Sorokina: Good evening.
Today Prime Minister Putin met the leading Russian politicians
- heads of parliamentary factions and groups, as well
as former prime ministers of Russia. The agenda concerned
the situation on the Northern Caucasus. Today one of the
participants at this meeting, a former Prime Minister
of Russia, Sergei Stepashin, came to our studio. Good
evening, Sergei Vadimovich.
Stepashin: Good evening.
Sorokina: First of all
I would like to ask you what the aim of this meeting was?
What was Putin trying to achieve? At first sight it would
seem that he was seeking either to get your agreement
and approval or bring you up to date with the facts. What
were his goals at this meeting?
Stepashin: I think that, as
far as I understand Vladimir Putin, one of his main tasks
was to enlist our support. Let us be honest. For today
we are involved in a full-scale military operation in
Chechnya. We call it a war against terrorism, but it is
absolutely clear that, when artillery and aviation are
employed and the troops have already approached the Terek
River, this certainly means war.
Above all, Vladimir Putin
obviously wanted to obtain at least moral support, as
certainly no legal document was drafted during this meeting.
In my opinion, his second goal (judging from the questions
that I was asked) was to receive advice on a number of
issues, including what should be done next and how they
should set up the settlement points, where the federal
troops are currently stationed. And the third task (although
I don't know whether Vladimir Putin really had such a
task in mind) may perhaps involve a desire to convene
general meetings with ex-prime ministers. I would create
such a club. Maybe it will be broadened - people possess
either positive or negative experience. Today Gennady
Zyuganov criticised Viktor Chernomyrdin and myself. But
negative experience is also an experience. Naturally,
it is also useful to look at this experience. In this
respect, I think that Vladimir Putin did the right thing.
Sorokina: Sergei Vadimovich,
that first war (Ed. - in Chechnya) began in 1994, I really
don't know whether it was the first or the second, but
it was the first war to occur in recent history. Do you
remember the public's attitude and the attitude of leading
politicians at that time? Does it differ from today's
Stepashin: Attitudes differ
radically. At the present stage it is hard to predict
future developments. Firstly, I think that we had totally
lost the media war at that time. It was also a war. The
government had to explain the goal of the military operation
and the reason why troops entered Chechnya. They had to
explain developments in Chechnya since 1991: how many
thousand people suffered, were murdered and raped and
that whole families were slaughtered. We spoke about this
later on, but nobody believed us then. Do you remember
the constant acts of terrorism - the hijacking of helicopters
and buses? This was not explained. That is why the beginning
of the operation was certainly negative in media terms.
Today everything is different.
First, the Khasavurt agreements have not been fulfilled
by the Chechnian side. There was no disarmament, but instead
new instances of hostage-taking and murders. As we say
today in simple slang, they have got on the people's nerves.
Secondly Basayev and Khattab, as well as the agitators
behind the war in Daghestan, were simply caught out. They
believed that they would get support from the Daghestani
people and mountain villages. They witnessed opposite
results. In this case they attacked Russia and civilian
settlements. So the media coverage was absolutely different
in this case
Sorokina: There is something
else that I would like to ask you. It has been reported
that the participants at this meeting were asked to treat
the contents of the meeting as confidential and that not
everything discussed could be broadcast by TV and radio.
Did you feel that Putin was being honest with you? Or
only to some extent?
Stepashin: My feelings are
not important here. The Prime Minister was previously
director of the Federal Security Service, the Secretary
of the Security Council and is a professional secret service
man. He stressed on several occasions that he could not
tell us the final military plans of the government. So
there was some reticence. By the way, thank you for such
a question. There was something intricate: they ask your
advice and your support. But support for which specific
actions? Now it is clear. But what will happen next?
Sorokina: This is my next
question. Did you at least have a feeling that the government
had a clear plan of action in Chechnya?
Stepashin: I hope so. It is
impossible to begin a war without a plan, even a plan
"to win with two regiments in two days".
Sorokina: You know the
Chapayev tradition (Ed. Vassily Chapayev, commander of
one of the divisions of the Red Army, hero of the former
USSR, remembered for his brave military actions during
the civil war): the main thing is to start a battle, and
then we will see what happens.
Stepashin: I hope that this
is not the case. For the range of measures on the boundary
- the sanitary cordon and military strikes at bandits
- are not new. Everybody has suddenly decided that the
new head of the government has turned a new page and said
this or that thing. Forgive me for reminding you of my
own words, but I spoke about this range of measures on
March 7 in this studio for Kiselyov's "Itogi" programme,
when General Shpigun was taken hostage. That time I did
not obtain full-scale support. Today Vladimir Putin has
such support. So I think that they have a plan.
But there is one serious aspect
that has not in my opinion been fully considered. What
will the end of this war signify? Bandits and terrorists
will be killed. That is clear. But tens of thousands people
live there. Most of them are now leaving this territory:
the civilians flee to Ingushetia. This is a humanitarian
problem. Who will be our negotiating partner? Any war
should end in peace. In 1996 we managed to reach the Nazran
agreements. They are also forgotten today. But they envisage
a brilliant way of extricating ourselves from this situation.
Today we must look for partners. Not one-off politicians
who declare their readiness to go to Grozny and bring
peace there. We have seen all this before. We ended up
tricking Khadzhiyev and Doka Zavgayev.
Sorokina: Are you referring
to current efforts to create a government in an exile?
Stepashin: Yes, this as well.
Firstly, such things should not be widely discussed. Sorry.
We revealed who these people were: inevitably they arouse
the hatred of most Chechnians living there. This is a
Sorokina: Yes, clearly
leaders cannot be created artificially.
Stepashin: Secondly, and this
is my personal point of view, and I understand that it
may clash with the views of this government. I would not
burn all our bridges with Maskhadov here. We have put
ourselves in a delicate situation. The agreement was signed
by Yeltsin and Maskhadov. We acknowledged him as a legitimate
president. There shouldn't be any double standards! You
should leave yourself a small loop-hole at the very least!
You can't corner people and at the same time try to reach
an agreement with them.
Sorokina: It has been said
that Maskhadov approached you and tried to persuade you
to act as a go-between?
Stepashin: As a person with
whom he first fought and then held negotiations in Nazran.
As an independent politician I certainly could have entered
such negotiations. But I would consider such a stance
to be unethical. Today this does not correspond with the
Sorokina: Judging by Putin's
speeches, we have decided to create a sanitary zone in
Chechnya. This was followed by the following statement:
"The federal authorities control one-third of Chechen
territory." This leads to the following question: whether
this is a cordon or not, or if there is some other task.
The troops reached the boundary of the Terek River - what
happens next? Is it already part of our ground operations?
Stepashin: I would assume
that the ground operations are being conducted to create
a cordon. Basically the task has been set absolutely correctly.
I can easily understand this as a military man. We should
grab, conquer and assimilate the territories that make
it easier for us to hold the bandits in check. And we
should not wait for them to reach their settlements, as
was the case in Kurskaya and Buinaksk.
Sorokina: You know best.
Is the border of the Terek River a convenient position?
Stepashin: Yes, it is suitable.
Firstly, I know the area from my own personal experience.
I visited it several times in 1994-1995 - before, during
and after the war. These are plains. The Terek is a natural
obstacle. This is the first thing. Secondly, these are
historically Russian lands. In 1957 when Nikita Khruschov
began to redistribute our territories, these three historically
Russian cossack settlements were transferred to Chechnya.
But the Emperor specially settled cossacks there to protect
Russia from raids and forays.
Sorokina: What happens
next? Will they simply stand at the Terek working out
how to find a political solution for Chechnya?
Stepashin: It is difficult
for me to say who thinks what. I am not an astrologist.
I can only offer my own hypothesis. I think that we should
strengthen our boundaries at the Terek and assimilate
these settlements - historic Russian lands. People should
be able to live normal lives there. It is absolutely right
that Valentina Matvienko (Ed. Minister for Labour and
Social Issues) will provide social support and protection
for people now in the zone controlled by the federal troops.
You no doubt remember how
this was done between 1991 and 1994 in Pervomaiskoye,
Naurskoye and Shelkovskoye. Here we are repeating, in
a positive sense, what the Russian Federation did in the
pre-war years. In this way we can say: look, this is how
you can live, work and study here. Now look at what is
happening to you there. At the same time we could prepare
the people who could really head Chechnya. Thirdly - and
this is also very important now - we should not succumb
to the euphoria of an easy victory. I know many generals
and officers: we went through this terrible war together.
Never surrender. Our losses are small, although today
two planes were shot down. Here a great deal depends on
our intelligence and the security agencies.
Sorokina: And what if we
decide not to stop at the Terek?
Stepashin: I am not an astrologist
either. However, let us suppose there will be some movement
Sorokina: Is there any
chance of avoiding a protracted partisan war in Chechnya?
Stepashin: I think that developments
there since January 2 1995 when we entered Grozny already
constituted a partisan war, or semi-partisan until August
1996, and then turned into a real terrorist war. What
were these explosions of blocks of flats in Moscow and
Volgodonsk? Surely here the partisan war had been transferred
to a neighbouring territory? These are also elements of
a partisan war. We should be prepared for this eventuality,
as tens of thousands of well-trained and armed people
will not leave Chechnya. Now unfortunately they can do
nothing but fight and kill. Moreover, the fanaticism of
these people indicates that they can fight ruthlessly
and desperately. And here we must think it over - who
will deal the final blow (as they say now) against the
bandits. These should not be 18-year olds, but instead
well-trained specialists. And I don't want them to do
all the dirty work (I recently spoke about this issue
with some of my colleagues/army generals). We must provide
clear legal protection for all the actions of the federal
forces in Chechnya.
Sorokina: Is it insufficient
Stepashin: I think it is insufficient.
Moreover, we have been employing troops on our territory,
which conflicts with the Law "On Defence".
Sorokina: Do you still
oppose a full-scale military operation in Chechnya?
Stepashin:. Yes, I do.
Sorokina: Is that because
you can foresee the consequences?
Stepashin: Definitely. We
have already experienced this! And I know the position
of the largest section of the military. Maybe they won't
speak out frankly, but they have also experienced this
Sorokina: What is their
Stepashin: A full-scale military
operation is out of the question now, as it would lead
to huge losses.
Sorokina: What about the
Stepashin: We have already
been adopting the Yugoslavian option. But let us be objective
and assess the possibilities of our armed forces - what
we refer to as high-precision weapons and satellite intelligence.
Over the past 5-7 years not a single penny was allotted
to these developments. By the way, this is an important
issue for the budget for 2000.
Sorokina: Do you have an
idea about who could become the real political elite in
Stepashin: Many people.
Sorokina: From the diaspora?
Stepashin: You know there
is no diaspora. We have concocted an artificial plan about
some diaspora. Thousands of Chechnians live today in Moscow,
Volgograd and Astrakhan.
Sorokina: Are you implying
that the search will be made among people who live outside
the Chechen borders?
Stepashin It is very difficult
to say inside or outside. The “teip” (Ed. clan, family)
connections and relatives buried there have a different
attitude to home and a native land. These people are not
separated, they live as if they are together. There are
such people. We worked with them even until1994. Unfortunately
we revealed the identities of some of these people such
as Khadzhiyev, for example. There are many people: good
businessmen and politicians, others who acted with distinction
for the security forces, the Ministry of the Interior,
public prosecutor's office and courts in 1995-1996. Do
you know what we have done to them? We have abandoned
Sorokina: Yes. This is
a complicated issue, since even deserving people and well-known
individuals in our political elite will not be accepted
by the nation.
Stepashin: This is a delicate
topic. There are people in Chechnya who understand that
they cannot live like this anymore.
Sorokina: Yesterday we
received an order to establish an information centre that
would monopolise information on events in Chechnya. We
have seen this before. Everybody knows that any restriction
on information involves attracting information from other
sources. Now discrepancies have already begun to appear.
People have started believing the worst possible option.
Stepashin: This is a double-edged
sword. I would propose some sort of consensus, an agreement
with the leading mass media that would enable us to work
in unison without tough restrictions. Do you remember
that at the beginning of our meeting I said that we had
lost the information war? This was one of the reasons.
There should be mutual agreement here, as this background
created by the mass media is very important psychologically,
not only for individuals living under peaceful skies in
Moscow, but also for those who fight there, for their
families and relativ