The Russian authorities are continuing to highlight what they claim are the close links between the Chechen rebels and Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban movement. According to a press report today, radio transmissions made November 7 by forces belonging to the rebel field commanders Shamil Basaev and Khattab indicated that an unspecified number of “mercenaries” fighting in Chechnya had begun moving out of the breakaway republic into neighboring Dagestan and then on to Baku, Azerbaijan, with their final destination being Afghanistan. The report did not indicate the nationality of the “mercenaries,” but claimed that out of twenty-six intercepts of radio transmissions made by forces loyal to Basaev and Khattab over November 7-8, eleven were in Arabic, two in Ukrainian and one in “Afghani” (whether it was Farsi or Pashto was not indicated). The report cited the Russian military command in Chechnya as its source (AVN, November 9).
A separate report, published yesterday, quoted “an informed source close to the Russian Defense Ministry” as saying that “several hundred” Chechens, 3,000-4,000 Arabs and 5,000-7,000 Pakistanis were currently fighting in Afghanistan on the side of the Taliban, and that the Taliban’s total forces were around 70,000–a number significantly higher than the one given by Western military officials. The source said that since the start of the U.S.-led antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan, the flow of “terrorists, weapons and money” from Afghanistan into Chechnya had been almost completely cut off, but that “Chechen fighters and foreign mercenaries” were planning to leave Chechnya for Afghanistan to aid the Taliban (NTV.ru, November 8).
Meanwhile, the Chechenpress news agency, which is supportive of Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, today denounced reports of Chechens fighting on the side of the Taliban as “systematic disinformation” by the Russian authorities aimed at portraying the Chechens as terrorists and thereby justifying “the complete destruction of the Chechen people.” The news agency insisted that Chechen rebel fighters had not gone to Afghanistan, given that they were “busy defending their state against the Russian-fascist invaders.” Chechenpress also criticized international organizations like the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly and the European Union for allegedly failing to adequately condemn the Russian authorities’ “policy of genocide” in Chechnya (Chechenpress, November 9). Earlier this week, Maskhadov’s special representative, Mairbek Vachagaev, categorically denied allegations made by the Russian authorities that any Chechen fighters had connections with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida international terrorist network. “We appealed directly to the administration of the president of Russia to give us such information, if it exists, so that we could deal with such people,” Vachagaev said. “The Chechen side will in no way tolerate the presence in its ranks of representatives of terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida” (Radio Ekho Moskvy, November 6).
However, while Maskhadov and his spokesmen have been trying to distance themselves from both the Taliban and bin Laden and his network, supporters of the more radical rebel leaders, including Basaev and Khattab, continue to back the Taliban uncritically. The Qatar-based Kavkaz.org website today claimed, as it has in the past, that U.S. President George W. Bush has not proven that bin Laden was behind the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington (see the Monitor, October 9, 26). The website also claimed that the “aggression” being carried out by the United States and Great Britain against Afghanistan was part of “a plan prepared long ago.” “It is precisely these two countries that have the most powerful Jewish lobbies in their governments,” Kavkaz.org opined. “It is precisely in these two countries where the massive finances of the international Zionist mafia are concentrated. It is precisely the special services of these two countries that are engaging most actively in subversive activities against Muslims.” The website also attacked another member of the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition, Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov, denouncing him as both a “Satanist” who had persecuted and murdered members of his country’s opposition in “concentration camps” and “America’s son of a bitch” (Kavkaz.org, November 9).
BALT’S NATO CANDIDACY ADVANCING POLITICALLY AND MILITARILY.