Russian, Chechen commanders agree to give cease-fire orders A truce would be seen as a victory for Lebed, who has pushed for peace

August 18, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

MOSCOW -- Top Russian and rebel field commanders in Chechnya said yesterday that they had agreed to give cease-fire orders to their troops.

If a truce holds, it would be a victory for the Russian national security adviser, Alexander Lebed, who last week traveled twice to the region to seek peace.

But Lebed appears to have lost the first battle in his effort to oust one of two top generals leading the fighting in Chechnya.

The Russian news agency Interfax reported yesterday that Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov, irate over Lebed's accusations that he is responsible for the bloodshed and military bungling in the separatist republic, telephoned President Boris N. Yeltsin on Friday to offer his resignation.

According to Interfax, Yeltsin instructed Kulikov to stay in his job.

There was no comment yesterday from Lebed about the president's apparent rejection of his demand that Kulikov be dismissed.

On Friday, Lebed held a news conference in Moscow and issued what sounded like an ultimatum: "Only one can remain in this system, Lebed or Kulikov."

But he later said he was not planning to quit if thwarted.

"We don't need any resignations," he said. "There are other methods."

Vitaly Knyazev, chief spokesman for the national security council, said yesterday that Lebed had written a report to the president requesting the dismissal of Kulikov before he left for Chechnya on Thursday.

"The new government was formed while Lebed was in Chechnya," he said, referring to Yeltsin's announcement of a Cabinet.

Knyazev speculated that it is possible that Yeltsin was not even told about Lebed's report.

"There may be other scenarios," he said. "This whole next week is going to be very tense. The situation may turn any way. But I hope Lebed will win this time again. He's a very lucky, very gifted man with a beastly flair, in the best sense of the word."

In Chechnya, where fighting appeared to have hit a lull, Gen. Konstantin Pulikovsky, a Russian commander, sat down with the top rebel commander, Aslan Maskhadov, in a tent in Novye Atagi, south of Grozny yesterday, their second meeting last week.

Afterward, Pulikovsky, who after his first meeting rejected Chechen conditions for a cease-fire, somewhat grudgingly conceded that both sides had reached an agreement.

"We came to the general conclusion that we have to have a cease-fire, that there shouldn't be any more victims and peace should come to this land," he said.

Lebed, who is Yeltsin's special envoy to Chechnya, was granted broad powers last week to seek a settlement to the 20-month-old conflict that has cost more than 30,000 lives.

After two trips to Chechnya to talk with rebel leaders, Lebed berated the Russian military command and deplored what he called the pathetic condition of Russian troops.

He has insisted that more warfare is senseless and that he can broker a face-saving peace.

Kulikov has been openly contemptuous of peace negotiations, asserting that the Chechen rebels are savages who cannot be trusted.

Kulikov held a high-level meeting yesterday at the Interior Ministry to discuss Lebed's accusations with his peers.

He dismissed them as a sign of the national security adviser's ambition and naivete.

"We would like to hope that personal ambitions would not interfere with the settlement of this conflict," he said after the meeting.

"Probably Lebed, who only recently got involved in the problems of the Caucasus, has not yet sorted it out very well," he added.

His tone was more conciliatory than his initial response to Lebed's assertions. In an interview with Interfax on Friday, Kulikov called Lebed's crusade against him a "maniacal drive for power."

He said Lebed lashed out at him "boorishly and with obscenities" after he privately questioned the constitutionality of giving the national security adviser such sweeping powers to take charge of the Chechen crisis.

Pub Date: 8/18/96

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