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The 1996 Cease-fire

 

A rapprochement between the warring sides became possible only after April 1996, when Dzhokhar Dudayev was killed in the fighting. Yeltsin handed responsibility for dealing with the situation in Chechnya to the ambitious retired general Alexander Lebed, who had been appointed secretary of Russia’s influential Security Council. He immediately made trips to the breakaway republic to meet with both the Chechen separatists and the Russian military commanders, and by the end of August 1996 he had negotiated a cease-fire that included the agreement to defer a decision on Chechen independence for five years. The cease-fire made it possible for federal troops to withdraw from Chechen territory and for elections to be planned. By the end of the year Russian troops had left the province and Chechnya was, in all but name, an independent state. 

 
Aslan Maskhadov (for Chechnya) and Alexander Lebed (for Russia) signing the cease-fire agreement

In January 1997 former guerrilla leader and Dudayev’s head of staff Aslan Maskhadov was elected president of Chechnya. But the territory remained divided among local warlords, and it was questionable how much control Maskhadov exercised outside the capital. Under Maskhadov the breakaway republic continued to assert that it was a sovereign state, but no coherent state structure came into being. The province became split into a maze of small entities, each headed by a warlord. Nearly two-thirds of the republic’s population voted with their feet against “independence” forced on them by leaders like Dudayev and Maskhadov.

The chief causes of the war and the reasons that prompted the Russian leadership to adopt the military option to resolve the problem of a mutinous territory within Russian borders in December 1994 and again in September 1999 are discussed in the pages that follow.

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