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Opponents Say Lebed's Plan For Peace May Kill Federation

By Lee Hockstader
The Washington Post

Opponents of a delicate Chechen peace plan brokered by national security chief Alexander Lebed intensified their attacks on the deal Tuesday, arguing that it could lead to the independence of Chechnya from Moscow and the ultimate break-up of Russia.

The criticism grew more heated even as demoralized and defeated Russian troops in the rebellious southern region were being withdrawn from battle lines under a cease-fire Lebed negotiated with Chechen separatist commanders last week. So far, the truce has largely held, despite scattered hostile incidents.

The thrust of the assault on Lebed is that he has overstepped his authority by agreeing to a compromise peace settlement with an illegal guerrilla group. Barely concealed in the criticism is a nationalistic subtext that any deal with the Chechen rebels that leaves them in substantial control of the region is a humiliation for Moscow and must not be permitted.

"Lebed is playing dangerous games with Chechnya's sovereignty, which is totally unacceptable," Sergei Baburin, a nationalist legislator who is deputy chairman of the lower house of parliament, told the Interfax news agency. The Communists, who make up the largest bloc in parliament, have also expressed concern that Lebed is plotting the secession of Chechnya from Russia.

But perhaps the most strident attack came from the man the Kremlin installed as puppet leader of Chechnya last year in hopes of establishing a political counterweight to the guerrilla leadership. Doku Zavgayev, bitter at having been excluded by Lebed from the peace process, charged that the security chief was turning Chechnya into a "preserve of terrorists" and carrying out "a state coup" there.

Lebed has characterized Zavgayev as a liar whose authority ends at the perimeter of the heavily fortified Russian military base on the outskirts of Grozny, the rebel-held Chechen capital.

Still, Lebed has been as much a target of denunciation as the draft settlement he brokered in five trips to Chechnya over the last 15 days. He is politically vulnerable to criticism in part because his boss, President Boris Yeltsin, has offered only lukewarm support for the peace proposal - that came after he publicly criticized Lebed's negotiating efforts. Yeltsin has also pointedly refused to meet with Lebed since he invested him with a vaguely defined authority to deal with the Chechen crisis on August 10.

Rather than consenting to meet with Lebed Tuesday, Yeltsin brusquely ordered him to submit a detailed written report on the plan by 5 p.m. Only after reviewing the report would the Russian leader decide whether to grant Lebed an audience, Yeltsin's press service said.

Yeltsin is on an extended vacation at a government resort 60 miles from Moscow, and analysts believe he has intentionally distanced himself from the peace plan - in part because he may resent Lebed's publicity-grabbing style and in part to deflect criticism from himself in case the plan collapses.

Details of the settlement proposal have not been made public, but leaks to the Russian press suggest it would put off by as much as five years the central question of the 20-month-old war: whether Chechnya would be granted full independence from Moscow, as rebel forces want, or be offered semiautonomous status while remaining part of Russia.

Interfax, quoting unnamed sources, said the plan specifies that during a transition period of up to five years, both sides would prepare for a congress of all Chechen parties at which a final decision on the region's political status would be made. There also have been proposals for a Chechen referendum on the question of independence-again after a cooling-off period that could last several years.

A number of critics, including Zavgayev, have attacked the blueprint as illegal under the Russian constitution, which prohibits full sovereignty for any of Russia's 89 constituent territories, of which Chechnya is one.

Interfax said the negotiators had failed to agree on the issue of whether Chechnya would have its own armed forces and, if so, whether they would report to Moscow or to a separate Chechen command in Grozny. Officials would not comment on the Interfax report.

Russian commanders in Grozny also continue to insist that the Chechen guerrillas must withdraw from the city along with Russian troops - whose pullout was dictated by terms of last week's cease-fire. But the reality is that the Chechens, who seized most of the city in an offensive that began Aug. 6, are an entrenched, confident fighting force.