View Full Version : Maskhadov Government being undermined by Russia while the Islamists grow stronger

18 Mar 04,, 16:22
The article below was posted on the chechnya-sl yahoo group. It's
reasoning sounds plausible. I was wondering what everybody thinks
about recent developments. This article isn't very hopeful and while
some if its conclusions may be possible, it doesn't mention recent
victories of Maskhadov representatives internationally (a resolution
in the European Parliament, etc.)

Moscow's strategy to destroy and alienate the moderate Chechen
leadership and not focus on the radical Islamists and mercenaries, is
certainly devious. It seems (pls correct me if I'm wrong) to make
peace negotiations harder and harder, and at the same time it allows
for the Chechen nation to be represented in the media primarily
through the acts of terror that Basayev & Co. claim responsability
for.... Also - it seems that the seperatist movement will be able to
attract less Chechen civilian support... and eventual independence
becomes much more risky (or even impossibl) if most of the power
resides with warlords rather than politicians or a civil society...

Does it really look this bad? What to do?

IWPR: Chechnya: Moscow strikes at Maskhadov

Rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov's military power has been virtually
broken by the loss of his two most powerful commanders, while the
Islamic wing grows stronger.

By Timur Aliev and Ruslan Zhadayev in Grozny (CRS No. 222, 11-Mar-04)

The capture this week of the pro-independence Chechen defence
minister Magomed Khambiev, following on from the death of influential
commander Khamzat Gelayev, has radically changed the balance of
forces within the rebel movement fighting the Russians.

The developments have strengthened the extremist wing of the Chechen
rebel movement and badly weakened pro-independence president Aslan
Maskhadov, and may have far-reaching consequences for the future of
the conflict in Chechnya

Maskhadov, a moderate nationalist who is still resisting the Russians
more than four years after the start of the second conflict but
rejects terrorist methods, has now lost two of his closest
supporters. He must now rely on only two commanders for close
backing, Vakha Arsanov and Isa Munayev.

By contrast, the radical Islamist side has four powerful figures in
Shamil Basayev, Saudi-born Abu Walid, Dokku Umarov and Abdul-Malik

Khamzat Gelayev (who used to go by the name Ruslan) was found dead on
Chechnya's border with Dagestan on February 28, apparently after an
exchange of fire with two border guards. His death was later
confirmed by the rebel side.

Gelayev was well known for his opposition to the Islamists, and was
widely considered in Chechnya to be a potential intermediary between
Maskhadov and the Russians. Virtually no one is left to fill that
role, and Maskhadov is in a difficult position as his standing in
Chechnya has fallen and Moscow continues to condemn him aggressively.

Magomed Khambiev gave himself up on March 8. His brother Umar
Khambiev, health minister in the pro-independence Chechen government
now in exile in the West, told a press conference at the European
Parliament in Strasbourg that he had surrendered after federal forces
had abducted 17 members of their family.

Umar Khambiev said that "as a brother, I understand the reasons for
Magomed's actions, that he sacrificed himself to save the lives of
our relatives who were taken hostage," but went on to say that "as a
member of the government of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, I
categorically condemn this act because occupation forces, using this
precedent, can from now on subject other members of the Chechen
government to terrible blackmail."

Magomed Khambiev was a close associate of Maskhadov, and even pro-
Moscow Chechen leader Akhmad Kadyrov conceded that he was a "fierce
opponent of Wahhabism, he did not engage in kidnapping and killing
peaceful civilians." Kadyrov described the arrest as a heavy blow to
Maskhadov, who was "up until now trying to present himself as a
president who had ministers and in particular a defence minister
reporting to him".

Khalid Yamadayev, a Chechen who was elected to the Russian parliament
last year, told Interfax news agency that Maskhadov had made all his
contacts with the outside world via his defence minister. "Without
Magomed Khambiev he is a complete nothing," he said.

Chechen political analyst Edilbek Khasmagomadov agreed, calling the
detention of Khambiev "a very heavy blow from which he [Maskhadov]
can hardly recover. His position has obviously weakened. I think that
either the arrest or the death of the [Chechen] president is not far

Nadirsolt Elsunkayev, who headed Maskhadov's security service in 1996-
97 said that the rebel Chechen leader had few remaining military
forces."A few people in Maskhadov's personal guard and a dozen or
more supporters of Arsanov and Munayev do not comprise a significant
force," he said.

Elsunkayev said that a number of Arsanov's supporters had gone over
to the new pro-Moscow administration of Akhmad Kadyrov and were now
serving under Movladi Baisarov, a man based in the village of
Pobedinskoye outside Grozny, who is accused of involvement in
kidnapping and the illegal trade in oil products.

Maskhadov's other remaining ally, Isa Munayev, has been weakened
after he refused to accept financial help from radical Islamists, and
had to disband his unit for lack of money.

The radicals by contrast are, if anything, gaining in strength. It is
they who are using suicide bombers, a tactic disavowed by the
moderates on the grounds that it is against Chechen tradition. Their
leader remains the notorious warrior Shamil Basayev, who has claimed
responsibility for almost all recent attacks carried out in Russia.
He heads a group of would-be martyrs called "Riyadh as-Saliheen"
which translates from Arabic as "The Gardens of the Righteous". Two
years ago Basayev said, "We have the right to respond to state terror
from Russia with all available methods."

The radicals also lost a leader last month, but far from the
battlefield. Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, a former acting president of
Chechnya, was killed by a car-bomb in Qatar. The Qatari authorities
are holding two Russians on suspicion of carrying out the blast, but
Moscow denies responsibility.

Despite the grand phrases they use, such as "fronts" and "sectors",
each of the Islamist fighters' units number no more than 50 or 60 men.

However, Gennady Sapozhkov, head of the North Caucasus anti-terrorism
department of the Russian intelligence service, the FSB, told IWPR by
telephone that, "Their tactics of sabotage and terrorism do not
require a large number of fighters, but in case of necessity they can
count on increasing their ranks to several hundred men."

With such influential men as Gelayev and Khambiev removed from the
scene, these radical units are now likely to be the ones able to
attract young men wishing to fight the Russians out of revenge or

The anti-Islamist wing of the rebels suffered another blow last week
with the killing in Ingushetia of Akhmed Basnukayev. At the age of
23, he was named Chechnya's "youngest brigadier general" by former
president Jokhar Dudayev. He subsequently split from both Maskhkadov
and Basayev, accusing them of not standing up to the wave of
Islamists coming into Chechnya.

Last autumn he met Kadyrov and a number of Russian officers, but
refused to change sides, saying he would see that as treachery.

Observers believe recent events may change the nature of the conflict
in Chechnya and make it much more unpredictable. Even if the most
important leaders are removed by the Russians, they say, the conflict
will not be over – just different.

"The consequence of the liquidation or arrest of Maskhadov, Basayev
and other leaders… might be the appearance of terrorist groups who
are controlled by no one and are not restrained by any norms of
behaviour or rules of conduct," said Khasmagomadov. "The main thing
will be to take revenge by any available means, including terrorist
acts on Russian cities modelled on Palestinian suicide attacks."

Mate Tsikhesasashvili, a former deputy in the pro-independence
Chechen parliament, is puzzled by Russia's apparent tactics. "The
strangest aspect of this is that the Russian intelligence services
and military are mainly going after and destroying those Chechen
commanders who are in favour of civilised warfare, who are enemies
not only of Russia but of the radical Islamic movements, and who will
not accept foreigners fighting on their side."

"There can no longer be a peaceful outcome to the armed conflict in
Chechnya," said a pessimistic Tsikhesashvili. "Military action will
stop only when all the fighters are either destroyed or legalised."

Timur Aliev is IWPR's coordinator for Chechnya. Ruslan Zhadayev is
deputy editor of Chechenskoye Obshchestvo newspaper.