GROZNY -- The conflict between Russian forces and pro-independence guerrillas in the Russian republic of Chechnya could go on for 10 or even 20 years more, a pro-Russian Chechen leader said Thursday.
Akhmad Kadyrov, who was appointed to run the war-shattered republic in June and who is in Moscow for talks on forming a Chechen government, told reporters that the war was sparked by Moscow's decision to negotiate with hostage takers, and it could have been avoided.
This was a reference to negotiations that ended several hostage dramas in the region, before Moscow sent troops into the breakaway republic to crush the rebels in October 1999.
Kadyrov notably blamed Russian business tycoon Boris Berezovsky, who played a key role in the hostage negotiations.
"This war was started in Moscow," he said.
"It was Berezovsky's mediation efforts that caused this war," he said, after hinting that certain unnamed people had a vested interest in letting the conflict drag on.
Berezovsky, one of Russia's best known business tycoons, has stated that he was responsible for obtaining the release of hostages held by Chechen rebels, and Russian press reports have said that large ransoms were paid out.
Kadyrov charged that such payments had only emboldened the hostage takers, making the latest phase of the war inevitable.
He notably accused Berezovsky of paying out a million dollars to a Chechen pro-independence military leader, Shamil Bassayev.
Berezovsky could not be contacted for comment on the allegations late on Thursday.
Kadyrov also renewed a call for Russian forces to be withdrawn from Chechnya.
"Only we, the Chechens, can stop this war, not Russian weapons and bombs," he said, adding that the population of the republic did not trust the Russians.
Kadyrov, who is a former Moslem cleric, has not been able to impose his authority on Chechnya since being appointed by the Kremlin.
The office of the Kremlin's spokesman on Chechnya, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, on Sunday complained of Kadyrov's lack of authority in the republic.
"The problem is that there is not one single man among the leaders of Chechen society that enjoys absolute or even relative support in the republic," he told state-run RTR television.
Kadyrov has been labelled a traitor and targetted by separatist rebels with whom he fought against federal forces in the first Chechnya war in 1994-6.