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Rybkin: Direct Negotiations Needed To End Chechen War

(Washington, DC--October 28, 2002) Former Russian Duma speaker Ivan Rybkin said "the time has come when, personally, President Putin and President Maskhadov should sit down at the negotiating table" to bring an end to the brutal warfare taking place in Chechnya. Speaking through a translator during a briefing on October 24, Rybkin--who helped bring about the 1997 peace accord that ended Russia's first Chechen war and is the most prominent political figure in Russia now advocating a negotiated end to the conflict--said that Russian leaders should "stop lying to ourselves and the rest of the world about the situation in Chechnya."

According to Rybkin, "Any politician who has a drop of conscience left understands that what we're dealing with in Chechnya is pure separatism... Of course, these separatists [have] many fellow travelers: gangsters, all kinds of con artists, and terrorists--even Al Qaeda people... But separatists should be addressed at the political level."

Referring to the then-ongoing hostage crisis in Moscow, Rybkin said that, even though the standoff could be quickly resolved "with lots of blood, some bloodshed, or even no bloodshed," the fundamental reason for the attack will remain--the unresolved conflict in Chechnya. Rybkin predicted that similar attacks "will happen again" unless "an accord--with Maskhadov, without any intermediaries" can be reached.

Rybkin argued for a peace settlement between Russia and Chechnya that would include "the cessation of hostilities...amnesty for the participants in hostilities on both sides, [including those] who may have committed crimes during this war in Chechnya; and granting Chechnya...the widest possible autonomy while it remains part of the Russian Federation." Rybkin claimed that the Chechen side is ready for such negotiations, stating that President Maskhadov's special envoy Ahmed Zakayev told him during meetings in August in Zurich and Liechtenstein that "the Chechen side...would welcome direct presidential rule by President Putin in Chechnya for the interim period."

Rybkin said that senior Russian military commanders--"even the chief of staff and Minister of Defense"--are "sick and tired of this war" and are "trying to find a way out." He noted that the actual number of Russian casualties in the second Chechen war may be much higher that the officially released figure of four thousand. According to the Union of Committees of Soldiers' Mothers, which recently held a nation-wide meeting in Moscow, the Russian military has suffered 14,000 casualties, including those killed in action, those who died of wounds suffered in action, or who committed suicide due to the war.

However, Rybkin said, ending the war in Chechnya will be complicated by the existence of a strong "party of war" on both sides of the fighting, who have benefitted from the wartime economy and illicit oil refining and export. According to Rybkin, 4 cargo trains and numerous oil transport trucks leave Chechnya every day--but these are not targeted for destruction by either side.