Six people were killed and fifteen others wounded in fighting yesterday in the Chechen town of Gudermes. Details are sparse. Gudermes is, however, the base of maverick field commander Salman Raduev. Former acting Prime Minister Shamil Basaev said the clashes began on Tuesday evening between local groups of “so-called Wahhabis” but, he added cryptically, “I don’t think they are who they claim to be.” (Russian agencies, July 15)
Chechnya is increasingly riven by internal feuding and it is predicted that the political situation will grow more radical. Basaev’s decision to quit the government seems to have weakened President Aslan Maskhadov. Although Maskhadov is the only Chechen leader with whom Moscow feels it can communicate, he is seen by many as an ornamental figure whose control does not extend beyond Djohar and a handful of villages to the southeast of the ruined capital. His failure to quash Raduev’s open revolt seems to be motivated by apprehension that any move against the rebellious field commander could provoke all-out civil war. Raduev has the support not only of many Chechens but of a large number of people throughout the North Caucasus. (Segodnya, July 14)
This week’s clashes prompted Maskhadov to utter his first open criticism of Wahhabism, a generic term for radical Islam. “Supporters of this movement are coming to Chechnya from Arab countries, calling for war and trying to justify kidnapping and hostage-taking,” Maskhadov said on regional television last night. (Russian agencies, July 15) “I appeal to people not to be taken in by supporters of this movement, to organize counter actions against them in every settlement and to save our children from their influence.”
Fear that tensions inside Chechnya will spill over the border to Dagestan seems to be what prompted Russian Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko’s one-day visit to Dagestan yesterday. This was Kirienko’s first provincial visit as premier. He stopped off his way back to Moscow from Japan and China. He met in Makhachkala with leaders from Dagestan, Adygeya, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachaevo-Cherkessia and North Ossetia–all of whom assured him that their republics want to stay in the Russian Federation–and from neighboring Rostov and Stavropol Krais. Kirienko told them the government was paying great attention to the region. (Russian agencies, July 15) Moscow can hardly do otherwise. In the words of journalist Ilya Maksakov: “Chechnya is gradually moving toward a state of chaos, the consequences of which could prove catastrophic not just for the North Caucasus but for the country as a whole. Every field commander is the absolute boss of his own district. It might have been possible [for Moscow] to ignore these internal Chechen problems, if Chechnya did not exert such influence on neighboring regions.” (Nezavisimaya gazeta, June 25)
TATARSTAN SET TO ADOPT RUSSIA’S FIRST LAW ON ALTERNATIVE SERVICE.