Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 52

Acting Russian President Vladimir Putin announced yesterday that one of the top Chechen rebel commanders has been captured. Salman Raduev was taken during a special operation carried out by the Federal Security Service (FSB), transferred to Moscow and incarcerated in the capital’s infamous Lefortovo prison. According to FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev, Raduev and three members of his inner circle were captured in the Chechen village of Novogroznenesky during a planned operation, which was carried out without a shot being fired. The Chechen side has neither confirmed nor denied the story. It maintains that Raduev’s units had not been involved in military actions following the capture of the town of Gudermes by Russian forces, and that Raduev himself had been constantly on the move.

The Prosecutor General’s Office had already charged the rebel leader with several crimes in absentia. Those charges–which include terrorism and hostage-taking–were revived yesterday. Deputy Justice Minister Yuri Kalinin said that the type of regime Raduev will be held under and the length of his imprisonment will be determined by a court, after which Raduev will be sent to either prison or camp under the Justice Ministry’s control. It is likely that Raduev will spend his first three years in Vladimir Prison, where Russia’s most dangerous prisoners are traditionally put. Given the charges he is facing, Raduev could face up to fifty years’ imprisonment (Russian agencies, March 13).

It is hard to overestimate the significance of this arrest. The Russian and Dagestani public have long been disturbed by the fact that the January 1996 terrorist attacks in the Dagestani towns of Kizlyar and Pervomaiskoe, which Raduev organized and which claimed dozens of lives, have gone unpunished. Raduev also took responsibility for the railway station bombings in the cities of Armavir and Pyatigorsk in the spring of 1997, and “confessed” to organizing the assassination attempt on Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze in 1998. Acting President Putin yesterday mentioned some of Raduev’s lesser-known “achievements,” including train robberies, the theft of federal money earmarked to pay salaries to teachers in Chechnya, and the extorting of protection payment from residents of the Gudermes region. Raduev, who ran a private army called the “Army of General Dudaev,” colorfully promised in front of television cameras that he would lead an eternal war against Russia (Nezavisimaya gazeta, March 14).

At the same time, it is important not to exaggerate Raduev’s real weight. It is possible that many of the terrorist acts he claimed responsibility for were in fact not his doing. Furthermore, he had less than unquestioned authority among the leaders of the Chechen resistance. Although he was the son-in-law of Djohar Dudaev, Chechnya’s self-proclaimed first president, not one Chechen separatist leader supported his raids on Kizlyar and Pervomaiskoe. Following the end of the first Chechen war, Raduev was pushed to the political-military sidelines within Chechnya and was the target of a number of assassination attempts after he tried to re-assert his authority. Following one of these, Raduev was pronounced dead, but was “resurrected” several months later, when he reappeared with his left eye missing, a face re-built by plastic surgery and several titanium plates in his skull. During the formation of the “young Chechen state,” he was denounced by various top Chechen officials, who did not want to ruin relations with either Dagestan or Georgia. Shamil Basaev promised to “sort out” Raduev personally, while Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov publicly called Raduev a schizophrenic.

During 1999, until the rebel incursion into Dagestan from Chechnya, Basaev actively used Raduev–not without Raduev’s agreement–in the anti-Maskhadov opposition. According to some reports, however, Raduev returned to Chechnya from Pakistan after Russia began its “antiterrorist operation” in Chechnya last fall and took on the role of a “constructive politician,” calling for Russian-Chechen negotiations.

It is possible that the investigators prosecuting the case against Raduev might unearth details about Raduev’s international travels which will be uncomfortable for certain Russian officials (Nezavisimaya gazeta, March 14). One experienced observer, Radio Liberty correspondent Andrei Babitsky, said yesterday that Raduev’s arrest could be part of a strategy by Putin to weaken tycoon and Kremlin insider Boris Berezovsky. According to Babitsky, Raduev received financing from Berezovsky (Radio Liberty, March 13). Raduev’s capture will of course be a feather in Putin’s cap for the March 26 presidential election. The acting president is already heavily favored to win.