Home pageAdvanced searchIndexe-mailAdd to favorites


Interview of Sergei Stepashin for the programme "Geroi Dnya" ("Hero of the Day")programme
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 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 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 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 further forward.

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 today?

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 war.

Sorokina: What is their view?

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 for 2000.

Sorokina: Do you have an idea about who could become the real political elite in Chechnya?

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 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.

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

ei Stepashin on Grigory Yavlinsky's proposals