NOVYE ATAGI, Russia -- Peace between Russia and its mutinous republic of Chechnya seemed closer than ever yesterday. But peace between President Boris Yeltsin and his chief security adviser, Alexander Lebed, did not.
Late Friday, Yeltsin halfheartedly endorsed Lebed's plan for ending the war in Chechnya and congratulated him on the progress he had made.
Yesterday afternoon, aboard his plane en route to Novye Atagi from Moscow for more talks with the rebel leaders, Lebed angrily produced a decree signed by the president Aug. 18 and said that if its terms were enforced, it would be "almost impossible" to stop the war.
"This is a decree that will prevent all social payments for redevelopment and construction in the country and in the region," Lebed said, practically growling as he stood in the aisle surrounded by nearly a dozen special forces soldiers.
"Chechnya has been demolished by war. If we can give nothing to rebuild it, how can I expect there to be peace?"
He then flashed the decree in the faces of the reporters accompanying him and stormed off into his cabin. The decree, widely believed to have come from Yeltsin's new chief of staff, Anatoly Chubais, attempts to rein in the high rate of government spending. It specifically mentioned Chechnya, although it applies to all regions of Russia.
Lebed arrived in Novye Atagi yesterday as Russian and Chechen forces began to assemble for their first joint patrols of Grozny, the battered regional capital, which the rebels seized in an offensive this month. Russian troops also are preparing to withdraw from contested parts of the city, and many captives have been freed.
From a helicopter flying over the city -- which is still smoldering from the vicious battles of earlier this week -- the calm was striking. "The fighting has stopped," Lebed said. "Now the real work begins."
Lebed flew to an army base and spoke with the Russian commander, Gen. Vyacheslav Tikhomirov. He then left for Novye Atagi to continue talks with his Chechen counterpart, Aslan Maskhadov.
The discussions Lebed hopes to conclude today seek a political solution to the war. And without a political solution, military agreements are unlikely to last. In the past, the rebels have insisted on independence, although they have moderated their stance lately.
Independence is the one concession that Russia will not make. However, Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin, appearing to lend support to Lebed, said yesterday that a decision on the status of Chechnya need not be made right away but could take up to five years.
But if Lebed has no money to promise aid to the region, which has been devastated in the last two years by bombing raids, it is difficult to see what else he can deliver to Maskhadov and his colleagues.
"Take a look at this decree and write about it," Lebed said yesterday. Yeltsin has not met with Lebed since he granted him broad authority to end the war and control the military earlier this month.
Pub Date: 8/25/96