Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 36

On October 4 the Paris daily Le Monde published the text of an exclusive interview with Aslan Maskhadov, president of Chechnya’s underground separatist government. Maskhadov’s answers came in the form of an hour-long audiocassette, delivered to a Le Monde correspondent in Russia and responding to questions that the newspaper had sent to Maskhadov at the beginning of September. Regarding his whereabouts the separatist president said only that he was in a place of “intense aerial bombardments and artillery shelling” from nearby Russian forces. (This and other quotations have been translated by Chechnya Weekly from the French text available from the newspaper’s website; according to Le Monde, President Maskhadov’s original remarks were in Russian.)

Asked about alleged ties between Chechen separatists and al Qaida, Maskhadov answered that “We deny and have always denied the least connection with al Qaida. We have nothing in common with international terrorism. What is unfolding here is a fight for national liberation. We do not know bin Laden. For us he represents nothing.”

Does President Maskhadov consider Shamil Basaev to be an international terrorist? He replied that “Basaev has no ties with international terrorism. He has no contact either with al Qaida or with bin Laden. I repeat, this is an official declaration. Moreover, Basaev has no foreign bank accounts, he is not seeking a foreign visa. Basaev is a warrior. He is someone who is seeking vengeance. He is using the same methods as the enemy, who uses those methods against Chechen civilians. It is eye for eye. His chief target is the principal structure of the Russian state, the FSB or ex-KGB. Today, as Troshev has said, the army does not decide anything, the war is being directed by the FSB. If it were possible to subordinate Basaev and to direct all his energy against the enemy, with the use of acceptable methods, then he would accomplish much. Unfortunately, he and I disagree about this. I say that it is necessary to fight Russia in an organized way, with a unified diplomatic policy and unified military strategy and tactics. I condemn methods which lead to the suffering of innocent civilians. Basaev has his own methods. But he has nothing to do with international terrorism.”