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Europe

A breakthrough of sorts in Chechnya

Fresh talks focused on disarmament of separatists in Russia's breakaway province.

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The rebels' security chief made a sudden visit to Moscow

It was an extra-long 72 hours, but effective nonetheless.

Back on September 24, when Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Chechnya’s rebel government that it had 72 hours to begin disarmament talks, he meant three days, no more.

No face-to-face talks, in fact, were held until the deadline was 1296 hours later – on Sunday, when Kremlin envoy Viktor Kazantsev met rebel security chief Akhmed Zakayev in Moscow. Just telephone chats.

Yet the overdue meeting already has been hailed by officials on both sides as an important first step towards peace in Russia’s breakaway province.

Kazantsev said on the Russian television channel NTV that he made his quick trip to Moscow to “discuss issues raised” by Putin a month and a half ago.

Zakayev responded in kind: “We were very happy with the meetings. We believe the talks will continue and end positively.”

The campaign drags on

There is a long way to go before order is brought to the province, let alone peace.

Putin is not beloved to the rebel regime of Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov, and to achieve peace the Russian government must deal with separatists it regards as criminals, rather than its own malleable, Kremlin-installed regime in Grozny, the provincial capital.

After a tenuous three-year pause in hostilities, Chechnya erupted into war in 1999 while Putin was prime minister, and the former spy’s way to the presidency was eased by an upsurge in popular support for decisive military action in the province.

Since the resumption of hostilities, though, popular support for Russia’s military campaign has dwindled. Almost daily attacks against the Russian forces that control most of Chechnya wounds public morale.

The U.S.-led “war on terrorism” to which Putin has pledged Russian cooperation may provide new impetus to talks between Russia and Chechnya. But the Kremlin’s strict line against the separatists it considers “terrorists” has prompted cries of “quid pro quo” from Western critics, concerned that Russia’s participation in the “anti-terror” alliance buys Putin’s government diplomatic license to act indiscriminately in its troubled province.

Putin has sought to link the Chechen separatist movment to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda organisation, and the presence of some Chechen fighters in Afghanistan suggests there is some link. But the nature of the relationship remains unclear.

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