Questions hang heavy in Chechen air

Steve Crawshaw in Grozny believes the dictum about jaw-jaw being better than war-war is no bad thing for the breakaway region

Talks, talks, and more talks. Talks about how to disarm, talks about how to withdraw, talks about having more talks.

On the basis of Churchill's dictum - jaw-jaw is better than war-war - maybe that is no bad thing for Chechnya. The war in the breakaway Caucasus republic is mostly low-key these days, except when the Russians suddenly go mad - as they did earlier this month, shelling Russian and Chechen homes into oblivion in the little town of Argun. The police station, their alleged target, was left unscathed.

If there is one bright spot to be found in Chechnya, then it might even be the performance of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Its dogged work in Grozny and across Chechnya has helped to broker a sort of ceasefire. Hungary, which holds the chair of the OSCE - in effect, a Europe-plus version of the UN - has persuaded the reluctant Russians to accept an OSCE presence in Grozny.

The Russians wanted to sort out their own "internal affairs". But the OSCE mission in Grozny helped to push through a military agreement, signed by both sides last month. Theoretically at least, that agreement can pave the way for peace.

The chief Russian negotiator, Anatoly Romanov, and his Chechen opposite number, Aslan Maskhadov, have achieved a reasonable working relationship. General Romanov is not an obvious Kremlin hawk; and Mr Maskhadov, though nominated by the tough-talking ousted president, Dzhokhar Dudayev, is not the craziest of the Chechens.

The military agreement throws up more questions than it answers, however. The Chechen side is due to disarm, and the Russian side is due to withdraw. But both argue about the terms.

The Russian President,Boris Yeltsin, has appointed Oleg Lobov, a member of the presidential security council, as his special representative in Chechnya. But Mr Lobov was one of those who helped to send the troops in. He is not the most obvious peace-maker.

Meanwhile, Chechnya remains in a kind of suspended animation. A few months ago, the Russians were more or less in control, at least militarily. Now, even that is unclear. Dudayev loyalists seem remarkably self-confident.

The most important difference between the situation now and before the war is not the change of political balance but the fact that Chechnya's total devastation makes it difficult to envisage a stable future.

Even where there is little enthusiasm for Mr Dudayev, there is even less for the Russian occupier. Meanwhile, the civilian losses continue. In the hospital in Shali, near Grozny, the continuing effects of the war can be seen. There is a stream of injuries and deaths from mines: the Russians have refused to offer up their minefield maps, let alone to remove the mines. In Shali alone, two children have died in the last few days.

Elections are scheduled for December. Those expected to stand include leaders of the "provisional" government in Grozny, which answers to Moscow; Ruslan Khasbulatov, former chairman of the Russian parliament, who, when in Moscow, was constantly at odds with President Yeltsin; and, perhaps, Dudayev loyalists, still seeking a separate Chechen state. But here too, many of the most important questions have yet to be answered. Elections imply choices. But is it a permissible for Chechnya's electors again to choose independence? And if they do, what then? For the moment, that question appears to have no answer.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Sport
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching