BY MAURICE WILLIAMS
"I declare in front of the press that all military actions in Chechnya will be halted," Russian prime minister Victor Chernomyrdin told Chechen leader Shamil Basayev June 18 in a televised phone conversation. The Russian government was compelled to order a cease-fire after two botched attempts to storm a hospital in Budennovsk, Russia, where Chechen commandos held as many as 2,000 hostages. Chernomyrdin guaranteed safe passage for the Chechens as Russian officials flew to Grozny, the Chechen capital, to start broader peace talks with Chechen rebel leaders that began June 19.
Chechen fighters attacked Budennovsk, a southern Russian city of 100,000 people, June 14. According to the Itar-Tass news agency, the Chechen fighters had threatened to kill all the hostages "unless the Russian military immediately stops hostilities in Chechnya." More than 140 people, including Russian soldiers and police, were killed in the failed attempts to take the hospital.
Moscow's problems in Chechnya reflect the political crisis wracking the Russian government. Russian troops have occupied the Caucasian republic since they launched a bloody war December 11 to crush the Chechens' three-year struggle for independence from Moscow.
Many Russian workers blame Russian president Boris Yeltsin for the conflict. Two hundred people demonstrated June 16 outside a local police station demanding an end to the war in Chechnya.
"I blame the government, from President Yeltsin to the local administration," said Nikolai Melnichenko, whose wife spoke at the protest and whose son was held hostage. "They are all so corrupt. They do nothing and would sell anything for money," he added.
"Let the Chechens live as they want and fight as they want," said Zina Arzimanova, who works at a local health clinic. "It would be better if our troops came back from Chechnya to protect us here, on our own land."
In another development, Maj. Gen. Valery Yevnevich, who was sent to head Russia's 14th Army in the Trans-Dniester region of Moldova, was forced out June 17 by vehement protests from Moldovan women. Yevnevich was to replace Gen. Aleksandr Lebed, who resigned earlier in June. Lebed had supported autonomy for Trans-Dniester.
"Yevnevich go home! Lebed is the only guarantor of peace in the region!" read the signs of the women picketing the garrison hostel where Yevnevich was staying.
Yeltsin returned to Moscow June 18 from a meeting of the Group of Seven (G-7) imperialist countries in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he sought to maintain support for Moscow's assault on the Chechen people. Yeltsin told reporters at the summit, "My friend Bill" supports Moscow's slaughter in Chechnya.
Clinton, who continues to back the regime in Moscow, tried to put Yeltsin at arms length on this one. According to the New York Times, the U.S. president "took pains to say he differed with Mr. Yeltsin's characterization of his position on the Chechnya conflict."
Early in the G-7 meeting, the government officials there issued a statement saying the "situation in Chechnya should not be resolved by military means." The summit's concluding statement, however, which Moscow joined, made no mention of Chechnya.
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