"Nobody Wants Peace?"

By Alexander Lebed


THERE have been no hostilities in Chechnya for almost a month now. This is due to the agreements I signed in Khasavyurt, Ingushetia, with the chief of staff of the Chechen opposition forces, Aslan Maskhadov. But it does not mean that the armed conflict is over.

The agreements stipulate the signing of two more documents, which we have defined as the framework of relations - on Chechenya's status and on the delineation of powers between Russia and Chechnya.

The republic's status is thus far defined by the Russian Constitution, in accordance with which Chechnya is a constituent member of the Russian Federation.

Under the Khasavyurt agreements, its permanent status is to be determined by the year 2001.

I think it was the correct decision. Such decisions must be adopted not in the heat of battle but proceeding from international practices, laws, procedures and regulations - that is to say, the methods that already have proved their value.

Life will take its course during the next five years: The process of restoration and construction will get under way and the situation will be appraised soberly. Much will depend on how productively and constructively the Russian government will work.

Serious talks are needed with regard to the second provision of the Khasavyurt agreements, but it is unclear right now with whom to conduct them.

Russia, for known reasons, does not recognize the separatist leader, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, while the opposition does not recognize the official leader of the republic, Doku Zavgayev.

It is necessary to form a coalition government that will begin preparations for winter - restore gas and water supplies, mend the roofs and make other necessary reparations on the one hand, and carry out serious preparations for free elections on the other.

While the elections, which are to be monitored by Russian and international observers, pick a legitimate leader, it then will become possible to talk with him on any issue, including the delineation of powers between Russia and Chechnya.

Many hotheads think that formation of a coalition government and the problems it will have to handle - restoration of the devastated economy, provision of pensions and other benefits, creation of jobs, payment of wages and other aspects of rebuilding society - are easy things to deal with. At closer inspection, things are not as easy as they think.

I am sure, however, that Chechens will be able to come to an agreement. Among them are intellectuals and professional executives who are perfectly capable of handling these difficult, but solvable, problems of the transition period.

The Russian public's reaction to the Khasavyurt agreements varies. The reaction of politicians is more negative than positive. I have been nearly accused of betraying the interests of Russia.

The country's leadership has not given a clearcut appraisal of the peace agreement. Justice Minister Valentin Kovalyov has called it a declaration that has neither legal force nor state-legal importance. His position is rather strange, to put it mildly, as hostilities have been stopped in keeping with the document that allegedly "has not legal force."

Another thing also seems strange to me. Many people, including politicians, shouted "Stop the war" until recently. When peace - even if it is a rather reticent, uncertain and not lasting peace but, nonetheless, one that gives hope for the future - has been established, it turns out that no one but soldiers' mothers and officers' wives need it.

No one is in a hurry to strengthen it or take any political and economic steps to make it truly irreversible and bring the situation back to normal.

None of the critics of the Khasavyurt agreement has come up with a single-constructive proposal for terminating this meaningless war.

Russia has, for the second time, fallen into the same trap. The first time was in Afghanistan. There, we began the war with lofty aims but ended up with a war against the people.

The same has happened in Chechnya. Many are fighting not because they like any particular regime. People are fighting to avenge their killed relatives and ruined homes. No military leader, no matter how brilliant he may be, has ever won a war against the people.

Such a war must be stopped resolutely with tough measures, and a political dialogue should now begin.

There is no other solution to this military conflict. That is why I reject all the talk of Russia's integrity and indivisibility. Is it possible to ensure the integrity of Russia by killing hundreds and maiming thousands of people every day?

I am often asked if I know who is responsible for this war. Yes, I know all of them by name. I am also sure that this war has economic roots camouflaged in politics. Now is not the time to name these people, because chances are rather high that the war may resume with fresh force and on an even larger scale. First, we must stop the slaughter and return to peaceful life. Then the prosecutors will decide the degree of everyone's responsibility.

Whatever might be said, I am sure that the Chechen war is over for Russia.

Alexander Lebed is Russia's national security chief. He contributed this comment to The Washington Post. A version of this article also appeared simultaneously in The Times of London.


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