Interview with Ramazan Abdulatipov, Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council
INTERVIEWER: Do you think the overtures for negotiations made by the Chechen side were brought to the attention of President Yeltsin?
ABDULATIPOV: The most serious confidential proposals were brought by a group of Caucasians at the close of last year. They met with Dudayev in (the Chechen capital of) Grozny and in Moscow they paid me a visit. I personally know many of them--elders enjoying unquestioned authority in the Caucasus. They brought their proposals because they wanted firm guarantees in return, which the president alone could have given them. Don't ask me about the substance of their proposals. I have no right to divulge them. All I can say is that within three hours the bloodshed in Chechnya would have been stopped without prejudice to Russia and Dudayev. On the 30th and the 31st of December and on the 1st and 2nd of January, I made attempts to reach (Russian) Prime Minister Chernomyrdin or the president by phone, to no avail. On Jan. 3, I saw one of the ranking persons from the president's entourage. Normally he is allowed contact with the president upon the first request. He spent two hours trying to get through to him. He didn't succeed. Another chance to defuse the Chechnya crisis and save face was thus lost.
INTERVIEWER: Was that an isolated instance?
ABDULATIPOV: On Dec. 26, I was to fly with a group of deputies to the Caucasus for negotiations with the Chechen deputies. The president okayed the mission. By 8 p.m. things were talked over and agreed upon. Three hours later the secretariat of Ivan Rybkin (Speaker of the State Duma) made a statement that was totally unexpected to me, to the effect that the Duma has not authorized me to act on its behalf. Somewhat later the Security Council decided that negotiations with Chechnya would not be held, for Dudayev's capitulation was the sole condition.
INTERVIEWER: Who, do you think, exerts such as powerful influence on the president to make him revoke his decision?
ABDULATIPOV: I would not like to delve deeply into the matter, especially since it is a plain fact that our stupidity races ahead of our actions. Take, for instance, the projected meeting of religious elders and leaders of the Northern Caucasus scheduled to take place in Pyatigorsk on Jan. 8-9, which eventually was not held. Much preparatory work had been put into it. Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Aleksei and Muslim religious leaders were involved. I know that President Yeltsin signed the decision ordering a special plane for the Moscow delegation. I was in Abkhazia during the exchange of Georgian and Abkhazia prisoners of war when suddenly an urgent directive came from the president's apparatus calling off the meeting. Meanwhile, representatives of several public movements and religious elders of the Northern Caucasus were gathering in Makhachkala. But those capable of neutralizing to some degree the effects of the hostilities were again shunted aside. Before long the war will end but unless urgent measures are taken it can develop into a confrontation between Christians and Muslims in the Caucasus. I know of nothing more dreadful than Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Ingushetia, and now Chechnya being dragged into a battle with Muslims versus Russia, and the Islamic countries are grimly contemplating this.