War of words takes Russia and Chechnya back to brink

STEVE CRAWSHAW

Moscow

Russia and the breakaway republic of Chechnya yesterday played a dangerous game of dare, which appeared to take the two sides to the brink of war once more. The prospect of a renewed flare-up in the fighting now seems more real than it has been for months.

President Boris Yeltsin threatened force against the Chechens if they did not fully disarm. Failure to meet the Russians' terms could bring "special, emergency energetic measures - including military". The Chechen leadership seems disinclined to do the Russians' bidding, however: a Monday deadline has already been ignored.

Some observers believed that the Russians had gained victory, following their destruction of the Chechen capital, Grozny, at the beginning of this year. A partial peace deal was agreed last month. But the forcible occupation of Chechnya, and the increased bitterness among the Chechen population, may merely have delayed further explosions. Chechnya's "peace" is in any case unstable, with several people being killed almost every day.

The Kremlin appears convinced that the Chechen population will eventually buckle under if enough force is used. The Russian leadership has put concerted public pressure on the Chechens' separatist leader, Dzhokhar Dudayev, in recent days, with the Prime Minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, and the presidential spokesman, Sergei Medvedev, adding their voices to that of Mr Yeltsin. Mr Medvedev insisted there was no ultimatum, but noted that Russia "has taken rather a tough stance, believing the disarmament of Dudayev's formations is of prime importance". Mr Medvedev warned: "If Dudayev's supporters are not ready to indicate illegal armed formations and their location, the Russians might do it themselves."

Further bullish noises came from the chairman of the parliamentary committee on national security, Viktor Ilyukhin, who called for a state of emergency in Chechnya. "In my opinion, unless the state of emergency is introduced, it is impossible to disentangle the Chechen knot. It is not ruled out that Dudayev's formations will again have to be disarmed by force."

Whether these threats are all part of a warm-up for a renewal of the bloody war, or whether the Russians are merely sabre-rattling, is difficult to tell. Pravda yesterday described the situation as "neither peace nor war", and worried that Russia may, in effect, have capitulated to "a gang of Dudayev's cut-throats".

The liberal Sevodnya argued: "The president and government are not joking. Everybody remembers the 48-hour ultimatum that ended with the troops going into Chechnya. Despite the fact that more than six months have gone by, the condition of the ultimatum - the disarming of illegal formations - is the same as it was then."

Despite tough Russian talk and Chechen defiance, neither side would stand to gain from a renewal of the war. Anatoly Romanov, the Russian military commander in Chechnya, complained yesterday that neither he nor his Chechen opposite number, Aslan Maskhedov, wanted to go "deep into a labyrinth of negotiations". They were only forced to do so, he said, because political negotiators had failed to clear up ambiguities. Mr Maskhedov said that the Chechens were ready to disarm in some areas.

Part of the argument is over whether Chechen militia units are allowed to keep law and order - and if so, where. Khozh-Akhmed Yarikhanov, the Chechens' senior negotiator, told Tass news agency that it was impossible for the Chechen side to give a clear response to the Moscow ultimatum, because "we know about the ultimatum only from the media - no official document has been sent to us".

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops
films
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'
TVGrace Dent thinks we should learn to 'hug a Hooray Henry', because poshness is an accident of birth
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
art

Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax

Arts and Entertainment
Convicted art fraudster John Myatt
art

News
The two-year-old said she cut off her fringe because it was getting in her eyes
news
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

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Sales Manager

£60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game