Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 1 Issue: 4

There are respected political analysts both in Russia and in the West who believe that Vladimir Putin’s most dangerous political rival today may be 43-year-old Lieutenant General Vladimir Shamanov, presently commander of the 58th Russian Army based in Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia, who is now also running for election to the governorship of Ulyanovsk Oblast’. In some ways, the challenge represented by this former Russian paratrooper to President Putin reminds one of an earlier challenge to President Yeltsin embodied by another paratrooper, Lieutenant General Aleksandr Lebed’, but Lebed, currently the elected governor of Krasnoyarsk krai, remains, despite occasional authoritarian outbursts, a considerably more moderate figure than Shamanov.

Shamanov rose to a position of national renown during the “first” Russo-Chechen war of 1994-1996. In March 1995, he was named head of an operational group of the Seventh Paratroop Division fighting in Chechnya, and, in April 1996, he was made commander of the Group of the Russian Ministry of Defense in Chechnya. Shamanov was identified by some Russian commentators as the most effective military commander during the first war. In August of 1999, at the time of the outbreak of new hostilities in Dagestan, he was named commander of the 58th Russian army.

The No. 44 (November 7-13) issue of Moskovskie novosti contains a lengthy interview with General Shamanov which focuses on the subject of the ongoing 1999-2000 conflict in Chechnya. Presumably due to the fact that Moskovskie novosti is a “liberal” Russian newspaper, and that he is now running for political office, Shamanov is somewhat more restrained in his comments than he has been in previous interviews. Nonetheless, it is clear what policies and what actions he advocates in order to solve the Chechen “problem.”

Fairly early in the interview, Shamanov declares unambiguously: “August of 1999 showed that a bandit will engage in his dirty business until such time as all the powers of the state are employed against him.” Shamanov’s comments appear to refer to the expulsion from Dagestan of the Shamil’ Basaev-Emir Khattab forces last August and September by the Russian military (with an unmentioned assist from Dagestani volunteer units).

How should “all the powers of the state” be brought to bear against the Chechen separatists today? Shamanov believes that the “military phase” of the operation in Chechnya was in effect completed in March of 2000-at which time all large and middle-sized Chechen units had been crushed-and that the “police phase” of the operation began at that point. It is with this “police” phase-that is, by implication, with the policies and actions of the FSB and the MVD–that Russia’s problems have begun. Shamanov clearly believes that the Russian police have been pussyfooting with the Chechen “bandits.”

What new steps should be taken? A “registration of the populace,” Shamanov contends, is essential. A computerized listing of all the inhabitants of Chechnya would obviously make it easier to locate separatists and their relatives. In an earlier interview with the weekly Novaya gazeta (19 June), Shamanov had stated his views on what should be done with the relatives of bandits. The wife of a Chechen guerilla, he affirmed, should herself be considered a bandit; she should be viewed no differently than a Chechen “woman sniper.” In similar fashion, the child of a Chechen separatist fighter should also be seen as a “bandit.” It would seem to follow that all close relatives of Chechen separatists, including children, should, at the least, be interned in prison.

Another point emphasized by Shamanov is that all Chechens living outside of Chechnya, including, for example, the former speaker of the Russian parliament, Ruslan Khasbulatov, must be forcibly returned, that is, deported, to the Chechen Republic. “The bandits,” Shamanov observed, “are fed not only from abroad, but there is also a huge network of the Chechen diaspora located throughout Russia. Why can the state not apply force to them…? We should return Chechen business to Chechnya.”

As a model of how to occupy Chechnya, Shamanov recalls: “We have the practice of the occupied zones of Europe after the Great Patriotic War. Why don’t we make use of it?” Shamanov appears not to understand the role played by the communist party in maintaining control over Eastern Europe or the self-evident fact that the East Europeans differ greatly from Chechens.

Shamanov speaks approvingly of the roles played by the two top officials in the current pro-Moscow Chechen government, Mufti Akhmad Kadyrov and Bislan Gantamirov, but is contemptuous in his comments concerning the recently elected Russian State Duma deputy and retired general Aslambek Aslakhanov, who has been sharply critical of the depredations of the Russian military and police during the current war.

Shamanov’s animus against the Chechens also extends to other peoples of the Caucasus living in Russia. “Five and a half million Caucasians,” he complains, “mill about the market places of Russia and occupy leading posts in our country…. Until we return to the phrase, ‘We are [ethnic] Russians,’ that is, we are one-sixth of the earth and not a hodgepodge of some kind of people–we are a nation verified by a millennium [of historical existence]–they won’t take us into account. We have so amused the world that it has stopped laughing at us.” Russia, in Shamanov’s view, must adopt a clear-cut orientation toward Russian imperial nationalism.

Over the course of his interview, Shamanov fulminates against the “two-facedness” of Georgia and Azerbaijan, neighboring republics which, he claims, permit the Chechen separatists to attack Russia from their territory and then to go back and rest up and recover from their wounds. The armed forces of Georgia, “who have sold themselves to NATO,” are simply afraid of the Chechens. The Chechens, he asserts, have already bought up enterprises in Georgia and have become part of the criminal world there. “When Shevardnadze is gone, then they will show Georgia.” It is conceivable that Shamanov might be tempted to direct “all the powers of the [Russian] state” against Georgia and Azerbaijan were he to come to power in Russia.

One striking point in Shamanov’s interview with Moskovskie novosti is the strong sympathy he exhibits for Colonel Yuri Budanov, an officer who was arrested in March 2000 for raping and then strangling a young 18-year-old Chechen woman, Heda Kungaeva, this arrest being “a rare move by the Russian military to crack down on human rights abuses” (New York Times, March 29). Budanov, Shamanov trumpets, “was one of my best commanders.” And he offers this challenge: “To [Budanov’s] enemies I say: Don’t put your paws on the image of a Russian soldier and officer.”

To be balanced, it should be noted that Shamanov believes that an application of “all the force of the state” against the Chechen separatists should be accompanied by reforms. The high unemployment rate obtaining among Chechens should, for example, be addressed, while the widespread pilfering of funds intended for the reconstruction of the republic must be halted.

Shamanov’s “program” for Chechnya may be summed up thus: deport all Chechens living in Russia to the Chechen Republic; compile an accurate computerized list of the entire Chechen populace; crack down hard on the families of all Chechen separatists; and institute a draconian system of rule recalling postwar Stalinist methods applied to Eastern Europe.

The views of General Vladimir Shamanov, which are also those of significant elements in the Russian military, show that an even harsher fate could await the oppressed populace of the Chechen Republic.