Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 16


The militant separatist website “kavakazcenter” published a statement last week that it said it had received on April 25 from Shamil Basaev (under his nom de guerre, Abdullakh Shamil Abu-Idris), The statement commented on the murder of Duma deputy Sergei Yushenkov. Basaev wrote that he considered Yushenkov’s murder to have been directly connected with a letter that Basaev sent to the deputy in early April. In that letter he had asked Yushenkov to try to obtain photographs of all the hostage-takers killed during the “Nord-Ost” raid, only some of which had appeared in the Russian media.

Basaev said that the original target of the October raid on Moscow had not been the “Nord-Ost” musical but the buildings of the Russian parliament. Each of the two houses of parliament (the Duma and the Council of the Federation) was to have been seized by twenty guerrillas. His account claimed that the detonators brought into the theater by the hostage-takers had turned out to be nonfunctional, as had the detonators in the hands of four women rebels who had remained outside the theater. These four women, he wrote, had managed to return to Chechnya, where he had personally spoken with them. According to Basaev, he and his lieutenants are still investigating what they clearly see as an act of deliberate sabotage. In their view, someone must have substituted non-working detonators for those originally supplied, and they are now trying to identify the possible traitor within their own ranks.

Basaev wrote that Movsar Baraev had not originally been assigned to the Moscow raid, but was added to the group of hostage-takers only after several commanders were killed during operations in Chechnya. Basaev had managed to give Baraev only a two-hour briefing, though he had spent weeks planning the raid with Baraev’s deputies.

Akhmed Zakaev, the separatist government’s representative in London, offered a version largely consistent with Politkovskaya’s: That the Nord-Ost raid had indeed been planned by Basaev, but that it had then come under the control of the Russian special services. But unlike Politkovskaya, Zakaev opined that it was the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) rather than the intelligence arm of the Russian military (the GRU) that had conducted this successful infiltration. In Zakaev’s view, which was reported by the website Polit.ru on April 28, Basaev lost control of the hostage-taking party when it entered Moscow. He identified Terkibaev by name, claiming that it was he who secured the rebel group’s safe passage into Moscow and who chose the theater as the object of the group’s attack. According to Zakaev’s version, Terkibaev then slipped out of the theater before it was stormed by federal commandos.

In a separate interview, Zakaev told the website Grani.ru that Terkibaev had served the separatist government as its representative in Jordan. But Maskhadov had fired him in 2001 because of “reliable information that Khanpash was working for one of the Russian special services.”

Another observer who has identified Terkibaev as an instigator of the Nord-Ost operation–and has linked him to the FSB rather than the GRU–is a former FSB officer now living in London, Aleksandr Litvinenko. According to a letter from Litvinenko obtained by the Russian news agency Lenta.ru on April 24, it was his own message about Terkibaev to deputy Yushenkov that led to the deputy’s murder. Litvinenko described the Chechen as a specialist in planting federal agents among the rebel guerrillas as provocateurs. According to this version, Terkibaev’s cooperation with the FSB had begun when he worked for the separatist government’s television channel.

Salambek Maigov, the separatist government’s representative in Moscow, has raised another tantalizing possibility. In a May 2 interview with Chechenpress he said that “the situation around Terkibaev raises more questions than answers. Firstly, if the Russian special services are capable of injecting their agent into the close environment of Maskhadov and Basaev, this means that they are potentially capable of establishing their location, with all the resulting consequences.”

The most comprehensive discussion so far of Politkovskaya’s April 28 article appeared on the website Politkom.ru on April 29. Reporter Natalya Serova highlighted Politkovskaya’s emphasis on the GRU as distinct from the FSB. Serova suggested that Politkovskaya might have been “set up” as part of a struggle between rival forces within the Russian government and the pro-Moscow government of Chechnya. She pointed out that discrediting Russian military intelligence would be in the interest of the Kadyrov administration, which wants to monopolize the security sweeps that are now being conducted by both Kadyrov’s servicemen and the Russian military.

Another possible motivation, according to Serova, might be the discrediting of businessman Malik Saidullaev. The Politkovskaya article linked him to Terkibaev–as a rival to Kadyrov in the forthcoming elections for the presidency of Chechnya. But Serova failed to provide a full-blown alternative to Politkovskaya’s version. She did not even try to offer a theory that would exonerate the Kremlin while also accounting plausibly for Terkibaev’s presence both in the Dubrovka theater last fall and in Strasbourg this spring. After studying in detail both her and Politkovskaya’s articles, one must remain open to the possibility that Politkovskaya is wrong about the specific role of the GRU but right about everything else.