GROZNY, Russia — Now that he has officially won elections that Russia has grudgingly accepted, Aslan Maskhadov, separatist Chechnya's president-elect, wants to build a state that Moscow may not welcome but with which it can probably live, he said Wednesday.
"Maskhadov is not a fan of tough decisions or abrupt actions," his spokesman, Mayerbek Vachagayev, said as Maskhadov's 64.8% vote of support was being made official. "There will be no revolutionary decrees, but an evolutionary course of development."
After losing its two-year war to crush Chechnya's demand for independence, a humiliated Moscow already appreciates the moderation of the separatists' former chief of staff, who led peace negotiations in August and has worked as prime minister in the interim government that ruled up to Monday's elections.
With his neat gray hair, careworn expression and quiet, measured voice, Maskhadov is as far removed as possible from the scary image Russians have of the Muslim Chechens, stereotyped in a famous classical poem from the 19th century as a race of evil, knife-wielding, would-be child-murderers.
Moscow politicians are also reassured by his past as a colonel in the Soviet army.
Maskhadov's other great virtue, in Moscow's eyes, is that he is not Shamil Basayev, Chechnya's beloved field commander.
Basayev's black beard and wartime escapades inside Russia stirred up Russians' most primitive fears of what many call the "savages" on their southern frontier.
Russia's biggest fear after the war, that the passionately anti-Russian Basayev would be elected president of Chechnya, was allayed when he won 22.7% of the vote. He conceded defeat Wednesday.
That there was little basic difference between Maskhadov's and Basayev's conception of Chechnya's future went largely unremarked in Moscow.
Like the other separatist leaders who vied for the presidency, Maskhadov wants to rebuild Chechnya's shattered homes, factories and farms, restore traditions suppressed under Soviet rule, give Chechnya a strong constitutional base--and establish a relationship with Russia as a foreign country.
Like other Chechens, he believes that independence has already been won and that the elections have only legitimized it.
He interprets the August peace deal, in which both sides agreed to negotiate the terms of their relationship within five years, as talks on foreign and economic relations between two states.
Moscow, on the other hand, believes that the peace accord gives both sides a five-year breathing space to recover from the war, after which Russia will look at Chechnya's status and decide whether to grant it independence.
Despite this fundamental difference of interpretation of the vaguely worded peace agreement, the low-key way that Maskhadov pitches his ideas, his dispassionate insistence that a new deal can be made only at the negotiating table and the relationships he has made with Moscow's envoys mean that Russia will be unlikely to take fright or take to arms over his demands.
Maskhadov says he will restore Islam to Chechnya--but it will be the traditional, folksy form of the faith that his people preserved under Soviet rule, not the fundamentalism that some Russians fear will spill over their borders.
Nor will Maskhadov rush to seek out foreign recognition of Chechnya's independence, thereby enraging Russia and putting potential international partners in an embarrassing diplomatic position.
Finding ways to restore the Chechen economy is the most immediate question likely to strain relations with Moscow. But here too the new Chechen president is picking a cautious central course.
He rejects the Russian idea of setting up a "free economic zone" in Chechnya--giving investors breaks from Russian taxes--but wants to create a similar, if Chechen-run, investment environment attractive to foreigners.
There are no immediate plans to introduce a separate Chechen currency, just as there are no immediate plans to bring in other insignia of full statehood, such as Chechen passports, which would strain relations with Russia.
Maskhadov wants war reparations from Russia, and he will want a cut of the profits from Russian oil pipelines running through Chechnya to help pay to restore his homeland--but he will not try to divert the oil away from Russia altogether, as other Chechen politicians want to do.
His first move, Vachagayev said, will be to negotiate a temporary economic deal with Russia on paying pensions it owes to Chechens who spent their lives working for the Soviet Union. Moscow has promised about $8 million in pensions but before the elections had paid only about $1 million.