[home page][map of the server][news of the server][forums][publications][Yabloko's Views]

AFP, March 17, 2003

Putin offers Chechens sweeping autonomy under new constitution

Russian President Vladimir Putin offered Chechnya "sweeping autonomy" within Russia if the separatist republic approved a new constitution in a contentious referendum next weekend.

The constitution would "give Chechnya a chance to reconstruct its life and obtain sweeping autonomy within Russia's borders," Putin said in a televised address broadcast late Sunday to the few Chechen households that still have access to television.

Putin's speech was also broadcast in full as top news on Russian news bulletins on Monday morning.

The Russian leader -- linked inseparably to the campaign that he launched in October 1999 -- said voting in the referendum would be "an important step" towards ending the devastation caused by fighting and restoring order.

"Only the people can determine their destiny. You have your children's future in your hands, and that of your homeland. So I call on you to vote and make a correct choice," he said.

The poll comes three and a half years after Russia, headed by then prime minister Putin, sent its troops into Chechnya to put down a separatist insurgency.

Critics argue that the security situation in Chechnya, where rebels continue to inflict regular losses on Russian forces and pro-Russian administrators, is too precarious to lend the poll validity.

Russian liberals gathered in central Moscow Monday to speak out against the disputed vote, which comes against the backdrop of daily violence in the republic.

But, split for much of the past decade on the issue, they ended up fighting among themselves instead of uniting against the referendum vote.

A statement saying that the referendum would be a "political mistake" was not signed by Grigory Yavlinsky, the head of the liberal Yabloko faction who is considered by some to be one of Russia's most influential lawmakers.

Those attending the session told AFP that Yavlinsky disagreed with the premise that any peace conference between Russian officials and Chechen separatists should not include Putin at the first session.

"We cannot afford to have the president (sit at the peace table) because what he is trying to do is to fix the (Sunday) referendum," said respected liberal lawmaker and member of the Memorial organization Sergei Kovalyov.

"He is only backing the policy of one of the sides -- the Russians. The Chechens are not being involved," Kovalyov said.

Yavlinsky refused to sign the document, saying that any peace talks must involve the Russian president directly and stormed out of the session, he said.

"We believe that only the president can take part in such talks," Igor Artyomyev, a senior Yabloko party member said after Yavlinsky's departure.

Putin has argued that the new constitution would form the basis of a durable peace in the republic. The Russian president has refused to parley with the Chechen rebels, denouncing them as terrorists.

"A constitution accepted by its people would become a basis for a political settlement in Chechnya, allowing them to choose truly democratic authorities that would rely on popular trust," Putin said, stressing that the republic would not be allowed to secede.

He said the new constitution would help end Russian troops' "security sweeps," bureaucracy, corruption and the harsh military rule in Chechnya.

Putin also held out the prospect of an amnesty if the result of the poll proved "positive."

A "positive outcome" to the referendum would allow the State Duma (lower house) in Moscow to consider a request for an amnesty, he said in response to clergymen who said there should be an amnesty for Chechens who had "gone astray."

The Russian leader was upbeat in his assessment of the present situation in the republic, though he admitted that life in Chechnya for the moment "still looks as it has been hit by a natural catastrophe."

Around 530,000 Chechens are eligible to vote in the referendum, as are some 23,000 Russian troops permanently stationed in the breakaway republic.


See also:

War in Chechnya

Democratic Assembly

AFP, March 17, 2003

[home page][map of the server][news of the server][forums][publications][Yabloko's Views]