Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 144

Given the continued tense situation in the North Caucasus, the report that three well-known Chechen rebel field commanders have given up the fight against Russian forces looks somewhat anomalous. The three who have reportedly given up the fight are former Chechen Defense Minister Magomed Khambiev, former Chechen Interior Minister Aidamar Abalaev and former Chechen State Security Minister Turpal-Ali Atgeriev. The first two are “division generals,” while Atgeriev is a “brigade general.” The “defections” were reported by Akhmad Kadyrov, head of the provisional administration of Chechnya, who said that he had “reliable information” that the three generals had already for some time not participated in military operations, but for unknown reasons had not publicly announced that they had dropped out of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov’s inner circle. Kadyrov insisted that Maskhadov himself was obligated to ask the Chechen people for forgiveness, to give up the presidency and “go to his son in Malaysia.” Kadyrov charged that Maskhadov had not earned the trust of the Chechen people, who “crave peace,” but had instead brought the republic “another war.” He also accused Maskhadov of not having been strong enough to resist Khattab and Shamil Basaev, the radical rebel field commanders (Nezavisimaya gazeta, July 22).

Kadyrov’s claims should be viewed with some skepticism. First, the apparent defection of the three rebel generals is not as significant as it looks, given that none of them distinguished themselves in battle against the federal forces and that they are more associated with criminal activities than with the Chechen resistence. It is also interesting to note that Supyan Mokchaev, the current mayor of Djohar [Grozny], has accused Kadyrov of carrying out a “creeping coup” by manning the republic’s police with his people and putting close associates of Maskhadov into key positions in his administration. Mokchaev’s accusations are not without foundation, given that prior to the start of the current military campaign in Chechnya, Kadyrov was one of Maskhadov’s closest associates. During the 1994-1996 war, Kadyrov was on the side of the separatists and, as Chechnya’s mufti, proclaimed a jihad against Russia (Izvestia, July 22).