Chechnya: The Achilles Heel of Russia-Part Three

By Rasizade, Alec | Contemporary Review, June 2005 | Go to article overview

Chechnya: The Achilles Heel of Russia-Part Three


Rasizade, Alec, Contemporary Review


Editor's Note: In last month's issue Dr Alec Rasizade analysed the Chechen wars of 1994 and 1999. In this final part he reflects on the loss of Maskhadov, the new radical leaders of the resistance and the future of the region.

Chechen Resistance and the Death of Maskhadov

IN spite of Putin's 'pacification' measures and due to the fact that both Maskhadov and Basaev remained at liberty, the low-level guerrilla activity, high-profile terrorist acts and punitive reprisals against civilians by the 'presidential guard' continued.

In the wake of a series of horrendous terrorist attacks, in particular the Beslan school siege, Putin gave the green light for the systematic elimination of all major Chechen commanders still at large, tightening the net around them. For example, Ramzan Kadyrov told journalists recently that he has conducted an independent investigation into the terrorist bombing that killed his father and determined both who planned the blast and who actually planted the bomb. He claimed that almost all those involved have since been killed, except for Shamil Basaev, who claimed responsibility for the execution, and Kadyrov assured journalists that Basaev will be killed by 9 May 2005--the anniversary of his father's death.

Yandarbiev, who succeeded the slain Dudaev in 1996 as acting Chechen president until the election of Maskhadov in 1997, was killed on 13 February 2004 when his Jeep exploded in Qatar on the Persian Gulf. According to Russian special services, during the siege of the Dubrovka Theater in 2002 Yandarbiev telephoned the hostage takers in Moscow from Qatar and coordinated their actions. Two Russian agents suspected of assassinating Yandarbiev were soon detained in the United Arab Emirates, while the Russian foreign ministry insisted that he was killed by fellow Chechens, alleging a conflict between Chechen leaders because Udugov and Yandarbiev received extensive funds from Arab foundations, but transferred to Chechnya only a small fraction of that money.

Aslan Maskhadov was killed on 8 March 2005 in a gun battle with Russian special forces who raided his hideout to the north of Grozny. His death may be a major loss not only for the Chechens, but for Putin too, for the removal of Maskhadov will leave the Chechen separatist leadership to more radical figures. He was a soft-spoken moderate and secular leader, an old-fashioned Soviet officer who believed in such virtues as officer's honour, and loathed terrorist tactics. He explicitly ordered his subordinates not to engage in hostilities else-where outside Chechnya.

In his last interview with Radio Liberty on 4 March 2005, Maskhadov said: 'We have been suggesting that a 30-minute, fair, honest, face-to-face dialogue should be enough to stop this war, to explain to the president of the Russian Federation what the Chechen people really want--I am sure he doesn't even know that--and also to hear from Putin personally what he wants, what Russia wants in Chechnya'.

He insisted that Putin was not informed about what was really happening on the ground: the Chechen administration's and the Russian military's profiteering, the infiltration of militant Islamists and the molestation of civilians by the 'presidential guard'. His initiative to be allowed to explain all that to Putin, however, was a threat to those with a stake in the Chechen bloodshed. Putin made no public reply to his offer and four days later Maskhadov was killed.

Born in 1951 in Kazakhstan exile (as were all Chechen leaders of his generation), Aslan Maskhadov returned to the Caucasus with his family in the late 1950s and made a career as an artillery officer in the Soviet Army, serving in the Far East, Hungary and the Baltics. He retired in 1992 with the rank of colonel and returned to Grozny, where he joined General Dudaev's government. But almost from the outset, Maskhadov was challenged and deliberately undercut by his ruthless and less principled rivals. …

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