Ex-Chechen Rebel Official Goes to Europe to Convince Exiles to Return Home

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 9 Issue: 31

Magomed Khambiev

Magomed Khambiev, the former defense minister of the separatist Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI) who is now a deputy in Chechnya’s pro-Moscow parliament, traveled to Western Europe on August 3 for meetings with top separatists living abroad aimed at convincing them to return to Chechnya, the Moscow Times reported on August 6. Khambiev, who surrendered to the pro-Moscow Chechen authorities in 2004 after some 40 of his relatives were abducted by forces loyal to Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, said in an interview published in Gazeta on August 5 that he thought his brother, Umar Khambiev, a former health minister in the separatist government and envoy to Western Europe for late separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov who currently lives in Paris, would return to Chechnya with him.

According to the Moscow Times, Magomed Khambiev said he would talk to other senior separatists that emigrated from Chechnya to Europe. “I don’t want to name them now,” he told Gazeta. “I will say only that these are not run-of-the-mill guys.” Timur Aliev, an adviser to Kadyrov, told the Moscow Times by telephone on August 5 that Khambiev’s initiative was not officially endorsed by the Chechen government but conceded that he could not have undertaken the tour without tacit approval from the republic’s political leadership.

In late May, Khambiev called on his former comrades living abroad to return to the republic and disband the rebel armed groups. “Our president is a Chechen, the representatives of all branches of power are Chechens, members of the law-enforcement organs are also Chechens,” Kavkazky Uzel quoted him as saying. “We don’t realize it, but it is possibly today that we have received the very independence that was fought for all those years. And when those who have not yet returned [to Chechnya] understand this, realize that it is the embodiment of their ideals, they will return home and become brothers-in-arms of the president” (North Caucasus Weekly, May 29).

Kavkaz-Center, the Islamist website that is supportive of the idea of a Caucasian Emirate and hostile to ChRI Prime Minister Zakaev and other ChRI officials and loyalists, posted a report on August 5 about Khambiev’s trip to Europe. The website claimed that following his televised appeal in late May, Khambiev announced that he was ready to negotiate with Zakaev. The website also claimed that the renowned surgeon Khassan Baiev—whom Kavkaz-Center claimed is a representative of Zakaev—had met with Dikal Muzakaev, the Chechen Republic’s minister of culture.

In May, around the time of Khambiev television appeal to Chechen separatists living abroad to return home, various media attributed comments to Zakaev that some observers interpreted as an overture to Ramzan Kadyrov and his government. These included statements that Chechnya’s “decolonization” was a “fait accompli,” that rebel forces were targeting the Russian military and not Chechen government forces, and that the ChRI government was preparing “several serious documents aimed at averting clashes between the Chechen partisans and the Chechen police.”

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported on May 23 that Zakaev had made his comments about Kadyrov in an interview with RFE/RL in November 2007 and repeated some of them at a conference in London on May 14 organized by the Royal United Services Institute. Yet, according to RFE/RL, Zakaev gave an interview to RFE/RL’s North Caucasus Service on May 20 in which he “implicitly” branded Kadyrov a “criminal” and said the Russian leadership “will kill him treacherously at the first opportunity.” RFE/RL reported that Zakaev made a similar prediction at the May 14 conference in London, saying he is convinced “a magnificent funeral” is being prepared for Kadyrov and that Beslan Gantamirov, the former Chechen Deputy Prime Minister and Grozny mayor, would succeed Kadyrov. RFE/RL also reported that in his May 20 interview, Zakaev categorically denied speculation that there is a draft written agreement between him and the pro-Moscow Chechen government, and also denied that a visit to Grozny by Khassan Baiev was undertaken at his behest (North Caucasus Weekly, May 22 and 29).