Yeltsin makes TV pledge to end bloodshed

Chechen peace bid: Kremlin offers to stop combat operations, pull out troops and talk with separatist leader

HELEN WOMACK

Moscow

Boris Yeltsin appeared on national television last night to reveal a plan for ending the war in Chechnya, which he has admitted is likely to make or break his chances of being re-elected as Russian President in June. The plan promised a halt to combat operations in the Caucasian region and the partial withdrawal of troops. It also held out the possibility of indirect talks with the Chechen separatist leader, General Dzhokar Dudayev.

It remains to be seen how effective the plan will be, given that Moscow's forces were bombing Chechen villages up to the last minute before Mr Yeltsin spoke, and in view of the fact that no consultations were held with General Dudayev, who still considers that he is at war with Russia.

The commander of Russian forces in Chechnya, General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, said after the broadcast that he hoped Russians understood it would be impossible to end all fighting immediately.

Mr Yeltsin admitted that "the Chechen crisis is Russia's biggest problem". To solve it, he had ordered an end to combat operations from 31 March and "a stage-by-stage withdrawal of federal forces from the quiet regions of Chechnya to its administrative borders.

"The military actions have helped create the necessary preconditions for a radical change in the situation," he said, in reference to the Russian military campaign.

Last week, the Defence Minister, Pavel Grachev, said that over 100 Chechen villages had become "islands of peace" after they handed over their weapons to the Russian army, in exchange for security guarantees. Western reporters said the peace deals were often reached under duress.

Mr Yeltsin said efforts to "extend zones of conciliation" would continue, but added: "Of course, we will not tolerate terrorist actions. Responses to them will be adequate."

General Dudayev's Muslim fighters have been mostly pushed back into the southern mountains as a result of Russia's military offensive. The Kremlin incumbent must hope that none of them re-emerges to stage embarrassing pre-election raids of the kind that were made over the last year on hospitals in southern Russia.

President Yeltsin acknowledged military measures would not achieve a settlement of the Chechen conflict. "That is why the second task is to prepare and stage free democratic elections to a republican legislature," he said.

The Chechens have a bitter experience of "free" elections organised by Russian. Last December they were offered only one candidate, Doku Zavgayev, in a poll for a regional leader that was reminiscent of Brezhnev-era "democracy".

This time, President Yeltsin envisages a "political peace forum" composed of representatives from Chechen regions will help prepare the elections.

"The election of a new parliament will become a major step in recreating the bodies of state power in the Chechen republic," Mr Yeltsin said.

"As the system of power in Chechnya strengthens, responsibility and authority to finalise a settlement will shift from the government of the Russian Federation to the head, government and parliament of the Chechen republic."

Then the "main stumbling block - the peculiarities of the status of the Chechen republic" could be addressed, he said.

The Chechen separatists insist on full independence. Russia has offered autonomy, while insisting Chechnya must remain a part of the Russian Federation.

Nothing Mr Yeltsin said last night suggested Moscow had changed its position on independence. All Mr Yeltsin said was: "The main condition under which negotiations on the status of Chechnya could be started is normalising the situation in the republic and establishing peace, calm and stability there. For the sake of that we are ready to enter into negotiations, through intermediaries, with Dudayev's side."

He appointed the Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, a dove on the Chechen issue, to form a state commission for a settlement in the region.

Peace talks between envoys from Moscow and representatives of General Dudayev last summer produced a ceasefire. But it was violated on both sides as talks on a settlement ran into difficulties, until full-scale war broke out again last autumn.

Mr Yeltsin said he would ask the state Duma to consider an amnesty for Chechen fighters "except those who have committed grave common law crimes", presumably meaning those who took civilian hostages in the raids on southern Russian hospitals. He promised that humanitarian aid and government funds for reconstruction would be better distributed. "Today they often never reach those who need them most."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
News
Tottenham legend Jimmy Greaves has defended fans use of the word 'Yid'
people
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West, performing in New York last week, has been the subject of controversy as rock's traditional headline slot at Glastonbury is lost once again
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living