Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 2

Chechen rebel warlord Shamil Basaev gave an interview to Kavkazcenter that the separatist website posted on January 9. Basaev, who holds the titles of “First Deputy Prime Minister of the government of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, head of the Military Committee-Majlis ul-Shura, and Military Emir of the mujahideen of the Caucasus,” was asked what were the “objectives” and “tasks” of the “assault operation” in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria, on October 13. Basaev responded that the operation’s aim was to “strike at the enemy” but that it was “also partially a rebellion of the Muslims of the KBR [the Kabardino-Balkarian Republic],” who were driven by “the neo-imperialist, satanic policy of Rusnya”—Basaev’s favored derogatory term for Russia—to liberate Nalchik from “the infidels and hypocrites.” Basaev said that when he was in Kabardino-Balkaria two years ago he “failed to find any mutual understanding” among the majority of the Muslims there, but that “this spring they themselves summoned me there.” The main achievement of the October 13 operation, he said, was “the conscious fulfillment by the Muslims of the KBR of their Islamic duty…to the Almighty and the fulfillment of their duty to wage a holy war for their faith, freedom and honor.”

Basaev was also asked if the Nalchik operation was part of “a strategy of widening the war” on the rebels’ part or whether the widening of the war is “objective” in nature and therefore not dependent either on the Russian authorities or the rebel leadership. Basaev answered that the strategy of widening the “jihad”—which, he said, was taken by the separatists’ Military Committee-Majlis ul-Shura in 2002—remains thus far “subjective” in nature, meaning that it is still dependent on the Russian authorities and the Chechen rebel leadership. “Rusnya has the chance to stop the war before we cross the Volga, which, incidentally, we plan to do in the summer of 2006,” Basaev said.

Still, Basaev said the widening of the war “is being successfully implemented” in part thanks to the behavior of the Russian authorities and “their local puppets” toward Muslims in the North Caucasus. “Whatever they say verbally and whatever labels they pin on us, they are showing by their actions that this war is being waged not against the freedom of the Chechens but against all the Muslims of Rusnya,” he said. “Muslims do not have freedom of worship, mosques are being destroyed and shut down, Muslims are being subjected to abuse and torture because they wear beards, do not drink spirits and do not smoke. Even pregnant Muslim women are being insulted and beaten because they wear headscarves and dress modestly.” Later on in the interview, Basaev claimed that a growing number of Muslims “are raising the issue of the declaration of a single Imam of the whole Caucasus” and that Chechen separatist president Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev is already “virtually” the imam of the whole Caucasus because “the mujahideen of the whole Caucasus have sworn allegiance to him.” The rebel leadership, Basaev said, is planning to hold “a great unifying Majilis” this spring on the issues of naming a single Imam of the Caucasus and forming “a Shura of Alims of the Caucasus.”

Basaev also attacked the Russian Orthodox Church, stating that “warlike Satanists led by the horned Putin” are in charge in Russia, and that the Russian Orthodox Church, or RPTs—which, he asserted, “is being served” by “residents” of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and military’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU)—is in the vanguard of these evil forces. “The RPTs leadership has the same relationship to Christianity that the Kremlin-appointed muftis have to Islam,” Basaev told Kavkazcenter. “Therefore, in the autumn, at a session of the Majlis of the Caucasian front in the city of Cherkessk, a decision was taken to declare the RPTs an extremist organization in the vanguard of Rusnya’s colonialist imperialist policy and to ban its activity in the Caucasus until the end of the war.”

Kavkazcenter also asked Basaev whether he had “final figures” for the number of rebel fighters killed during the October Nalchik raid. He said that 37 were killed, adding that a quarter of those “who earlier were presumed dead turned out to be alive.” According to official Russian government claims, around 90 militants were killed in fighting. Basaev told Kavkazcenter that 217 rebels took part in the operation and that they were unable to bring in another 150 rebel fighters because the authorities discovered one of the rebel groups on the morning of October 13 and closed roads leading into Nalchik. Basaev also suggested, as have other observers, that many of those included in the official count of dead and arrested militants were in fact civilians. Basaev said the operation was a tactical defeat—”because we were unable to achieve the goal we set ourselves”—but strategically “a great victory,” and would still have been so “even if all the 400 mujahideen brought in to this operation had died.” Basaev indicated that he was in Nalchik at the time of the October 13 raid, telling Kavkazcenter that he left the city on the night of October 15.

Asked about the situation in Chechnya itself, Basaev said that after leaving Nalchik, he visited Ossetia, Ingushetia and Chechnya, meeting with the “emirs” of most of the sectors of the rebels’ Caucasian Front and visiting “many” rebel bases. Basaev said he subsequently spent a week in the mountains with rebel commander Dokku Umarov “and also held a council of the southwestern front with the participation of emirs of the Ingush and Ossetian sectors of the Caucasian Front whom I took with me when I visited Dokku.” Basaev said he then visited a number of sectors of the eastern front and spent a week with Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev, reporting to him on “the situation throughout the Caucasus” and “discussing and agreeing on our plans of action for 2006.” He and Sadulaev, Basaev told Kavkazcenter, did not “focus special attention on the pig show called ‘parliamentary elections in Chechnya’ because, as our mujahideen say, ‘pigs may grunt—the holy war goes on.'” Basaev claimed he was in Grozny at the time of Chechnya’s parliamentary election—which was held last November 27—and “saw the so-called voting on the deserted streets of the city.”

Basaev concluded the interview by saying that the Nalchik raid showed Russia’s weakness and vulnerability. “The jihad is expanding and the only difficulty we are experiencing now is with funding and media coverage of our jihad,” he said. “But God willing we will solve these issues by the spring.”