Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 5 Issue: 36

Many of the experts who spoke to Chechnya Weekly, including those sympathetic to Aslan Maskhadov, have now concluded that his political strength among his fellow Chechens has fallen sharply. Svetlana Gannushkina of Memorial said that “for a long time now Maskhadov has not had much authority in Chechnya.” Rustam Kaliev stated flatly: “Maskhadov has no influence or prospects. At this point even [rebel warlord Shamil] Basayev’s death would not solve the problem.” A veteran Chechnya-watcher at the newspaper Kommersant said that at this point Basayev probably has more support among the field commanders than does Maskhadov. What Maskhadov needs to do at this point, said the Kommersant journalist, is to announce that Basayev is “an enemy of the Chechen people” and that all efforts will be made to bring him to justice, along with the Beslan terrorists who escaped.

Andrei Mironov, on the other hand, saw the influence both of Maskhadov and of Basayev as falling, but he blamed the latter for successfully “creating a new generation that knows only how to wage war and to hate.”

Chechen political analyst Zaindi Choltaev also agreed that Maskhadov’s influence at this point is weak, and suggested that the best chance for peace now would be for him and his field commanders to leave the game and yield to a temporary international administration. He argued that if Moscow could be brought to support such a scenario, which would include postponing for the next five years the question of Chechen independence, the fanatics would be isolated.

Ruslan Khasbulatov, the former speaker of the Russian federal parliament who remains a prominent leader of the ethnic Chechen community in Moscow, told Chechnya Weekly that he has changed his views: He no longer is pushing for direct negotiations between the Kremlin and Maskhadov, but for internationalization of talks, with a new administration for Chechnya formed under the auspices of international organizations such as the OSCE, the G-7, the EU or the UN. A strict condition for participation in the republic’s new administration, he said, would be the exclusion from power of all who have waged war against the federal authorities. This, of course, would mean the marginalization of Maskhadov, of all his followers, and of all others who fought for independence.

But Khasbulatov was pessimistic about the Putin administration’s willingness to take part in good faith even in an international peace process that excluded Maskhadov. “It’s not Putin, but the siloviki that are now the real bosses of Russia,” he said. He claimed that 50 percent of the national budget—not just 30 percent as officially acknowledged—is now going to the power ministries.

In contrast to Khasbulatov and others, Andrei Piontkovsky said that he still saw direct negotiations between Moscow and Maskhadov as the only chance to save the situation in Chechnya. But he added, “the influence of Maskhadov is shrinking; it may already be too late.”

Anna Politkovskaya of Novaya gazeta expressed a strikingly harsh judgment of Maskhadov’s behavior during the Beslan crisis. She said that he should have behaved as Ruslan Aushev did—simply getting to the scene as quickly as possible to do whatever he could to save lives, rather than temporizing over guarantees of his personal safety. At this point, she said, the Chechen separatist movement is now discredited even in the eyes of many of its sympathizers in Russia. “What’s the use of it,” she asked, “if some of its members are killing children, with the others failing to track down those killers and bring them to justice?”