Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 9

Chechen President Alu Alkhanov told reporters in Moscow on February 28 that he welcomes the upcoming talks between Russian officials and Hamas. The Hamas representatives are scheduled to arrive in Moscow on March 3. “Inviting Hamas to Moscow is a positive and constructive move indeed,” RIA Novosti quoted Alkhanov as saying of President Vladimir Putin’s invitation to the leadership of the Palestinian Islamist group. According to the news agency, Alkhanov said that history knows examples of the most irreconcilable groups becoming full-fledged participants in a political process. Asked whether there are links between Hamas and the Chechen rebels, Alkhanov said he could neither confirm nor disprove this information. Some Israeli officials claim that such links exist, but other observers are skeptical (see Chechnya Weekly, February 16 and 23).

Alkhanov’s comments about Putin’s invitation to Hamas were not the first words of welcome to the Palestinian militants from an official of Chechnya’s pro-Moscow government. The speaker of the lower house of the Chechen parliament, Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov, told Interfax on February 16 that it was his “firm belief” that the invitation to Hamas was “based on a deep understanding of the situation in the Middle East, on the desire to contribute to a peaceful dialogue between Palestine and Israel.” Hamas, said Abdurakhmanov, came to power in the Palestinian autonomy by a popular vote, not an armed revolt. “Attempts by certain media, including…Russian, to draw a parallel between Hamas and Chechnya, to look for Hamas’ trail in Chechnya, are built on sand, are based on nothing and are made in order to exert pressure on the country’s leadership,” Abdurakhmanov said. “Over the years, in the area where the counter-terrorist operation (in Chechnya) is being carried out, the Russian special services have detained or killed dozens of mercenaries who were citizens of many countries, including Western ones. However, this is no reason to sever diplomatic ties with them, so why wouldn’t Russia have the right to political contacts with Hamas?”

Abdurahkmanov said he had no knowledge of Hamas’ links with Chechen rebel leaders, but added that he had no knowledge “to the contrary either.” He concluded: “Even if Hamas indeed is a political force of a terrorist hue, in my view Russia can make it clear to its [representatives] during talks in Moscow that they must renounce their past, seek a path towards a peaceful settlement of the situation, build good neighborly relations with Israel and acknowledge the fact that Israel is a state and they will have to live next to it and with it whether they like it or not.”

Meanwhile, Movladi Udugov, who heads the separatist National Information Service of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, said on March 2 that he regrets Hamas’ decision to send a delegation to Moscow. “The mujahideen of Palestine are our brothers,” quoted him as saying. “At the same time, we regret this decision of Hamas. Observing protocol, the leaders of Hamas will be shaking hands with the killers of 250,000 Chechen Muslims, among them 42,000 Chechen children.”

The website quoted Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal as saying that Israel was “stirring up trouble” in linking Hamas with the Chechen rebels. “They are crafty with fibs, and one shouldn’t believe it,” Meshaal was quoted as saying. “The Palestinian problem has absolutely nothing in common with the Chechen problem, nor with any other [problem].” The Hamas leader accused Israel of wanting to “put Russia, a great country, in an embarrassing situation.” Russia “has taken a brave position and, I think, will not fall for this blackmail,” Meshaal said, adding that Russia “acts in its own interests and in the interest of peace in the Middle East” and “does not need the Israelis’ poisonous advice.”

Udugov went on to criticize Hamas not only for accepting Putin’s invitation, but also for agreeing to participate in the Palestinian elections “in the conditions of occupation and permanent terror by Tel Aviv,” which, he said, was a step toward recognizing Israel.