Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 17

An article by Andrei Smirnov on a website for peace activists (https://viktorpopkov.narod.ru) described that writer’s own past encounters with Terkibaev. Smirnov wrote that in March of 2002 the mysterious Chechen had agreed to meet him in order provide videos of speeches by separatist President Aslan Maskhadov (for whom Terkibaev then claimed to be working) and of sessions of the separatist parliament. But their meeting never took place, ostensibly because Terkibaev had been captured by the Russian special services. At that time it never occurred to him, Smirnov wrote, that Terkibaev might be a Russian agent. But he noticed that the Chechen’s behavior changed after the Russians released him. Instead of returning to the rebel bases in the highlands, the young Chechen joined Malik Saidullaev, the prominent Moscow-based Chechen businessman, on a trip to Jordan. According to Smirnov, Saidullaev used this trip to lobby against Maskhadov among Jordan’s Chechen emigre population. After that, in Smirnov’s view, there was no chance that Terkibaev would ever again be trusted by any of the separatist leaders. Thus, argued Smirnov, it seems unlikely that Terkibaev would have been among those recruited by Shamil Basaev to take part in the October raid on the Moscow theater.

If Smirnov’s account of the Jordan trip is accurate, it does suggest a weakness in Politkovskaya’s version of events: How could the organizers of the October raid on the Moscow theater (presumably Shamil Basaev’s circle, which has publicly claimed responsibility for it) have allowed someone of demonstrated unreliability to be among those recruited for such a crucial, top-secret mission? (If an April 25 statement from the pro-Maskhadov “Chechenpress” website is to be believed, Terkibaev had been exposed even earlier–in 2001–as a spy for the Russians.) On the other hand, Russian history has known several cases of double and triple agents who have managed to keep both government and rebel forces convinced of their loyalty–sometimes betraying both. As Satter observed to Jamestown, “Many people used by the FSB [the Russian Federal Security Service] are unreliable in their loyalties.”

In Smirnov’s view the Dubrovka attack came as an unexpected blow to the FSB–“a Budennovsk in the very capital.” That agency would find Politkovskaya’s version advantageous to itself, since it has cast the GRU (Russia’s military counter-intelligence agency) as the duplicitous organizer of the plot, while the FSB was responsible for the rescue. By that logic, however, the GRU would seem to have as much reason to speak out and refute the Politkovskaya story as the FSB would have to remain silent.

Smirnov suggested that Politkovskaya had allowed herself to fall into a simplistic “conspiracy theory,” one analogous to the myth that the 1917 Bolshevik takeover was nothing but a Jewish-Masonic conspiracy. He suggested that she had allowed herself to be overly influenced by “the Trotsky of our time,” Boris Berezovsky. Asked by Dmitrievsky to comment on this view, Politkovskaya said that she had not yet read Smirnov’s article but denied that she has the mindset of a “conspiracy theorist.” In fact, she said, her first reaction when presented with the suggestion of the involvement of the special services in the October events was to think it impossible. Only in January did her newspaper begin to receive evidence that caused her to reconsider. And even then, she said, “I began the task of reviewing it for only one reason–to prove to myself that it was untrue.” She called that review, and the preparation of her April 28 article, “a long process.” It was only after she told her editor that she was ready to publish that Chechen friends in Moscow informed her that they had seen Terkibaev in the capital and that they could help her locate him. At first, she said, Terkibaev refused to meet with her, but eventually he agreed.

In other words, asked Dmitrievsky, “Even before that interview you were already in possession of information which convinced you that Terkibaev had indeed been among the terrorists in the theater?” “Absolutely,” Politkovskaya replied. “I could have written my article even without that meeting.”

An article by Sanobar Shermatova and Aleksandr Teit in the May 13 issue of the weekly Moskovskie novosti adds further details to the picture of Terkibaev as someone involved in intrigues with both sides of the Chechen conflict.(As this issue of Chechnya Weekly went to press, Politkovskaya had not yet commented on the Moskovskie novosti article.) The authors recalled that in 1997, when Terkibaev was working as a pro-Maskhadov television journalist, he boasted that he had been with Shamil Basaev at a guerrilla training camp in Pakistan–and that he had held up better than the legendary Basaev under the camp’s grueling regimen. “The flippant tone of that conversation did not inspire any special confidence in him,” the two authors wrote. During the interval between the two Chechen wars, the young journalist was an active supporter of Maskhadov in his political struggles with Basaev and other field commanders. Terkibaev served briefly as Maskhadov’s press secretary and even accompanied him on his 1997 pilgrimage to Mecca.

Shermatova and Teit recounted an earlier visit by Terkibaev to Jordan, in the year 2000, when he lobbied that country’s Chechen emigre populace to accept Maskhadov’s pleas to help curtail the involvement of Arab Wahhabis in the Chechen conflict. But even though that part of his agenda was entirely consistent with Maskhadov’s, he then visited the Russian Embassy in Jordan to tell them about his meetings. The two journalists suggested that Terkibaev also worked on “using Jordanian resources to set up negotiations between the Russian authorities and the moderate Chechens in Maskhadov’s circle. Thus the visit of this Maskhadov emissary was obviously sanctioned by some influential Russian politician.”

The Moskovskie novosti journalists cited another bizarre episode in Terkibaev’s career: During the October crisis his name appeared on an Internet list of Russians volunteering to offer themselves to the Chechen terrorists as hostages in exchange for those held in the theater. Shermatova and Teit recently rang the mobile telephone number listed next to his name, and the woman who answered said that it was a Baku phone number and that Terkibaev had sold it six months ago. “If Terkibaev took part in the seizure of the hostages, why did he then need to make that written offer? To cover up his tracks? But later, in denying the claim that he had participated in the Dubrovka events, he failed to make use of this point.” Shermatova and Teit noted that Terkibaev also failed to deny that after the Dubrovka episode he presented himself to Chechens in Baku as a participant in the raid. Perhaps, they suggested, he was carrying out specific assignments from the Russians as he had done earlier in the Middle East–such as seeking the locations of terrorists in Baku (where some of the guerrillas reportedly were trained).

Politkovskaya told Dmitrievsky that she does not know where Terkibaev is now located: “He has vanished somewhere, as I expected he would.”