Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 234

Fifty thousand people gathered Thursday in Djohar, Chechnya’s capital, to demonstrate their support for Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. Speakers called on the republic’s leaders to avoid bloodshed, but said that Maskhadov must have special powers to stamp out crime. On Wednesday (December 16), Maskhadov promised to make a final decision on which measures he would take, expressing his readiness to order active measures against criminal groups. An indication of how serious the situation is is the fact that Maskhadov’s inner circle has stopped using euphemisms about the “criminal ties of certain members of the political opposition” and has begun making specific accusations. First Deputy Prime Minister Turpal Atgeriev, a close associate of the Maskhadov, declared during Thursday’s rally that former Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev and field commander Shamil Basaev were guilty of supporting crime in order to destabilize the political situation and, as Atgeriev strongly suggested, to overthrow the government. Participants in the demonstration also called on Maskhadov to clarify his relations with Vice President Vakha Arsanov, and even liquidate the vice presidential post. Maskhadov, for his part, essentially supported Atgeriev and pinned the responsibility for Chechnya’s crisis on those who lost the 1997 presidential elections (Nezavisimaya gazeta, December 18).

Maskhadov’s opponents responded to this after the rally by saying that the president’s accusations are politically motivated. Yandarbiev and Basaev charged that Maskhadov is incapable of governing the republic. According to Yandarbiev, Chechnya’s law-enforcement agencies have turned into legalized criminal bands, and high government officials are involved in corruption. Basaev said that Maskhadov’s resignation was the only way out of the crisis. Vakha Arsanov, for his part, demanded that the president sign a decree suspending the constitution, dissolving the parliament and declaring the Koran as the republic’s basic law. He also called for the institution of the presidency to be abolished and power to be transferred to a so-called Shura (a “popular assembly” which exists in various Muslim countries) (Nezavisimaya gazeta, December 18).

Meanwhile, a group calling itself the “High Council of Islamic Jamaat” declared that if Maskhadov resorts to force, it will take the armed conflict to Russia. The statement marked the first appearance of this group in Chechnya. The term “Islamic Jamaat,” however, has been used in the Dagestani villages of Karamakhi, Chabanmakhi and Kadar, which have become Islamic fundamentalist strongholds.

Thus, if Maskhadov resorts to force, which he has managed to avoid over the last two years, an inter-Chechen conflict will become a reality. Accordingly, it is likely that this conflict will spread to the regions neighboring Chechnya. Akhmednabi Magdigadzhiev, secretary of Dagestan’s Security Council, said that he took the statements about the possible shift of armed conflict to Russian territory as a threat to the security of Dagestan (Nezavisimaya gazeta, December 18).