Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 28

Observers were split over the impact that Shamil Basaev’s reported death might have on the separatist movement. In an article published by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), Timur Aliev, the IWPR’s Nazran-based Chechnya editor, quoted Radio Liberty correspondent Andrei Babitsky as saying that Basaev’s death would fundamentally change the situation in the North Caucasus. Babitsky said that Basaev’s death meant that “one of the last people who personified the resistance” formed during the period of Djokhar Dudaev “has now gone” and that Basaev’s work to cultivate “militant groups and underground groups” in the neighboring republics of the North Caucasus would “weaken significantly.” Babitsky added, “In Chechnya itself, there will be no substantial changes. What are termed ‘military actions,’ these acts of sabotage, are in a general state of decline.”

Babitsky told Corriere della sera that it has become extremely difficult for rebel forces to obtain weapons or food. In the same interview, he “admitted” that Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov enjoys tremendous popularity in the republic, reported on July 11. Babitsky told the Italian newspaper that the rebels would continue to operate inside Chechnya because their new leader, Dokku Umarov, had been in charge of operations inside Chechnya, while Basaev had been responsible for operations outside the republic. Still, the Radio Liberty correspondent told Corriere della sera that “the resistance has no serious prospects today, not just to win, but [even] to conduct an armed struggle.” At the same time, Babitsky said that the moment the situation in Russia and Chechnya changes, “the dissatisfaction that is now driven inside will immediately rush through that crack.” This dissatisfaction, he said, is the result of an entire complex of historical resentments. Babitsky interviewed Basaev for ABC News’ “Nightline” program last year (Chechnya Weekly, August 03, 2005).

In her interview with Italy’s La Repubblica, published on July 11, Novaya gazeta correspondent Anna Politkovskaya said that Basaev’s death would not mean an end to the war in Chechnya. “The head of the terrorists has died, but a generation that cannot imagine a life without war has already grown up in the Caucasus,” she said. “And the principle issue has not been resolved—[that of] the Kremlin’s pressure, forcing people to live according to Russian traditions; the contempt of Russians for Caucasians. It [the killing of Basaev] can be compared to the killing of [Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi: he is dead, but the fight continues.”

Likewise, Sergei Markedonov, head of the Department for Inter-ethnic Relations at the Institute of Political and Military Analysis in Moscow, warned Russian politicians against assuming that Basaev’s removal from the scene would mean a decline in rebel activity. “The death of Shamil Basaev does not mean an end to the terrorist war against the Russian state,” he wrote in a piece posted on the website on July 12. “Moreover, unfortunately, the mistakes and miscalculations of the authorities themselves mean that Basaev-ism will not disappear as a socio-political phenomenon. Corruption, the aloofness of the authorities in the Caucasian republics, the absence of any prospects for ‘unconnected businesses’ or [possibilities] for career growth are pushing many inhabitants of the region toward radical Islam, which today is much more dangerous than the ‘Ichkerian idea’ that Shamil Basaev was fighting for. Today, Chechnya is part of the ‘Islamic terrorist international,’ and Basaev’s removal does not significantly affect this situation.”

Markedonov continued, “Every unlawful action by administrators [and] employees of the law-enforcement structures works for the benefit of new ‘Basaevs,’ who have before them the example of a successful multi-year resistance against a nuclear great power. The death of Basaev cannot cardinally disorganize the terrorist underground in the North Caucasus, because even the death of such a terrorist does not destroy the ‘web of terror.’ Given all of Basaev’s authority in the Caucasus, in Central Asia and in the Middle East, Shamil was only a successful field commander. One of many.” It is “entirely possible,” Markedonov added, that there will now be a bloody power struggle between the younger, more radical rebel commanders who were held in check by Basaev’s authority.