By Umalt Chadayev
Via Prague Watchdog
Ten years ago Aleksandr Lebed and Aslan Maskhadov brought the war of 1994-1996 to a virtual conclusion. The signing of the so-called “Khasavyurt accords” was preceded by the seizure of the Chechen capital and other towns and major population centres by guerrilla forces on August 6.
In Russia today the “Khasavyurt Peace”, which in the view of many signified the federal centre’s defeat by the Chechen guerrillas and very nearly its capitulation to them, is usually “attributed” to the late General Alexander Lebed. It is, however, obvious that Lebed, who was then in government service, acted on the direct orders of Boris Yeltsin, the master of the Kremlin at the time.
“By the summer of 1996 the situation in Chechnya had more or less reached deadlock,” a local political analyst believes. “The Russian army occupied almost the whole of Chechnya, but fighting continued all the same. In nearly every population centre there were self-defence groups and Ichkerian government bodies parallel to those of the pro-Moscow forces. The guerrillas were present in practically every town and village. Indeed, after the end of the ‘first’ war Maskhadov and other field commanders said that only 800 guerrillas took part in the seizure of Grozny on August 6, and that the remaining several thousand had already been in the city for a long time. This in itself tells us something.”
“In the end Lebed saved the lives of thousands of Russian soldiers and tens of thousand of civilians,” he says. “The fact is that nearly all the places in Grozny where Russian soldiers were deployed were subject to a total blockade. The soldiers’ supplies of water, food and ammunition had run out. General Pulikovsky’s ultimatum, which demanded that Grozny’s inhabitants should leave the city in 48 hours, and threatened to wipe it off the face of the earth with air and artillery, was dictated more by the hopelessness of the situation than anything else. The situation was no longer under the Russian soldiers’ control, and many local law-enforcers either went over to the side of the guerrillas or simply fled.”
The agreement signed at Khasavyurt between the Russian and Chechen sides was given an ambiguous reception even at the time. The generals spoke of having been “robbed of victory” and “not allowed to finish off the guerrillas”, while the ultra-patriots called the document “capitulatory” and “treacherous” with regard to Russia – even though at Khasavyurt Lebed and Maskhadov agreed only on a cessation of hostilities, the withdrawal of Russian troops, the joint combating of crime and terrorism, and the future restoration of Chechnya’s social and economic sphere.
Nationalistically-inclined Russian politicians were extremely irritated by the point in the agreement which stated that relations between Chechnya and Russia were to be built on the observance of the principles of international law, and not in accordance with the Russian constitution. In other words, the Chechen Republic was acknowledged as being subject to international law, and this could be treated as a de facto recognition of the republic’s independence.
The original plan was for two Russian military brigades – one from the Ministry of Defence and one from the Interior Ministry – to be permanently deployed on the territory of the Chechen Republic. However, by the end of December all units and subdivisions of federal forces were withdrawn from Chechnya.
In the night of August 31, General Lebed and Aslan Maskhadov signed two documents at Khasavyurt: the “Announcement of a cessation of hostilities in the Chechen Republic” and the “Principles for identifying the foundations for mutual relations between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic”. These two documents became the basis of a ceasefire which lasted approximately 20 months.
The bottom line under the “first Chechen war” was drawn, however, not by General Lebed but by Boris Yeltsin. On May 12, 1997, Aslan Maskhadov, who had been elected President of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in national elections several months earlier, signed the “Agreement on peace and the principles of mutual relations between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria” with Russia’s President Boris Yeltsin. One of the points of this document made it clear that the two sides forever rejected “the application of force and the threat of the application of force for the resolution of any disputed issues.”
Nevertheless, the signing of the agreement did not prevent the Kremlin from starting a new war in Chechnya in the autumn of 1999. It was now called a “counter-terrorist operation”, as distinct from the “establishment of constitutional order” of 1994.
Translated by David McDuff.