Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 87

The Russian military is claiming further successes in eliminating key Chechen rebel leaders. A spokesman in the operational headquarters of the federal forces in Chechnya, Colonel Ilya Shabalkin, claimed yesterday that three field commanders loyal to Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov were killed on May 1.

According to the Russian military, Maskhadov held an emergency meeting of top rebel field commanders on April 30 that was attended by, among others, Aidamar Abalaev–formerly minister for state security in Maskhadov’s government–Zelimkhan Vashaev, Zavilbek Uvaisov, Ramzan Yunusov and Muslim Baltukaev. Maskhadov purportedly decided to call the meeting following the news that Khattab, the Arab-born rebel field commander, had been killed and that another key radical field commander, Shamil Basaev, may have been. Maskhadov, wanting to take advantage of the possible elimination of his two main rivals to reassert his authority over the rebel movement, announced the creation of a new Supreme Military Council to replace the one Basaev and Khattab created last year. That rival council was reportedly set up last June after Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, the former Chechen acting president, traveled to Afghanistan and met with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. During that meeting, a decision was reached to replace Maskhadov with Basaev as Chechen rebel leader and to put Khattab in charge of foreign funding to the rebels.

If the Russian military is to be believed, Maskhadov’s attempt to reassert his authority turned into a disaster on May 1, when three of those who attended the meeting of his new Supreme Military Council–Abalaev, Vashaev and Uvaisov–were killed in an ambush in the village of Sayasan, located in Chechnya’s Nozhai-Yurt district (Gazeta.ru, NTVru.com, May 2). “If” is the operative word here: The Chechenpress news agency, which represents the views of Maskhadov’s wing of the rebel movement, today quoted the commander of Maskhadov’s “Presidential Guard,” identified as A. Abdurakhmanov, who denied the claims that Abalaev “and a number of Chechen commanders” had been killed in an ambush. Abdurakhmanov was quoted as saying that Abalaev, who now commands the rebels’ Nozhai-Yurt military sector, and his fighters were “in good health and carrying out the military tasks assigned to them.” Abdurakhmanov also told Chechenpress that the report that Maskhadov had held a meeting to discuss the creation of a “new military organ” was a lie “from beginning to end” (Chechenpress.com, May 3).

In what would appear to be a kind of propaganda tit-for-tat, Chechenpress posted an unconfirmed report yesterday claiming that General Vladimir Moltenskoi, commander of the Russian forces in Chechnya, may have been killed in a rebel attack. The news agency, citing “preliminary information” from the main headquarters of the rebels’ armed forces, said that Moltenskoi was traveling in an armored personnel carrier in a Russian military column that came under rebel attack not far from the village of Alkhan-Kala. Moltenskoi was reportedly severely wounded in the attack and died on the way to the hospital at Khankala, the Russian military base outside the Chechen capital, without ever having regained consciousness. It should be noted, however, that Chechenpress quoted an official in the rebel forces’ headquarters, Rizvan Arsanukaev, as saying he could not confirm the report of Moltenskoi’s death (Chechenpress.com, May 2).

Meanwhile, the headquarters of the Russian forces in the North Caucasus claimed today that another two influential rebel field commanders, Khalid Dukuzov and Khaled Abu-Khaled, were killed as the result of security operations carried out in the Chechen village of Starye Atagi and in the republic’s Kurchaloi district over the last few days. Abu-Khaled commanded a unit loyal to Khattab, according to the Interfax news agency. Unnamed Russian military officials were quoted as saying that while it had been expected that the arrival of spring would, as usual, enhance the rebels’ opportunities for guerrilla warfare, the exact opposite had occurred and a real “hunting season” against rebel commanders had opened. According to the officials, federal forces have been carrying out “rather successful” special operations and are in full control of the situation in the republic. Intercepted rebel radio transmissions, the officials claimed, had uncovered a rebel plan to occupy the headquarters of Akhmad Kadyrov, head of Chechnya’s pro-Moscow administration, and the republic’s pro-Moscow government, on May 1. That the day passed peacefully in the Chechen capital confirms that the rebel groups are now acting in an uncoordinated and dispersed manner, the Russian military officials claimed (NTVru.com, May 3).