The face-to-face talks between Russian president Boris Yeltsin and Chechen leader Zelimkhan Yandarbayev (photo) on May 27 in Moscow were a humiliating climb-down for the Kremlin boss. Since October 1991 when the Chechens declared their independence under their late leader Dzhokar Dudayev, Yeltsin and his minions have denounced the Chechens as `bandits’. This is nothing new. Reflecting a colonial mindset, Russian generals started using these insulting terms for the mountain peoples when they first started their forays into the Caucasus at the end of the sixteenth century. The so-called bandits have not killed innocent children as the `civilized’ Russians have done.
How much faith can be placed in Yeltsin’s latest promises? The simple answer is: very little. He is a desperate man clinging to every straw to get re-elected in the June 16 presidential elections. He is on record as saying that unless he stops the war in Chechenya, it will end his presidential ambitions. By agreeing to meet the new Chechen leader, Yeltsin has had to face a humiliating climb-down. In the past, he had flatly refused to countenance any meeting with the Chechens, demanding instead, their complete surrender. Yeltsin’s world of make-believe has been shattered on the rocks of the Chechen mountains.
The wolves of the Caucasus - the wolf is the Chechens’ symbol - have mauled the Russian bear so badly that it is now licking its wounds and looking for ways to get out of the trap. The Chechens are only 1.3 million strong; the Russian hordes make up 159 million. More than 400,000 Russian troops armed with the most sophisticated weapons that a modern army can muster, have been poured into Chechenya. Even with such numbers and firepower backed by helicopter gunships and fighter-bombers, the Russians are nowwhere near achieving their objective of subduing the indomitable spirit of the Chechens. Since December 1994 when the Russians launched their latest genocidal war, at least 80,000 Chechens have been slaughtered. The Russian army has perpetrated horrible crimes using the most lethal weapons - including chemical weapons according to photographic evidence procured by the Crescent International - against innocent civilians. Against the intrepid Chechen fighters, the Russian army has been repeatedly humiliated. An operation that was supposed to last a mere 24 hours, according to Pavel Grachev, the Russian war minister, has been going on for more than 18 months and is not likely to end anytime soon.
What have the talks achieved for the Chechens? First, an agreement has been signed to exchange prisoners. The Russians routinely torture people. In Chechenya, they have done so on an even more gruesome scale. So the Chechens will get their men and women released from the torture chambers of the Russians. Second, the Chechens have demanded the complete withdrawal of Russian troops from their soil. If the Russians fulfil their promise, this will be another feather in the Chechens’ cap. The most important achievement is that the Chechens met the Russians on equal terms. It was one head of State meeting another. Even though discussion on the future status of Chechenya was postponed until after the elections, the fact that this was now recognized as a major bone of contention, is of great significance.
Yeltsin’s stealthy visit to Grozny a day after the May 27 meeting was confirmation of the fact that he had to sneak into Chechenya while its leader was still in Moscow negotiating with the Russians. Like the Americans in Vietnam, Yeltsin announced that Russia had `won’ the war in Chechenya! If verbal declarations could win wars, the Arab rulers would be in control of the whole of Palestine; the Americans would still be in Vietnam, the French in Algeria and Russian troops in Afghanistan.
The Chechens’ achievement is of great significance. They have lived up to their tradition of not giving in to the Russians and have continued their fight for more than 200 years. Their indomitable spirit lives on in the mountains inspiring people all over the world. In this struggle of life-and-death, the Russians cannot win and the Chechens cannot lose. The sooner the Kremlin bosses realise this the better it is for them. The Caucasus region does not belong to Russia. There is nothing common between them culturally, linguistically or religiously.
Muslimedia - April 1996-August 1996