Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 30

On August 8 the U.S. State Department published in the Federal Register an official determination that Shamil Basaev “has committed, or poses a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism that threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States.” It was not clear what practical effect the determination would have, since State had already, six months ago, taken anti-Basaev measures related to the Chechen warlord’s terrorist activities. Basaev is not known to have any bank accounts or other financial assets that could be frozen in the United States.

In an August 12 article published on the Radio Liberty website, Jeffrey Donovan observed that there seemed to be no new relevant information about Chechnya’s leading terrorist: “After all, Basaev’s activities have been well noted for a long time. Last February, for example, Washington designated as a terrorist organization Basaev’s group, the Riyadus-Salikhin Reconnaissance and Sabotage Battalion of Chechen Martyrs.” Donovan asked Christopher Swift of the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya: “Why has Washington chosen to take action against Basaev now?”

According to Swift, “The timing of this designation probably has more to do with the forthcoming Bush-Putin summit in the UN and Putin’s address before the UN General Assembly than it does with any factual or objective criteria that the U.S. State Department may be using. It’s probably politically timed. But I can’t say for certain one way or another. And all of the negotiations between the White House and the State Department and their counterparts in the Russian Federation regarding what’s going to be on the agenda of that summit are currently under way.”

At the same time, Swift noted, “Objectively, no one can dispute the fact that Shamil Basaev is a terrorist, that he has used violent force against civilian targets for political ends for the purpose of intimidation.”

Asked where Chechnya ranks among other priorities for the U.S. government, Swift said that in his opinion “Chechnya’s always been used by both this administration and the prior administration as both a carrot and a stick. When we have another priority in U.S.-Russian relations, be it the war on terror, or even Russian poultry exports–when we have a dispute with the Russian Federation, the tendency has been for the U.S. government both in the Clinton administration and the Bush administration to start talking about ‘systematic human rights violations’ in Chechnya. When we have sort of a rapprochement with the Russian Federation, when there’s much more engagement, there’s much more of a willingness to accept the Kremlin’s interpretations, or at least the Kremlin’s rhetoric, regarding the war–or not necessarily to accept it, but to be much less critical of it.”

The website noted on August 11 that, according to the State Department announcement, the sanctions against Basaev were signed by Secretary of State Colin Powell on August 4 but were not announced until August 8. The website suggested that during this time the U.S. authorities might have tried, and failed, to locate any bank accounts or other assets that Basaev might have in the United States.