NTV Programme, Interviewer - Svetlana
Sorokina, October 5, 1999
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 attitudes?
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
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 delicate matter.
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 government's views.
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
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 further forward.
Sorokina: Is there
any chance of avoiding a protracted partisan war in
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?
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
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 Yugoslavian option?
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
Sorokina: Do you have
an idea about who could become the real political
elite in Chechnya?
Stepashin: Many people.
Sorokina: From the
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 them.
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.
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