Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 26

On June 27, the Chechen separatist Daymohk published two decrees by Dokku Umarov, the new leader of the separatist movement and president of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI). One decree removed Abdallakh Shamil Abu-Idris, a.k.a. Shamil Basaev, from the post of first deputy chairman of the ChRI Cabinet of Ministers (i.e., ChRI first deputy prime minister), while the other appointed him ChRI Vice-President, the same post Umarov held up until the death of the previous separatist leader and ChRI president, Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev, on June 17 (Chechnya Weekly, June 22).

The decrees followed a statement from Umarov published on the Daymohk and Chechenpress websites on June 23 (The separatist website published a report that day quoting from Umarov’s statement, but not the entire statement itself). In it, Umarov eulogized Sadulaev and put forward what he saw as his role. “During 12 years, I, like the rest of our mujahideen, have done everything that was within my modest powers to bring liberation to our occupied land,” the statement read. “I understand that now I must redouble my diligence, because the memory of heroic predecessors—Djokhar Dudaev, Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, Aslan Maskhadov, Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev—and also the trust of my brothers-in-arms oblige me to do so. My vision of the end of the Russian-Chechen war consists in Russia leaving us alone, recognizing our legal right to self-determination. That right, which Russia itself today openly proclaims. I, like my predecessors, do not think that the Chechens are any less deserving than other peoples to live in our own independent state. Legally, the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria is an independent state. That state is temporarily occupied.”

More concretely, Umarov said that he wanted to “announce officially” the creation, within the structures of the six resistance fronts set up by Sadulaev in May 2005 (four within Chechnya, one in Dagestan and one for the other republics of the North Caucasus), of a “special sub-unit whose task will be the liquidation of the most odious national-traitors from the punitive formations and also military criminals from the staff of the occupation formations, [who have been] sentenced to [death] by the ChRI Sharia Court for cruelty and murder.” This punishment unit, Umarov stated, will be composed of “the most experienced fighters” and will operate under a single command with a “unified data base.”

“The Chechens today are not the only people fighting against the imperial pretensions of Russia,” Umarov said. “The best sons of all the North Caucasian people have risen against colonial dependence. All of them are united in the Caucasian and Dagestani fronts of the ChRI [armed forces]; we have unified coordination of action. With each day, the brotherhood of the North Caucasian patriots strengthens.”

“The present puts before us new tasks of a strategic character,” Umarov stated. “In the 21st century, only the Muslims in Russia are under a colonial yoke, and Russia today remains the only colonial empire in the world. Almighty Allah created peoples, and separate individuals, possessing equal rights. This equality, both of individuals and peoples, is recognized by international law, although not everybody follows it. Hence, we plan as early as this summer to complete preparations to significantly widen the zone of military operations, which will cover not only the Caucasus, but also many regions of Russia. It is a question of creating new fronts in addition to those six fronts that already exist.”

Umarov added, “However, at the same time, I responsibly declare that the targets of our strikes and attacks will exclusively be military-police objects. In spite of the fact that the Russian occupiers have over many years in Chechnya and on the entire territory of the North Caucasus been committing genocide against the civilian population, I, like my predecessors in the presidential post, will…resolutely suppress all strikes at civilian objects and persons, with the exception of those persons and structures which, using civilian status as a cover, carry out subversive and intelligence operations against us.”

In terms of foreign policy, Umarov said that informing the international community about “the real events in the Chechen Republic and the whole North Caucasus” would remain a priority and that ChRI representatives should “dispel the myth spread by Russian propaganda about the extremist character of our leadership.” He added, “The Chechen people pursue one single goal—to be free and equal among all the peoples of the world.” The “legal basis” for establishing peace with Russia, he said, is the Agreement on Peace and the Principles of Interrelations between the Russian Federation and the ChRI signed on May 12, 1997, by then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin and then-ChRI President Aslan Maskhadov. Like those two leaders, Umarov said, “Russia and the Chechen Republic must build their mutual relations on the basis of universally recognized principles and norms of international law.”

Umarov, in his statement, said he intended to present his candidate for ChRI vice-president to the State Defense Committee, Majlisul-Shura, “in the near future”—a reference to Basaev’s impending promotion—adding that otherwise, “no significant changes in personnel in the [ChRI] presidential administration or the government are being considered.”

Commenting on Umarov’s June 23 statement and his appointment of Basaev as vice-president, Kommersant wrote on June 29 that despite Umarov’s insistence that only “military-police objects” would be targeted, “it is understood that the new Ichkerian government plans only to toughen policy.” According to the newspaper, the fact that Sadulaev elevated Basaev to the post of first deputy prime minister demonstrated that even under Umarov’s predecessor, the separatists had already begun to shift from a “moderate” Maskhadovite line to a “radical” Basaevite one.

Kommersant quoted ChRI Foreign Minister Akhmed Zakaev as agreeing that the latest changes in the ChRI leadership would mean a hardening of the separatist line. “What representatives of the moderate wing of the Ichkerian government warned about in its time has taken place,” Zakaev told the newspaper. “In place of Maskhadov and his team have come tougher leaders more appropriate for the Russian policy—Do[k]ku Umarov and Shamil Basaev.” Zakaev said that Basaev’s elevation as vice-president would reduce the already-slim chances for political contacts with the Russian leadership. “The current leaders of Ichkeria, especially Basaev, unlike their predecessors, are far from idealists and harbor no illusions about the plans of the Russian leaders, and thus, are ready for an uncompromising struggle,” Zakaev said.

According to Kommersant, Zakaev said it was possible that Basaev’s elevation would “once and for all cool off” an interest in Chechnya on the part of those in the West who have been pushing for a political solution to the Chechen conflict. The newspaper quoted him as saying that Western participation in resolving the Chechen issue had already practically dwindled to nothing, even before the latest developments, and thus, the changes in the ChRI leadership would mean little in the West. “We have known for a long time that for Western countries, their political interests are more important than the problems of the Chechens,” Zakaev told Kommersant.

Meanwhile, on June 26 reported that Basaev had held a meeting with “the emirs of the Caucasian Front” in “one of the regions of Krasnodar Krai” during the first half of June. The separatist website quoted a source in the State Defense Committee—Majlisul-Shura—as saying that commanders of the “zone of responsibility,” which includes Krasnodar Krai, Adygea, Karachaevo-Cherkessia and some regions of Stavropol Krai had taken part in the meeting. According to the website, relatives of Basaev’s third wife, whom he married in February 2005 and who is “a hereditary Cossack,” live in Krasnodar Krai. It reported that Basaev met her during a month-long stay in Krasnodar for health reasons.