The Federal Security Service (FSB) claimed on August 10 that unnamed “foreign sponsors” have supplied Chechen separatists with funds to disrupt Chechnya’s presidential election, scheduled for August 29. Sergei Ignatchenko, head of the FSB’s public relations center, said the funds were specifically earmarked for increased rebel sabotage and operations aimed at intimidating voters. The FSB spokesman pointed to a putative increase in calls to boycott the election or register a “protest vote,” and pointed to “stepped up information attacks and increased quantity of disinformation” as evidence of an increase in foreign financing for Chechnya’s rebels. Statements by Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, his foreign emissary Akhmed Zakaev, and rebel field commander Shamil Basaev have been appearing with increasing frequency, Ignatchenko said. He added that claims by pro-rebel websites that the August 29 election will not be genuinely competitive are groundless, given that seven candidates have been registered to run for president (Newsru.com, August 10).
Chechnya’s Interior Minister, Alu Alkhanov, is widely expected to win the August 29 contest, which some human rights activists predict will resemble the October 2003 election that the late Akhmad Kadyrov won overwhelmingly after all other serious candidates were disqualified. Last month, the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights called on the Russian authorities to postpone the August vote after Chechnya’s Central Election Commission rejected businessman Malik Saidullaev as a presidential candidate on what the human rights group and other observers regarded as spurious grounds (ihf-hr.org, July 23; see also Chechnya Weekly, July 28).
The FSB’s allegations of a rebel plot to disrupt the August 29 election followed comments by Chechnya’s leading Muslim cleric that could not have been welcomed by either the republic’s pro-Moscow administration, headed by Chechnya’s acting president, Sergei Abramov, or the Kremlin. According to Reuters, Mufti Akhmad-Khadzhi Shamaev said in an August 9 statement that the presidential election would not bring peace as long as Aslan Maskhadov and other rivals to Kremlin-approved candidates were excluded. “Elections can only be successful if all candidates are allowed to take part,” he said. The Chechen conflict can only be resolved through “peaceful, political methods,” not force, he said, adding that Chechnya remains at war because “of mistakes, bad decisions, and even bloody crimes by the authorities.”
Shamaev later told Reuters: “Putin is doing everything he can, but he needs better helpers, people who speak the truth. He needs to speak to people who live in Chechnya and suffer from the war, not just officials who think only of their pockets” (Reuters, August 9). The Muslim cleric also said that it would not be enough to allow Chechnya the level of autonomy enjoyed by a typical Russian region. “What is needed is to work out a political system with broad autonomy for Chechnya,” Shamaev said (Interfax, August 10).
Meanwhile, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights has released three reports on the North Caucasus — one on Chechnya and two on Ingushetia. The report on Chechnya, which is based on fact-finding missions that the group made during June and July of this year, details disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and unlawful detentions in Chechnya. It also describes seven abductions, two cases involving torture and summary executions, one murder during torture, and six cases of unlawful detention. The alleged incidents took place between June 2003 and June 2004 (ihf-hr.org, August 4; Ekho Moskvy, August 9). Tatyana Lokshina, program manager for the Moscow Helsinki Group, told Izvestiya she believes there are “thousands” of such cases but that human rights groups know about only “a few” of them “because people are afraid to admit they have been subjected to violence.” The coordinator for the three International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights reports, Eliza Musaeva, told the newspaper, “All the quasi-reforms that have taken place in Chechnya have effectively nullified any vestige of legitimacy” for the Chechen presidential election. “The people distrust the authorities and their promises,” she said (Izvestiya, August 10).