Basayev's Demise: Feds Celebrate; Citizens and Experts Skeptical

Article excerpt

Federal Security Service Head Nikolai Patrushev broke the news on July 10. Shamil Basayev, a Chechen warlord responsible for the bloodiest terrorist acts on Russian territory, had been killed in Ingushetiya in a special military operation. At the time, Patrushev said, Basayev was preparing another act of terrorism to coincide with the forthcoming G8 summit.

Ten days later, on July 20, President Putin awarded medals to 12 people who were involved in the operation. The ceremony was held behind closed doors.

Chechen leaders have acknowledged Basayev's death, but said he died in an accident, not in a special operation.

A remarkable 26 percent of Russians polled by Levada did not believe Basayev had actually been killed. Some 29 percent believed that federal forces did not try to capture Basayev alive because he knew too many secrets.

Basayev's death is a blow for the separatist movement, but not a fatal one, many experts said. Some called it a turning point for Chechnya. But it is unclear in which direction events will turn.

The government hurried to capitalize on Basayev's death, offering an amnesty to militants who surrendered before August 1. Since the beginning of the second war in Chechnya in 1999, the government has offered three amnesties--in 1999, 2003 and 2004--and many rebels have in fact laid their weapons down.

Doku Umarov, president of Ichkeria--as the rebels call Chechnya--dismissed the offer and called for the war to continue. His foreign minister, Akhmed Zakayev, was less categorical, saying negotiations between the rebels and Moscow should have a 'political basis' and have no preconditions.

Yet, ironically, the greatest threat to Moscow may come not from rebel fighters but from Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov and the government that Russia appointed for the republic and which has become increasingly independent.

"There is no war in the sense of a military confrontation between two organized forces," Russian Caucasus expert Sergei Markedonov told the Institute of War and Peace Reporting. …

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