The Russian president had some cause for cheer on at least one front–Chechnya. Fresh on the heels of the news that Khattab, the Arab-born Chechen rebel field commander, had died, reportedly as the result of a Russian special operation, came reports that a group of top rebel commanders had been taken out and that another group of fighters had put down their weapons and surrendered.
Three commanders loyal to Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov were reportedly killed in an ambush by federal forces after attending a meeting of a new Majlis ul-Shura (Supreme Military Council), putatively set up by Maskhadov in order to reassert his authority over the rebel movement in the wake of Khattab’s death. The rebels, it should be noted, denied that the three commanders had been killed, just as they denied a claim by General Vladimir Moltenskoi, commander of the Russian forces in Chechnya, that another leading field commander, Shamil Basaev, may also have died in federal air strikes. The claim about Basaev’s death was even dismissed by a number of Russia officials, including Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov.
But the Chechen rebels’ attempts to deny that thirty-seven heavily armed rebels from various parts of Chechnya had surrendered to federal authorities in Tsentroe, hometown of Akhmad Kadyrov, head of Chechnya’s pro-Moscow administration, were not very convincing, particularly given that the surrender was videotaped and shown on Russia’s two state television channels. Indeed, the tone of the half-hearted denial issued by Maskhadov’s news agency, Chechenpress, suggested that the rebels were in fact militarily on the ropes. It spoke of the inevitability of a protracted “spiritual opposition” to Russian rule and stressed the need for negotiations with Maskhadov.