A Basaev Thrives In The Russian Heartland

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 5 Issue: 31

An article by Aleksandr Yelisov published in Moskovsky komsomolyets on July 30 deepens questions about the relations between the Russian security agencies and the terrorist warlord Shamil Basaev. Most of the article is a light, slice-of-life description of relatives of Basaev who live in the Orlov oblast near Moscow. Russia is such a demographic mixing bowl—and one in which individual members or families of ethnic minorities not rarely manage to thrive—that it is not so surprising that a cousin of Shamil should be living deep in the Russian heartland. The prosperous Vakhid Basaev and his family have long been envied and feared by the collective farm workers in the village of Seleznevo, but seem to have excellent relations with the collective-farm management and with others in the local political elite—a pattern not at all unusual in today’s Russia. Vakhid’s Slavic neighbors accuse him of discriminating in favor of his fellow Chechens in his extensive real-estate transactions, while his family accuses neighbors of anti-Chechen racism. Probably both are right—and again this is nothing unusual.

What is much more interesting is the local community’s memories of Shamil himself, who spent some time in the area at the end of the 1980s and who seems to have made a far less favorable impression than his charming cousin Vakhid, who had several Russian girlfriends. Shamil then went off to Chechnya, but reappeared during the interval between the two Chechen wars—i.e., after he had established his reputation as the number one terrorist in the Russian Federation by his daring, ruthless 1995 raid on Budennovsk. According to the Moskovsky komsomolyets account, the area’s numerous Basaev relatives spent two weeks celebrating Shamil’s visit, “as if there had been no Budennovsk.” Shamil freely wandered about in public, unhindered—and “they say that a police escort accompanied him.”