Akhmed Zakaev’s “Manifesto for Peace in Chechnya”: A Crisis in the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria’s Ruling Hierarchy

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 31

The recent killing of Shamil Basaev was followed by the appearance of an extraordinary document called, “A Manifesto for Peace in Chechnya,” penned by Akhmed Zakaev, the foreign minister of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI). This document was apparently addressed to the members of the G8 and could be, if drawn up in accordance with the views of ChRI president Dokku Umarov, the start of huge shift in the foreign policy of the Chechen resistance movement (Chechenpress, July 13). That said, it is more likely that the document in question was actually directed less toward the G8 and more toward the occupant of the Kremlin and an attempt to send a signal to those wanting to explore the possibility of negotiating with the Chechen rebels.

The “Manifesto” is extraordinarily full of information—indicating for instance, that the overall losses during both Chechen wars totaled 100,000, despite the fact that all official Chechen representatives have always quoted much larger figures. Even the pro-Russian rulers of Chechnya have always cited much larger numbers of deaths than those indicated Zakaev. For instance, in 2005, the head of the republic’s State Council, Taus Dzhabrailov, firmly stood by the figure of 160,000 (Domoskop, #209-210, August 18-28, 2005).

The manifesto reviews the peace treaty signed by Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and Russian president Boris Yeltsin on May 12, 1997, and the peace overtures made by Maskhadov prior to his death. Indicating that the flames of war had already engulfed all of the North Caucasus, Maskhadov called for the immediate resolution of the conflict and offered a unilateral Chechen disarmament in exchange for guarantees of safety for the Chechen people, free elections and help in improving the economy of the republic.

To these ideas, Zakaev added (apparently on his own authority) the suggestion that the central issue of the resistance movement—the refusal to negotiate the status of Chechnya—could be altered. This is, in fact, the first instance of a Chechen official indicating his willingness to discuss the issue in any fashion. Zakaev suggested that “if, in accordance with international law another scenario for a peace with the Russians can be found while satisfying the abovementioned goals, we are ready to undertake the necessary negotiations.”

Zakaev is unlikely to have taken this important step without Umarov’s authorization, something confirmed shortly afterwards by Zakaev himself (see Zakaev’s interview with Radio Liberty, July 15). Knowing Zakaev, however, it is reasonable to question how fully the ideas of the “Manifesto” were actually outlined by the ChRI president. If the document is accepted at face value, it seems to be a move toward resolving the Chechen conflict. Yet, the conflict currently includes numerous jamaat cells representing several different ethnic groups that are fighting under the Chechen banner—none of which were mentioned in the document. This raises worrying prospects for the non-Chechen jamaat cells and questions the oaths of loyalty taken to the new Chechen leader.

There are two distinct possibilities here. First, it is possible that Zakaev was certain that common ground could be eventually found and so misled the Chechen president and his administration, or perhaps even failed to inform them, while trying to produce the document as quickly as possible and in time for the G8 summit in St. Petersburg. Alternatively, it may be that not everything was fully clarified in the drafting of the document, making a general schism or at least a temporary separation of the non-Chechen groups from the overall resistance command possible while the issue was being fully resolved. Whether this was an error or a simple lack of professionalism will soon be known. The General Council of the Military Forces of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria needs to evaluate this document, and if it is found unacceptable, it is likely that Zakaev will automatically lose his post of foreign minister. On the other hand, it is possible that the Council will approve the document as a way to start the negotiations process, in which case the ChRI Ministry of Foreign Affairs will come out as the dominant party in the ChRI leadership. This would make Zakaev the future arbiter of the resistance movement and allow him to make public statements and important decisions without the Chechen president’s consent.

The way in which the “Manifesto” was created is as interesting as its contents. The preamble claims that it was drafted during a meeting of the European representatives and honorary consuls of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. Even the earliest responses to its publication, however, suggest that the reality of the situation was completely different. Less than half of the Chechen overseas consular staff was actually present, and both A. Bisultanov and S.-Kh. Abumuslimov, though present, roundly condemned the approval of such a document. The representative in France, M. Taipov, even claimed that he had not been informed that a meeting was being held in Berlin (Caucasuslive.org, July 14). S. Amaev, the representative in Poland, was actually removed from office for his criticism of the ChRI Ministry of Foreign Affairs, U. Firzauli and the Department of Diaspora Relations headed by R. Ampukaev (Chechentimes.net, July 4).

The “Manifesto” enraged the Chechens who were determined to fight for independence and those living in the West, with both groups seeing the document as the beginning of collusion with the Russian authorities (Chechentimes.net, July 15). Criticism also poured in from many members of the ChRI parliament, including A. Indigov, the head of the Committee for Foreign Relations (Chechenpress.org, July 15), who suggested that the “Manifesto” contradicts the ChRI constitution. This is a valid point, given that the ChRI constitution does not question the independent status of the Chechen republic and views any discussion of said status as a betrayal of the interests of the Chechen people (Chechen.org). The administration of the ChRI president followed the other critics in its response to the “Manifesto,” stating, “In connection with this situation we would like to reiterate that the leadership of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria has taken a firm position in regards to this issue. The leadership of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria does not intend to offer negotiations or peace to the aggressor until events genuinely warrant it and the aggressor shows himself ready to discuss peace” (Daymohk, July 19).

All parties will probably wait for Dokku Umarov, the new leader of the resistance movement, to weigh in on the issue. Umarov is supposed to call a General Council of the Military Forces of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria within days, both to discuss the replacement of the late Shamil Basaev as vice president as well as to appoint new liaisons for the jamaat cells of the North Caucasus. It will be almost impossible to avoid commenting on the “Manifesto,” and depending on the way in which Council members respond, some sort of judgment will be passed on Zakaev’s actions. It should be remembered, however, that Umarov and Zakaev are close friends who had gotten to know each other quite well back in 2000 while undergoing treatment in Tbilisi for wounds suffered in Chechnya. This suggests that a negative decision about Zakaev could only be the result of the influence of the other Council members and not by Umarov himself. The response would also be a good indicator of the kind of role that the new leader of the movement intends on playing.

If the “Manifesto” is approved, Dokku Umarov risks losing his support among the Chechens who live in the West and who are trying to positively enhance the actions of the resistance though manifold societies, unions, journalistic corporations and ethno-cultural centers. The new Chechen leader should not ignore these important forces, since UN data suggests that Europe is home to more than ten thousand Chechens today (Chechenpress.org, April 25). Nevertheless, this is the first serious crisis of the movement, as it deals with Basaev’s death and the publication of Zakaev’s “Manifesto.” While it is possible that Zakaev orchestrated the whole situation, what is truly important is how it will be resolved, since the resolution will reveal the new political order within the resistance movement’s ruling hierarchy. With that information, it should be reasonably simple to predict the political future of the resistance movement under its new leader, Dokku Umarov.