Acting Russian President Vladimir Putin
told Radio Mayak on 18 March that conducting peace talks with "bandits"
would be tantamount to withdrawing Russian forces from Chechnya, which,
he said in an allusion to the 1996 peace agreement, would be "a major
mistake," Reuters reported. But Putin also said in Voronezh the same
day that Moscow has never broken off dialogue with other Chechen figures.
He termed last week's meeting with Chechen representatives including Mufti
Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov "a new stage in the development of our relations
with Chechnya," according to Interfax (see "RFE/RL Newsline,"
16 March 2000). Speaking in London the previous day, First Deputy Chief
Of Staff Colonel General Valerii Manilov had said that "excess"
Russian forces are already being withdrawn from Chechnya. Two days earlier,
Defense Minister Igor Sergeev had said that the withdrawal had not yet
begun. Russia currently has some 90,000 men in Chechnya. That figure is
to be reduced to 25,000. LF
=A9 2000 RFE/RL, Inc. All Rights