradite Zakayev, who is in London, on criminal charges. Zakayev told a press conference on December 11 "the goal of those who made this provocation (laying charges against him) was to neutralise my peacemaking activities".


Aslambek Aslakhanov, a Chechen member of the Russian parliament, has devised his own plan for dealing with this problem. Aslakhanov had a private meeting with President Putin last month to discuss his ideas.


Aslakhanov proposed convening a congress of 900 Chechen delegates from all over Russia. The forum would not be open to representatives of Maskhadov or rebel fighters but would include Chechens who had influence over those fighters, such as former deputies from the Maskahdov-era parliament.


"They are deputies from former parliaments, who did not fight and who are not being pursued by the Russian intelligence services," Aslakhanov told IWPR. "They hold the point of view that peace in the republic is only possible through unity and agreement."


Aslakhanov is strongly against the current model of the constitution being proposed for Chechnya next year, in which voters will have only one version to choose from.


This has put the Chechen deputy on a collision course with Moscow's appointed leader in Chechnya, Akhmad Kadyrov, who apparently still enjoys the support of the Kremlin.


Kadyrov decided to try and wrest the initiative from Aslakhanov by calling his own Chechen congress, which met in the town of Gudermes on December 11. A disappointed Aslakhanov, who attended the gathering, said he was postponing his own Chechen congress to a later date.


Kadyrov and his supporters have already drawn up their own version of a Chechen constitution, which will be approved next March (no referenda in Russia ever deliver a negative result). Then Kadyrov, as acting president, will take the republic to presidential elections, which he can fully expect to win.


Kadyrov, who was once a close ally of Maskhadov and mufti of independent Chechnya, has rejected any negotiations with his former comrades and backs an entirely military solution to the Chechen problem. Naturally, in this he has the support of the military and part of the political elite.


The clash between the two Chechen politicians, Aslakhanov and Kadyrov, reflects a wider division within the Russian political elite about what to do about Chechnya. At the moment, the hawks clearly have the upper hand. But it is also evident that President Putin has yet finally to make up his mind.


Sanobar Shermatova is a correspondent with Moscow News


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