July 4 saw a duel of words between a spokesman for the Russian security services’ headquarters in the northern Caucasus and a representative of Aslan Maskhadov’s underground separatist government. As reported by the Interfax news agency, Russian Major-General Ilya Shabalkin claimed on that day that “one of the former vice premiers” of the Maskhadov government had played an active role in the June 21-22 guerrilla raid on Ingushetia. Shabalkin said vaguely but ominously that after-action investigations into the raid had produced evidence that this former vice premier “had personally transferred money to agents of [terrorist warlord] Shamil Basaev” for the purpose of carrying out the operation. He declined to identify the former vice premier by name, on the grounds that other federal agencies are now seeking his arrest and extradition from his current location, which he said is the capital of a former Soviet republic.
Not surprisingly, a prompt response came on the same day from Maskhadov’s circle. The underground president’s representative Usman Ferzauli told the Ekho Moskvy radio station that the rebel guerrillas “don’t need to await financing from any former vice premier” because they are able to tap into the federal funds sent from Moscow to Chechnya for economic reconstruction.
Like Shabalkin, Ferzauli was vague about details. Nevertheless, it is widely agreed that the flows of federal subsidies for Chechnya are riddled with corruption; it is not inherently implausible that some of the money could end up in rebel hands. But it is also not implausible that rebel operations such as the recent Ingushetia raid might be getting funds both from that channel and from people close to Maskhadov. Unlike operations that Basaev has made his trademark, such as the seizing of hostages in the south-Russian town of Budennovsk in 1995 and in Moscow’s Dubrovka theater in 2002, the Ingushetia raid did not primarily target civilians.
In a July 5 commentary for the Politcom.ru website, Natalya Serova suggested that it was “very hard to believe” Shabalkin’s words. She cited the Russian officer’s comments on a videotaped statement by Chechen terrorist warlord Shamil Basaev—his first television appearance in at least two years—broadcast on July 2 by the international Arab-language television network Al Jazeera. Basaev said that guerrillas under his command would not attack Russian officials located outside Russia even if they had been responsible for attacks on Chechens. He also commented on the assassination of Zelimkhan Yandarbiev in Qatar, insisting that “this case proves who is really a terrorist and who is not.”
Shabalkin claimed that the Basaev videotape must have been made last autumn; he argued that it “did not contain one fact which one could link to events that are taking place right now in Chechnya.” But as Serova pointed out, Basaev’s remarks dealt specifically with the assassination in Qatar, which took place in February, and with the outcome of the trial in Qatar, which ended only last week. The journalist suggested that Shabalkin was looking for a way to make the Basaev video consistent with the recent statements by Russia’s security services to the effect that the terrorist leader “has long been located outside the borders of Chechnya and absolutely does not control the situation there.” Serova concluded that Russia has proved incapable not only of preventing rebel raids, but also of “competently conducting the war of information.”