End the Chechnya Mess

Former Gen. Alexander Lebed's recent clandestine visit to Chechnya had little of the panache of former General Eisenhower's historic 1952 trip to end the Korean War. But its effect may ultimately be the same, if he can survive Kremlin infighting.

Blunt-spoken Mr. Lebed praised the Chechen rebels as "fine soldiers," savaged most of his own government's officials handling the war, and said that any Russian victory there would be a Pyrrhic one.

The latter assessment is certainly accurate. This war, in which Moscow has promised imminent victory so often as to make disbelievers of most Russians, recalls former unwinnable campaigns. Nazi troops in Norway were described as "flies conquering the flypaper." Vietnam's legacy was the sardonic "we destroyed the village in order to save it."

Lebed, sobered by his experience in the grinding Afghan War, at first demanded that the Chechen war end. Then, joining the Yeltsin government, he waffled. But his first-hand look seems to have pushed him and the Kremlin to quit playing tactical games. Certainly, the Russian people, already sick of the war, will be further disillusioned by his report on the plight of their soldiers as "lice-infested ... cannon fodder."

The way out is clear. First a hard and fast cease-fire. Then negotiation over a pullout of troops. Then negotiation toward a fully autonomous Chechen state with necessary economic and transport links to Russia.

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