Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 28

Given the contradictory versions of Basaev’s death in the press and the fact that the Russian authorities erroneously declared Basaev dead on a number of occasions in the past, it is not surprising that some observers remained skeptical about whether he was in fact dead this time. On July 12, Interfax quoted a member of the Mothers of Beslan committee, Aneta Gadieva, regarding the announcement that Basaev was among those killed in the Ingushetia blast: “We are not sure that it is really him.” Likewise, Novaya gazeta correspondent Anna Politkovskaya said in an interview published in Italy’s La Repubblica on July 11 that given the absence of definitive proof of Basaev’s death, it was “quite likely that in six months he will reappear, as happened with [Osama] bin Laden.”

According to Politkovskaya, there was more to Basaev’s relationship with the Russian authorities than met the eye. “Basaev was always playing a double, if not triple game,” she told La Repubblica. “When a big PR operation was needed, in Moscow or in Grozny, he always appeared. I would not be surprised if he had reached an agreement with the [Russian] special services to simply put down his arms and disappear. He was played out: as a leader of the military wing of the rebels, though he already had little significance. He was always ready to leave under favorable conditions.” Asked what Basaev’s “departure” would mean for President Vladimir Putin politically, Politkovskaya said, “According to his [Putin’s] logic, it’s a victory. It is the next step in the virtual war that he [Putin] has been conducting for several years and that justifies his power.”

Ruslan Martagov, the Chechen political scientist who in the mid-1990s was a spokesman for the Moscow-installed government of Doku Zavgaev, was quoted along similar lines in the July 14 edition of Moskovskie novosti. “I think that Basaev is alive and well, like [Djokhar] Dudaev,” Martagov told the weekly. “In both cases, an operation to remove their [the Russian authorities’] people from the game took place—it’s easiest of all to do this by staging their deaths. Basaev knows very much about the hidden motives for the first and especially the second Chechen wars. Huge money and very big people were put into operation there. Basaev is no fool and could not have failed to ensure himself maximally in case events began to unfold in a way unfavorable to him. You might remember that he more than once spoke about having kompromat on well-known politicians that would come to light if something happened to him. Dudaev said the same thing. So where is that kompromat?”

Likewise, the commentator Aleksandr Minkin wrote in Moskovsky komsomlets on July 12 that while “many powerful people in Moscow” probably breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing the reports that Basaev had been killed—and even had a drink to celebrate—they quickly began to worry. “But what if the one-legged devil had an archive somewhere?!” Minkin wrote. “And what if he gave orders that in the event of his death, particularly interesting documents should be published in newspapers in the West? And, thinking about this, they probably had another drink (this time, to steady their nerves).”

Like Politkovskaya and other observers, Minkin argued that Basaev should have been captured alive. “So that he could tell us in court how he had managed to travel throughout Russia for such a long time, to rest in sanatoriums and even to make trips abroad,” he wrote. “So that he could say who he had bought weapons from; who he had paid to get out of encirclement.”