The President of Uzbekistan has warned of new bloodshed unless Russian leaders agree to give Chechnya more autonomy. But he also says Chechens should not expect full independence. President Islam Karimov made the comments in an interview with VOA in Budapest, where he is on an official visit.
The Uzbek president says he understands the desire for independence felt by many people in Chechnya. But he says it is not likely that Russian troops will leave Chechnya, and so, he says, Russian and Chechen leaders should work toward a political solution.
President Karimov said the main goal should be to settle the Chechen dispute without further pain. He said Chechnya should have the same rights as other regions of Russia. If not there will be no stability in Chechnya, he said.
Chechnya is a republic within the Russian Federation, but its current government was appointed by Moscow.
President Karimov indicated some concern that if the Chechen conflict is not settled it could spread to other areas of the former Soviet Union. Already the conflict has sparked tensions between Russia and Georgia. Russia accuses Georgia of not doing enough to prevent Chechen guerrillas from using its Pankisi Gorge region as a base of operations.
Still, the Uzbek leader says Chechnya can not expect to split from Russia, as former Soviet republics like Uzbekistan and Georgia did in 1991.
President Karimov said these are two different situations because Uzbekistan and the other former Soviet republics were never actually part of Russia, as Chechnya is.
Chechen officials argue however that Chechnya was forced under Communism to become part of the Russian-led Soviet Union, and should be independent now that the Soviet Union has fallen.
The Uzbek president spoke during a three-day visit to Hungary. Mr. Karimov sees Hungary as a key partner in economic and political affairs. Hungary joined the NATO alliance in 1999 and is expected to join the European Union in 2004.
During his visit, officials of the two countries signed agreements on agriculture, transportation and investment protection.