Gazeta.ru ran a commentary on July 29 stating that the Russian authorities and Basaev find each other useful. “On the one hand, granting air time to the gangster Basaev – and he is undoubtedly a gangster, whatever your different semantic experiences in this area might be – could not provoke applause in Russia, and it would evidently be much more preferable to see a broadcast about how the special services had finally succeeded in eliminating such a dangerous criminal,” the website opined. “On the other hand, it is hard to escape the feeling that the federal authorities need Basaev for the time being as a figure on which to pin the organization of any terrorist act regardless of whether he has any relation to it or not. It should be stated that the interest is, paradoxically, mutual. Members of the security services who are not in a position to single out the organizer of a specific act of terrorism can always blame Basaev for it. And he, in turn, by admitting to it regardless of the extent to which this corresponds to the reality, increases his rating among potential clients.” The Gazeta.ru commentary added that U.S. officials do not publicly protest the broadcasting of statements by Osama bin Laden or Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi on Al-Jazeera or Al-Arabiya. “They are not talking about ‘journalists’ double standards’ as does the Russian Foreign Ministry,” the website opined. “Journalists are not to blame for the fact that Basaev and Bin Laden are still alive.”
Sergei Goncharov, head of the association of veterans of the elite Alpha commando unit, said the fact that Shamil Basaev could be found by a foreign journalist raised doubts about the Russian special services’ efforts at eliminating terrorist leaders. “This question arises each time an interview with a notorious rebel appears,” Goncharov told Interfax on August 1. “Ordinary people cannot understand why it is that a journalist can reach a specific bandit while the same bandit remains unattainable for the special services. This situation gives rise to undesirable speculation and puts the Russian special services in a questionable position against the backdrop of the successful fight against terrorists conducted by their British and Egyptian colleagues…Basaev’s invincibility may be explained by the fact that somebody needs him alive and that for some reason Basaev is more dangerous dead than alive.”
Novaya gazeta editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov was more explicit. Asked during a call-in show on Ekho Moskvy radio on July 29 how Babitsky was able to find Basaev while those in Russia responsible for tracking him down seem unable to do so, Muratov answered: “Well, I think the answer to this is simple. Basaev wanted Babitsky to find him and did not want [Federal Security Service Director Nikolai] Patrushev or anybody else to find him. But, indeed, why can’t they find Shamil Basaev? This is a good question. Why are we so indignant about the interview, but not about the failure to catch him so far? Let’s recall where, in general, he came from, in order to understand why this is happening now. At the start of the 1990s, when Russia wanted to win control of a section of Georgian territory called Abkhazia, a special battalion was established, Shamil Basaev’s battalion, which trained on ranges belonging to the Main Directorate of Intelligence [GRU] of the Russian Defense Ministry’s General Staff. He was given arms there. He was trained. His men were trained for sabotage raids. They were trained in mine warfare, sniper skills. I myself have seen a photograph taken at the Prudboy range near Volgograd, a range run by our very own Defense Ministry, which showed them training Shamil Basaev.”
Noting that the GRU also trained the pro-Moscow Vostok battalion headed by Sulim Yamadaev, which is accused of numerous human rights abuses during a raid in the Chechen village of Borozdinovskaya in June, Muratov said: “We ourselves are creating monsters. The monster is, of course, a bastard, but he is our bastard, as far as this principle goes. Yes, the terrorist is a murderer, but he is now serving our interests. So, let’s help him. But that doesn’t work. That won’t work, as the case of Basaev shows. We can see what he has perpetrated, the bloodiest terrorist act in Russia’s history. Neither will it work with Kadyrov or Yamadaev – who use our weapons – with the people whom we are now festooning with medals.”
Interestingly, on July 28 before the “Nightline” program with excerpts from Basaev’s interview was broadcast, gazeta.ru quoted the Vasily Panchenkov, head of the press service of the Interior Ministry’s Internal Troops, as saying they had located Basaev in Chechnya’s Vedeno district but had not carried out an operation to capture or kill him out of fear for the safety of civilians. Panchenkov claimed that Basaev had planned several days earlier to attack Dagestan from Chechnya but had not gathered sufficient forces to carry it out.
The chairman of Chechnya’s State Council, Taus Dzhabrailov, denounced Panchenkov’s statement. “This is the first time I’ve ever heard that the [Russian military] command did not carry out a special operation in the mountains out of fear of possible victims among the civilian population,” Dzhabrailov said. “To this day, operations of varying scope are carried out in any settlement even if one militant is discovered, and there are instances in which damage is done to the property and lives of citizens.”