- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 14, 2004

LONDON — A top aide to Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov warned yesterday that more blood could be shed unless the Kremlin agrees to peace talks with war-torn Chechnya.

Akhmed Zakayev, who fled to Britain last year to live as a refugee, demanded that the West push Russian President Vladimir Putin into talks with “the democratically elected government of Chechnya, under the auspices of international mediators.”

“Putin’s policies have not stabilized Chechnya, but have brought about a worsening of the situation,” Mr. Zakayev said at a press conference in London.

A senior associate of Mr. Maskhadov’s, Mr. Zakayev has been acting lately as the spokesman for Mr. Maskhadov, who has a multimillion-dollar reward on his head since the Russian school massacre by Muslim separatists.

“If Putin’s policy toward Chechnya continues in the same vein, the Caucasus will radicalize even further, and I am gravely concerned that more Beslans will be inevitable,” Mr. Zakayev said.

He was referring to the massacre of 327 hostages earlier this month — a bloodbath that the Kremlin blames on Mr. Maskhadov, who is believed to be in hiding in Chechnya, and his even more militant Chechen separatist colleague, Shamil Basayev.

Mr. Putin immediately put huge bounties on the heads of Mr. Maskhadov, Chechnya’s president from 1997 to 1999, and Mr. Basayev, offering $10 million for information leading to the arrest of each.

Mr. Zakayev is viewed in diplomatic and intelligence circles as Mr. Maskhadov’s key envoy in the West.

But he also is seen by the Kremlin as a terrorist, and Britain’s willingness to grant him refugee status last November, and its refusal to hand him over to Moscow, has angered Russian authorities.

At his press conference in London yesterday, Mr. Zakayev called on Western governments to force Mr. Putin to talk of peace with Chechnya, and to make the talks a “non-negotiable condition of Russia’s continued status as a privileged interlocutor of the West in both trade and political forums.”

This, he suggested, could best be handled under the auspices of the United Nations.

In addition to Britain’s hospitality to Mr. Zakayev, the Kremlin is furious with the United States for granting political asylum to Ilyas Akhmadov, yet another Chechen separatist leader, who is reported to be living in Washington.

Earlier this month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Western countries “bear direct responsibility for the tragedy of the Chechen people when they give political asylum to terrorists.”

“When our Western partners say we should re-examine our policy — what you call tactics — I would advise them not to interfere in our Russian affairs,” Mr. Lavrov said.

The foreign minister’s mood doubtless was not improved by reports that the U.S. State Department had indicated its willingness to consider meeting with “moderate” Chechen separatists.

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