Timur Aliev: Bush has won the presidency for a second time. This is generally viewed as favorable to Russia, whereas a Kerry victory would have been a loss for the Kremlin. Do you believe this assessment is correct? Will the U.S.-Russian relationship change?
Zbigniew Brzezinski: The events in Ukraine and the appointment of Condoleezza Rice to Secretary of State may prompt a partial reassessment of the U.S.-Russian relationship.
TA: Some hold that the United States turns a blind eye toward Chechnya for the sake of its strategic partnership with Russia. What is your opinion on this?
ZB: A number of Americans has voiced similar concerns. I do believe that the manner in which Putin has treated Chechnya is not in keeping with democratic values.
TA: Will U.S. policy regarding Chechnya change after the presidential election?
ZB: U.S. policy toward Chechnya will continue to press for political negotiations to end the conflict peacefully. Only moderate Chechens, not Islamic extremists, can negotiate a reasonable and legitimate settlement with Russia.
TA: You participated in developing a peace plan for Chechnya. Is that plan still relevant, or does a new plan need to be developed in the light of recent events? In the wake of Beslan, Putin has pursued dramatic political reforms aimed at centralizing power.
ZB: Any solution to the conflict in Chechnya must be realistic and pragmatic in its goals. Putin's actions have principally served to strengthen the extremists on both sides, while the moderates, who are the best hope for a lasting peace, have been killed or driven into exile. The plan I drafted nearly three years ago, as part of the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya, is a solution that does not ask for a total capitulation from either side of the conflict.
One cannot ask the Chechens to give up their hopes for independence, on behalf of which many thousands of Chechen nationalists have died. My plan involves a Chechen acknowledgement of respect for Russia's territorial integrity, a Russian acknowledgement of Chechen political self-determination with almost sovereign status, the drafting of a Chechen constitution ratified by referendum, and the continued presence of Russian troops on Chechnya's southern frontier. Russia has recently received a proposal for a settlement from the Alkhanov/Kadyrov government, which would eventually include a constitution ratified by referendum. However, the moderate and legitimately elected representatives of the Chechen people are being excluded from negotiations, seriously threatening the prospects of a settlement that would pacify the rebels.
A realistic settlement would need to isolate extremists on both sides, while strengthening the moderates who see no profit or glory in continued bloodshed. Unfortunately, the Russian authorities have wrongly attempted to discredit Maskhadov's influence, despite his symbolic significance to a majority of Chechens. A ceasefire agreement reached with Maskhadov's approval would undercut the fundamentalist Islamic extremists. A majority of Russians would be relieved by the war's peaceful end. And a legitimate peace would end the enormous human, financial, and moral cost of the war.
In contrast, Putin's political reforms will certainly centralize power, but they will not create a solution to the situation in Chechnya or to the instability throughout the North Caucasus.
TA: You also supported the plan developed by Ruslan Khasbulatov. However, this plan has been refused. Ilyas Akhmadov's plan has also been put forward. How relevant are these plans?
ZB: Of course, it is always useful to have additional plans put forward-no single plan is perfect. They create a wider discussion of the Chechen situation, and generate increased interest in Russia and abroad. The more constructive attention that is drawn to Chechnya, the better the chances for a peaceful solution.