Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 213

On Sunday (November 15), units of Chechnya’s Ministry of Shari State Security, numbering some 200 men, attempted to arrest Salman Raduev, the field commander and de facto leader of the opposition to President Aslan Maskhadov. Raduev, however, was not where they thought he was supposed to be, and the attempt to arrest him failed. Raduev has said that he will not recognize the recent decision of the government’s Supreme Sharia Court sentencing him to four years’ imprisonment for an attempted coup. Raduev has threatened to use force if the authorities try to arrest him (NTV, RTR, November 16).

On Monday, the day after the attempted arrest, a rally devoted to protecting the “commander in chief of the Army of General Dudaev” was organized in Djohar, the Chechen capital. Fellow field commander Shamil Basaev addressed the rally, declaring that all the material in the case against Raduev had been falsified (NTV, RTR, November 16). It is possible, however, that Basaev, formerly Chechnya’s prime minister, will soon not be able to move fearlessly around Djohar. President Maskhadov has instructed the republic’s prosecutor general to launch a criminal case against members of the organizing committee of the National Congress of the Chechen People (OKChN), the organization led earlier in the decade by Dzhokhar Dudaev, which was recently resurrected by Maskhadov’s opponents. Maskhadov charged that the congress’s actions are aimed at seizing power by force. Inasmuch as Basaev is one of the main organizers of the OKChN, it is likely that Maskhadov’s actions were aimed against him (NTV, RTR, November 16).

It is difficult to give a concrete assessment of what is currently going on in Djohar. On the one hand, the attempt to arrest an influential field commander such as Raduev is a sensational event. It is clear that such an action could provoke a civil war in Chechnya, because Raduev would be supported not only by his own fighters, but also by the armed supporters of Shamil Basaev. Basaev was Maskhadov’s main opponent in presidential elections, and was supported by more than 30 percent of the electorate. Given that the economic and law-and-order situation has hardly improved under Maskhadov’s tenure, one can assume that the number of Basaev’s supporter has even increased: Many inhabitants of Chechnya believe that Basaev, known for his decisiveness as a field commander, will be able to put an end to rampant lawlessness. Thus it cannot be excluded that the Basaev-Raduev bloc is backed by as much as half the population of the heavily armed republic.

On the other hand, the “hunted” Raduev continues sit fearlessly in his Grozny office, and is apparently not even considering the idea of retreating to his home base of Gudermes. This raises the question of whether Maskhadov is genuinely trying to arrest Raduev, or whether the threatening declarations of the Chechen government are simply a farce. If the latter is true, Maskhadov has placed himself in an unenviable position. If Raduev is not arrested, it means Maskhadov’s power is nominal and the presidency in Chechnya has become little more than an empty seat.