Chechen warlord Shamil Basaev appeared in a four-minute video posted on the separatist Kavkazcenter website on February 8 aimed at dispelling speculation that he had been killed. On February 2, the head of the Abkhazia’s State Security Service, Mikhail Tarba, referred to rumors that Basaev had been killed, noting that according to one of them, Basaev was killed as a result of disputes with “Arab mercenaries,” while according to another, he died as a result of “kidney problems.”
On the video, Basaev announced he was alive and that his kidneys were in good shape and then, for emphasis, twice stabbed a knife into his artificial right leg, declaring that his leg was “also fine.” Basaev also denied reports that rebel field commander Doku Umarov had either been killed or surrounded by federal forces. Earlier this month, press reports quoted unnamed Russian security officials as saying that Umarov had died as a result of wounds received during a January 15 shoot-out with federal commandos in the Itum-Kale region near Chechnya’s border with Georgia.
Mysteriously, Basaev said he had not wanted to record the message but was “in fact been forced to do it,” although he gave no indication who or what had forced him to do so. Basaev also repeated his pledge to obey rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov’s ceasefire order, which was made public on February 3. However, Basaev ended the video message by saying that the war would continue until Russian forces leave Chechnya and the republic becomes “sovereign and independent.”
Russian media reported that law-enforcement experts were studying the video to ascertain its authenticity. Itar-Tass on February 8 quoted an unnamed special services “expert” as saying that the man in the video may have be one of Basaev’s “doubles.” Kommersant on February 9 quoted anonymous special services sources as saying that it was possible that the Basaev video was footage that had been filmed earlier for release in the event of his death. However, as the newspaper noted, the video was almost certainly fresh, given Basaev’s references to the rumors about his and Doku Umarov’s demise and to the kidnapping of Aslan Maskhadov’s relatives.