Russian President Vladimir Putin and his generals want the war to continue, said Ruslan Khasbulatov, former chairman of the Parliament of the Russian Federation, at a forum Thursday jointly sponsored by the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, known as SAIS, the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya. Khasbulatov is also chair of the international economics department at Plekhanov Institute in Russia.
Khasbulatov has presented a detailed peace proposal to the Russian government on how to end the four-year, full-scale war that has taken the lives of 250,000 civilians and 30,000 soldiers and officers. Neither the proposal, nor the efforts of the ACPC have made much headway, analysts said at the forum.
"The results from the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya have been zero," said Glen Howard, ACPC's executive director, at the forum.
Part of the problem is the structure of the Russian government, they said.
"People moved into leadership in Russia, into their positions, quickly; our election was superficial," Khasbulatov said.
"Putin has a consistent high level of support," said Richard Rose, a professor at the Center for the Study of Public Political Policy at the University of Strathcelyde, Glasgow, Scotland. Rose, who spoke on Wednesday at another forum on Chechnya sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, polled 2,000 Russian citizens in a nationwide survey last summer.
"Popularity for Putin doesn't spill over into other things," Rose continued. "The Russian people don't like the government, they like him."
Seventy-seven percent of the people Rose polled said they approved of Putin's performance, but only 45 percent said they approved of the performance of the Russian government. Yet, 58 percent said they would vote for Putin if an election was held next Sunday.
Meanwhile, 45 percent said they blamed the Chechen terrorists for the death of more than 100 hundred people they took hostage in a Moscow theater late last month and 37 percent said they think the conflict will be protracted and spread to other parts of the North Caucasus.
Khasbulatov said that his peace plan won't come to fruition without strong international cooperation. His strategy, often known as the "Liechtenstein Plan," was developed last August in concert with Chechen Vice Premier Akmed Zakayev, who is currently in Danish custody pending the outcome of an extradition request from the Russian Federation.
"There must be an international solution to the Chechnya crisis, Chechnya must have its own status, and the international community must provide guarantees," Khasbulatov said. "The situation requires direct activity and strong international organization. If not, it needs to be brought forth in front of an international court."
"If the west needs Putin as a partner, and it does, it must approach him and say this war has to come to a stop. The worst assistance would be to ignore the war," he said.
"We need international patronage; we hope we won't see arrogant rejections like we have in the past," he said. "The United States must stop passing the buck to Europe and Europe must stop passing the buck to the United States. This is an international matter. It's still a violation of the Geneva Convention and though I don't think it involves international terrorists. We need to act like we did in Bosnia and Afghanistan."
But the harshest critics in the Kremlin say that Moscow won't enter into his proposal, Khasbulatov said. Why?
"The sides have become so polarized it has become personal, a civil war, which is almost impossible to stop. It only draws in new leaders to continue the war. More young Chechens are joining the rebels in the mountains," Khasbulatov said.
The terrorist attack in Moscow on Oct. 23 shut the window on future talks, Khasbulatov said. And the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States confused the issue, since people are trying to link the al-Qaida terrorists with the problems in Chechnya, but there are no common ties, only propaganda that there are ties, he added.
Post-communist Russia's dire straits are directly related to its continued war with Chechnya, he said.
"Thirty-five percent of our federal budget goes to the war in Chechnya. Russia's federal budget is less money than one city's, like New York City. We have to support the fleet and weapons, and still come up with money for education, science, roads and housing."
The ACPC estimates that the war costs Moscow upwards to $100 million each month, and that as many as 10 to 20 Russian conscripts and contract soldiers die every day.
"Crime has gone up drastically because of the war," Khasbulatov said "In Russia, the premiers are criminals and prisoners are released and sent to Chechnya."
"I thought the 21st Century wouldn't see wars, that we would be addressing questions like the state of the drinking water and the arts. Now the 21st century is seeing violent and savage wars where we no longer have fronts. They are local conflicts that resemble conflicts from the middle of the last century," he said.
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