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Chechen Leader Reappears, Says Neither Side Can Win War : Russia: Dudayev calls again for peace talks but offers no new proposal. Yeltsin and aides discuss fate of military chief.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Confounding a claim by Russian intelligence that he “no longer exists,” the president of secessionist Chechnya reappeared from hiding in his war-racked capital Wednesday and declared that neither the Russian army nor his guerrillas can win the month-old conflict.

Gen. Dzhokar M. Dudayev, looking pale and tired but spirited, called again for peace talks and said he is willing to recognize that the Kremlin has legitimate interests in this Caucasus Mountain region. But he offered no new proposal and gave no sign of bowing to Moscow’s demands that he drop his tiny Muslim republic’s 3-year-old claim of independence and disarm his rebels.

Dudayev’s 15-minute news conference in the heavily guarded cafeteria of an oil-refinery workers’ clinic on the edge of Grozny, the Chechen capital, was the most dramatic event in a day of anti-war posturing in the Russian Parliament and unease in the Kremlin over the Russian army’s bungling of the campaign.

Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin met with his prime minister and leaders of both houses of Parliament, and they discussed removing Gen. Pavel S. Grachev as commander of the army’s general staff while leaving him in the post of defense minister.

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Vladimir Shumeiko, chairman of the Federation Council, the upper house, said the four men agreed to the unpopular Grachev’s removal. He said the general staff, under a new commander, would be assigned to launch long-stalled reforms to streamline and modernize the army.

But a Yeltsin aide, Georgy Satarov, said the move was just one option to be considered in a Kremlin review ordered by the president, and he cautioned that there would be no hasty decisions.

Even so, the talk of slashing Grachev’s powers was the first sign of what may be a long process of official recriminations over the invasion of Chechnya. While so far failing to capture Grozny, the campaign has cost the army hundreds of lives, scores of tanks and whatever was left of its superpower prestige. One Russian lawmaker just back from Grozny estimated 1,500 Russian army dead--six times the official army estimate.

Yeltsin’s office announced that the Kremlin meeting also produced agreement to investigate why and how half the weapons in Chechnya that belonged to the former Soviet armed forces had been handed over to Dudayev in 1992. Yevgeny I. Shaposhnikov, the last Soviet defense minister, asserted this week that Grachev had ordered the turnover.

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So far, Yeltsin has remained loyal to Grachev and his other security ministers, prompting the president’s critics to charge that they pushed him into the war and are controlling him.

The campaign, which has also left thousands of civilians dead and made refugees of nearly a third of the 1.2 million Chechens, came under its first serious attack in the Duma, the lower house of Russia’s Parliament.

“The country is in crisis,” said Boris G. Fyodorov, a pro-reform lawmaker. “We have no executive authority, we have no army. The army leadership has shown the army’s total inability to act.”

But after a moment of silence for the dead in Chechnya, it quickly became clear that most lawmakers want to avoid a head-on conflict with Yeltsin. They ruled out debate on Fyodorov’s no-confidence motion and a proposal to give Parliament power to stop the conflict, but put two milder initiatives on the agenda for Friday.

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One would spell out sharp restrictions on use of the army in combat on Russian soil. The other would rule out additional funds for the Chechen war in the 1995 budget.

More serious resistance came from Russia’s Chuvash republic, whose president, one of Yeltsin’s former justice ministers, decreed that none of its citizens may be drafted to fight in Chechnya.

Alexander Yakovlev, Yeltsin’s representative in Parliament, agreed that some curbs on military action within Russia are needed but warned that “no country in the world” would allow its army to be barred from such use.

In an ominous sign of such action, the Kremlin announced a campaign to disarm all “illegal armed groups” across the Russian Federation to prevent more Chechnyas. It gave no details.

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Dudayev, a former Soviet bomber pilot still wearing his air force cap, warned at his press conference that the Chechen conflict could spread to other ethnically charged areas in southern Russia.

“You will never solve this problem militarily,” he said. “Even if you erase every village and raze the Caucasus Mountains to the ground, still the people’s ingrained desire for freedom and the right to life cannot be taken away.”

But, toning down earlier predictions of a Chechen victory, the 50-year-old general added: “Of course, we cannot physically resist a military power like Russia. . . .

“We were and are open--for the fourth year already--to peaceful negotiations. Russia is breaking through an open door.” With negotiations, he added, the conflict can be settled “in a day, in an hour . . . at the stroke of a pen.”

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He brushed aside a question about whether he would press his independence claim or accept autonomous status for Chechnya within the Russian Federation.

“When your house is on fire, you have to put out the flames,” he said. “Only after the fire is extinguished can you determine what is left and what must be rebuilt. . . . This is not the time to talk about autonomy.”

The clinic where he spoke is on the southern edge of Grozny, near the oil refinery that has been burning for more than a week. The clinic’s windows were taped so as not to shatter during air raids.

Dudayev, last seen in public three weeks ago in his besieged presidential palace, said he had not left Grozny since the conflict began, despite Russian intelligence reports that he had fled east to the city of Gudermas and was no longer leading Chechen resistance.

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Across the capital, Russian forces abandoned any observance of the unilateral 48-hour cease-fire that the Kremlin had ordered Tuesday. For a fourth day, mortar shells slammed into the city from the Russian-held territory to the north. Warplanes reappeared over Grozny’s skies, but no bombing was reported.

Jochen Piest, 29, a correspondent for the German magazine Stern, became the third journalist to die in the war. He was reported shot Tuesday by a Chechen suicide fighter who opened fire while driving a locomotive into a Russian military train northeast of Grozny.

A British cameraman reported that six adults died and five children were injured Wednesday by a shell blast while trying to flee a battle zone in Grozny.

The upper stories of Dudayev’s 10-story palace have been reduced to rubble by relentless shelling. Scorched steel girders--all that was left of one corner of the building--framed a soggy, gray sky.

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Still, television footage showed Dudayev’s rebels fighting to defend the blackened symbol of their independence. Corpses and exhausted-looking fighters remained inside.

Times staff writer Richard Boudreaux and reporter/researcher Andrei Ostroukh in Moscow and Times special correspondent Ian MacWilliam in Grozny contributed to this report.


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