Chechnya: new president but, technically, not independent
February 12, 1997
Web posted at: 3:30 p.m. EST
In this story:
GROZNY, Russia (CNN) -- Under heavy security in one of the
few public buildings not destroyed in Chechnya's separatist
war against Russia, the republic's new president was
inaugurated Wednesday, pledging to bring independence to the
mostly Muslim region of southern Russia.
"I swear to reinforce the independence of the Chechen state,"
said Aslan Maskhadov, a former Soviet artillery colonel who
led Chechen rebels against Russian troops, who were sent to
crush them in December 1994.
Maskhadov took the oath of office in the 500-seat Khimik
Palace of Culture in a suburb of Chechnya's capital of
Swearing on the Koran, the Muslim holy book, he told Russian
representatives and hundreds of armed rebels he would
strengthen the Muslim religion and fight a crime wave in
Chechnya, which technically remains a Russian republic.
Also packed inside the building were religious officials and
parents of separatist fighters killed in the nearly two-year
war. Maskhadov helped negotiate a peace agreement with
Moscow in August that provided for the pullout of the
defeated Russian troops.
Russian national security adviser Alexander Lebed, who
negotiated the truce on behalf of President Boris Yeltsin,
was in the audience. "A legitimate government is emerging in
the republic," he said. Lebed's successor, Ivan Rybkin, also
Representatives of neighboring Russian republics and
Muslim countries also were invited but diplomatically
declined. Moscow, fearing separatism elsewhere in its vast
territories, made it clear their presence in Chechnya would
not be appreciated.
Independent or not?
Although Chechens consider themselves independent -- at least
in name -- Moscow does not, insisting the region is a part of
the Russian Federation. The peace agreement postponed any
decision on the political status of Chechnya for five years.
"I think we're going to be involved in long and difficult
negotiations with Chechnya," Russian parliament member Viktor
Sheinis told CNN.
"But we can't start those negotiations with a formal
recognition of Chechnya's independence. That would be an
unreasonable negotiating position," he said.
However, Sheinis said that by the year 2001, "it's quite
likely we won't have any choice but to recognize their
For now, though, President Maskhadov will need all the money,
diplomatic skills and patience he can muster to put Chechnya
-- physically broken by war -- back together again. The
infrastructure of government and the economy are both
shattered. In today's Chechnya, a roadside stand is big
About $700 million (U.S.) has been set aside in the Russian
budget to help rebuild the region. It's hardly enough, but
additional financing from international sources seems
unlikely, says Dmitri Trenin of the Moscow Carnegie Center. (332K/16 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Maskhadov won a landslide victory in the January 27
presidential elections. Now that he's taken office, "the
formation of the cabinet of ministers will be his first
step," said presidential spokesman Mayrbek Vachagayev.
"Then the president will start the work on restoring the
damaged Chechen economy and combating crime."
His tasks also include providing social support to tens of
thousands of refugees and other needy Chechens and reaching
agreement with Moscow on the status of Russian and Chechen
prisoners of war.
Correspondent Betsy Aaron and Reuters contributed to this report.
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