• U.S.

TERMS OF WAR AND PEACE: CHECHEN LEADER JOKHAR DUDAYEV

5 minute read
Yuri Zarakhovich

The war in Chechnya has resulted in tragedy for the Chechens, humiliation for the Russian army and political disaster for Boris Yeltsin. His nemesis in the breakaway republic is Jokhar Dudayev, 52, the rebel President, formerly a major general in the Soviet air force. Dudayev lives on the run, moving every night. Time’s Yuri Zarakhovich spoke to him recently in a safe house about 500 yds. from the nearest Russian outpost.

TIME: Twice during the past six months, your men have captured civilian hospitals and taken hostages in Russia. Are you trying to win your independence with terror tactics?

Dudayev: The West ignores Russian tactics of state terrorism. Russian forces have destroyed all our hospitals and schools. Our people pick up the pieces of their children’s bodies after Russian bombings. And yet you deplore Chechen terrorism. Those two cases you mentioned, however, were a serious breach of my orders. We’ll wage a war of sabotage in Russia, but there won’t be any terrorism or hostage taking.

TIME: Do you see a way to stop the war?

Dudayev: The war could be ended by just a stroke of the pen–without any preconditions or without setting any unattainable objectives by either party. Yeltsin can sign a decree for his side and I for mine. It does not even require direct contact between Yeltsin and me. Yeltsin may not be keen on meeting with me, but I can assure you I don’t have any overwhelming desire to set eyes on him either. Still, I feel there are competing forces around Yeltsin that just won’t let him meet with me. We’ve got to give up petty ambitions, like demands for troop withdrawals, and reach an agreement to put an end to the war. Today I can guarantee that Russian troops will leave peacefully. I wouldn’t guarantee them a free exit several months from now.

TIME: You said you planned to extend the war into Western Europe. What do you mean by that?

Dudayev: A journalist asked me whether I planned to march on Moscow, so I said, Why not march into Western Europe then? Countries there want to reap material rewards from Russia by looking the other way. We are shedding our blood so they can get their hands into Russia’s pockets.

TIME: Has the Russian invasion caused people to turn to Islam?

Dudayev: Very much so. They have forced us to take the way of Islam even if we were not properly prepared to embrace Islamic values. Now we could succumb to a perverted form of Islam, which might be dangerous to the West.

TIME: What could the U.S. do to help settle the conflict in Chechnya?

Dudayev: The U.S. could play the most vital role as a guarantor of any potential agreements as well as a partner interested in producing and transporting oil and in maintaining stability.

TIME: How do you envision future relations between Russia and Chechnya?

Dudayev: It is my misfortune that I have always seen our future only in the context of being closely tied to Russia. We are not embittered toward Russia. Russia has its own woes and does all these things not because it wants to but because it can’t help doing them. But people here will never accept being formally part of Russia.

TIME: How could Russia gain from a relationship with independent Chechnya?

Dudayev: First, a major hotbed of instability in the Caucasus will have been settled. Otherwise Dagestan [the neighboring Muslim republic east of Chechnya] could be next to explode. Second, Russia wouldn’t have to send trillions of rubles here, since once the conflict is settled, we don’t intend to ask Russia for any money. We can jointly exploit the riches of this land, including income from [energy] transports through this key geographical area.

TIME: Do you mean the potential profits from a pipeline carrying Caspian Sea oil through Chechnya? Was this a factor in Russia’s intervention in Chechnya?

Dudayev: Yes, it was. If the war goes on, the pipeline will never operate. It will be exploded. But if we reach accommodation with Russia, it will acquire a reliable neighbor who will shield it from aggression, acts of sabotage and terror.

TIME: Would a communist victory in the presidential elections change the situation in Chechnya?

Dudayev: It really doesn’t matter. Communist or fascist, they all suffer from Russian-itis, a kind of Russian mania for world domination. At least if the communists take over, they’ll have to work hard to prove their commitment to law and democracy, while the incumbent regime is openly criminal.

TIME: Do you have any weapons of mass destruction?

Dudayev: We won’t use them, unless Russia uses nuclear weapons.

TIME: Is it true that some Russian officers have offered to sell you antiaircraft guns for 20 million rubles apiece?

Dudayev: Out of professional courtesy to my former fellow officers, I’d prefer not to answer this question.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com