A year after unleashing a war to stop Chechnya from seceding, Russia granted the republic a "special status" Friday that preserves Russian sovereignty but allows Chechnya's new pro-Moscow leaders some autonomy in domestic and foreign affairs.
Russian Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin signed the agreement in Moscow with Doku Zavgayev, the Chechen installed by Moscow in October to administer the tiny ethnic republic still occupied by Russian troops.
Chechen leaders will be allowed to collect taxes, open diplomatic offices abroad, conduct foreign trade and decide which Chechens qualify for a wartime amnesty. Chechens drafted into the Russian army will serve in construction brigades to rebuild their war-shattered land.
Russia also pledged $4.5 billion in "compensation" for Chechen wartime losses--three times what the Kremlin reported spending this year on a sluggish reconstruction effort.
The autonomy agreement lacks the detail and status of treaties Moscow has negotiated with some wealthier Russian republics in the post-Soviet years. For example, it does not spell out how much of Chechnya's oil revenue may be kept for the republic's budget.
Zavgayev said a full-fledged treaty will be negotiated in the coming months.
Friday's interim accord was apparently meant to shore up what many Chechens view as a puppet regime and help it win legitimacy through Dec. 17 elections for Russia's parliament and local leadership that separatist guerrillas are boycotting and vow to disrupt.
About 20,000 people have died in the year of fighting, aerial bombing and massacres since Russian troops invaded Chechnya and drove Gen. Dzhokar M. Dudayev, the elected separatist president, into hiding.
The fighting tapered off after a cease-fire accord was reached in July but has picked up recently.
By calling elections for a new Chechen leader and spelling out the republic's autonomous powers, Moscow is taking unilateral steps that were supposed to be negotiated with Dudayev's side as a follow-up to the peace accord.
In doing so, the Russians are gambling on a large voter turnout, a clear mandate for Zavgayev or one of three rival pro-Moscow candidates to lead Chechnya--and an evaporation of Dudayev's lingering popular support.
"Many people tell us that we should wait" and hold elections later, Zavgayev told reporters. "But who can guarantee that the situation will not worsen in two or three months in the absence of a government?"
The agreement with Moscow "will guarantee against any cataclysms" in Chechnya, he said, and "contribute to political stability and a gradual return of the republic into the constitutional framework of Russia."
A Chechen political activist, Malika Abdulvakhabova, said Friday's agreement will achieve nothing.
"A whole year of fighting that claimed thousands of lives of Russians and Chechens has failed to teach the Russian government one simple lesson: that it is impossible to impose anything on the Chechen people," she said.
Thousands of Russian troops will remain in Chechnya under the agreement, but their mission will be "coordinated" with the Chechen leadership.
The voting Dec. 17 will also send Chechen representatives to the federal parliament being elected that day across Russia. Separatists have prevented election officials from setting up voting stations in a few regions.
In election-related violence, police said a candidate of Chernomyrdin's Our Home Is Russia party was killed on the doorstep of his village home in Russia's Ural Mountains region of Chelyabinsk on Thursday night by a single bullet to the head. He was the second candidate killed during the campaign.
Russia's Itar-Tass news agency said the victim, Mikhail Lezhnev, 48, was a wealthy poultry producer who had stepped up chicken deliveries to his voting district but refused to pay off racketeers who were shaking down his drivers. Our Home Is Russia called the slaying "a malicious, deliberate political act intended to intimidate voters who plan to support this party."