Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 18

Shamil Basaev, 32, has been one of Russia’s most wanted criminals since the hostage-taking raid he led on the town of Budennovsk in 1995. He is undoubtedly the least acceptable to Moscow of all the presidential candidates. Almost all the polls show Basaev as second only to Maskhadov in popularity among Chechen voters. (NTV, January 26) Paradoxically, however, many of Basaev’s opinions are more moderate than radical. Basaev says, for example, that if elected president of Chechnya he will establish "the warmest, friendliest relations" with Russia. (ORT, January 25) He is the only presidential candidate to argue that Chechnya and Russia should have a "common economic and energy space and a common monetary and defense system." (Argumenty i fakty, January 14) Basaev also seems much less committed than other candidates to the establishment of an Islamic republic in Chechnya.

Unlike Maskhadov, Basaev would have no reason to fear that the Chechen population would suspect him of being manipulated by Moscow. According to the newspaper Argumenty i fakty, "many Russian commentators think that Russia will never recognize a Basaev victory." (Argumenty i fakty, January 21) But there are signs that Moscow has not ruled out the possibility of a Basaev victory. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has insisted that "We must respect the will of the Chechen people. We will work with the elected president of Chechnya and the republic’s new leadership." (Vesti, January 25)

Chubais Admits He Earned a Lot in 1996, But Denies Evading Taxes.