The end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 were marked by yet another flurry of media reports surrounding the key Chechen resistance movement political figure, Akhmed Zakaev.
Zakaev is the former commander of the Chechen resistance during the first military campaign of 1994-1996 and subsequently served as the minister of culture in the governments of the post-war period as well as an active political figure during the second military campaign. He has always been a controversial figure. For Russia, Zakaev has been equated with the Chechen resistance underground and therefore has fallen under the provisions of the Russian criminal code on terrorism, which the courts in Denmark and Great Britain have refused to recognize as being applicable to him (https://www.lenta.ru/lib/14159623/#25; Guardian Unlimited, November 13, 2003). For the leaders of the Caucasus Emirate, as personified in Zakaev’s fierce and hated rival Movladi Udugov, he was among those who resisted the Islamization of the Chechen resistance movement. For Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, Zakaev represents the rare opportunity to co-opt the most significant figure of the resistance movement (after the assassination of Chechen Republic of Ichkeria [ChRI] President Aslan Maskhadov and his successor Abdul-Khalim Sadullaev) in order to demonstrate that the very ideology of an independent Ichkeria is on the verge of political bankruptcy. Kadyrov would have agreed to many conditions in order to achieve this objective had it not been for Moscow’s negative attitude toward this idea.
Thus, every time Zakaev makes any public statements, all sides try to extract dividends from them.
Zakaev attempted to carry on the cause of those who support the idea of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, as opposed to Doku Umarov’s establishment of the Caucasus Emirate in place of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria and the replacement of Ichkerian independence with the mythical construction of the Islamic state of Caucasus Emirate as the movement’s main objective. That is why Zakaev declared himself ChRI Prime Minister (https://www.newsru.com/world/24nov2007/ichk.html), even though, according to the ChRI constitution, such a position does not exist independent of the ChRI president (https://chechen.org/society/constitution/21-konstituziya-chri.html). Despite this, Zakaev was still approved by the ChRI parliament, which raised the suspicions of his critics over its legitimacy, given that the ChRI parliament, including its supposed chairman, Zhalavdi Saralyapov, has long been functioning exclusively as a small group (https://chechen.org/society/parliament/22-parliament-chri.html). All of this was done in an awkward manner and with major deviations from the ChRI constitution, on the basis of which the move was supposedly taken.
This is why it is not surprising that just a year later, erstwhile supporters of Zakaev began abandoning him one by one. And even though they did not join the rival camp (that is, they did not become part of the Caucasus Emirate project), they left because they were displeased by the incomprehensible position that Zakaev took in his statements about the role of Kadyrov in the modern history of Chechnya (https://ichkeria.info/content/view/4030/72/). The resignation of Isa Munaev (former deputy head of the separatists’ Southwestern Front in Chechnya before 2005) and Ilyas Musaev indicated a crisis in Zakaev’s camp. After that, the representatives of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in European countries, who were appointed by Zakaev, began to resign in quick succession
Against this backdrop of increasing resignations, perhaps the most unpleasant episode for Zakaev has been the murky “disappearance” of his right-hand man, Yaraga Abdullaev, who had been his advisor since the end of the first military campaign in Chechnya. Abdullaev has not been in touch with Zakaev, his friend and boss, in nearly two months since arriving in Germany in December 2008 for a trip meant only to last several days. Taking advantage of this development, the Internet portals sympathetic to the Caucasus Emirate have featured news reports alleging that Abdullaev left for Chechnya to join Kadyrov after having several meetings with his emissaries in Europe during the December trip (https://chechenpress.org/events/2009/01/30/lf.shtml). In reality, according to the available information, Abdullaev is not in Chechnya, which gives a lot of food for thought, but at the same time it is worth waiting for Abdullaev to give his explanation.
For the supporters of the Caucasus Emirate, Zakaev continues to be one of the most irreconcilable foes and all of its Internet portals have been mobilized to discredit him in the eyes of the Chechen public at large (https://www.kavkazmonitor.com/2008/01/05/51592.shtml). When one reads the on-line articles posted on the websites controlled by the Caucasus Emirate, there is a distinct impression that Zakaev is a bigger enemy than the Russian troops in Chechnya. This can be seen from the many articles and comments containing materials tarnishing Zakaev’s reputation.
In this context, the Federal Security Service (FSB) recently reported the liquidation of Zakaev’s emissary in Chechnya where, according to the security agency, Zakaev was planning to recreate the structures of the armed forces of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (Kommersant, January 28). This news item was reported along with the death of one of the renowned figures of the armed underground, Emir Movsar (Isa Khadiev), who was known for his unwillingness to accept the idea of establishment of the Caucasus Emirate, which probably allowed the FSB to tie him to Zakaev. In reality, Khadiev opposed the Caucasus Emirate idea, but was nonetheless a resistance fighter who fought with the rest of the resistance against the common enemy in the Russian troops in the North Caucasus. Movsar was not a unique case: there are a number of field commanders who pledged their allegiance to Umarov, but who also consider themselves successors of the ideas of an independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, including Emir Mansur (Arbi Yavmerzaev) and a number of field commanders who were once close to former President Aslan Maskhadov. In this particular case, the Daymohk information agency, which is close to Zakaev’s circles, reported on January 17—ten days before the press release issued by the FSB—that the slain Khadiev had been a deputy (naib) of the Emir of the Islamic Jamaat of Chechnya, Abubakar Elmuradov (https://www.daymohk.info/cgi-bin/orsi2/index.cgi?id=36434). The FSB’s decision to awkwardly present Zakaev as having his people among the active rebel field commanders in Chechnya and Dagestan produces more questions than answers.
From an outsider perspective, one might have the impression that a new campaign had been launched against Zakaev. This would have been true were it not for the fact that Kadyrov’s press secretary, Lema Gudaev, suddenly entered the fray with carefully calibrated statements in which he made clear that the Chechen authorities do not exclude the possibility of holding negotiations with Zakaev, having deemed him among those who are more balanced and capable of taking adequate decisions (https://chechnya.gov.ru/page.php?r=126&id=4795). Of course what they meant by negotiations was Zakaev’s surrender and arrival in Chechnya in the role of a repentant Ichkerian public figure.
The very fact that there is disagreement in the pro-Moscow camp over how to deal with Zakaev is interesting in and of itself. The FSB considers him a terrorist and the chief ideologist behind Chechen separatism, while the Moscow-controlled government of Kadyrov is trying to use him for propaganda purposes and to co-opt him, following the precedent set by such figures as Umar Khanbiev, the former general ChRI representative in the West, and Ramzan Ampukaev, the former ChRI ambassador to Poland. Embedded in Kadyrov’s actions are signs of a general policy directed toward maximum co-optation of former politicians that are supporters of Ichkerian independence. For this purpose, Kadyrov set up a special task force that is supposed to work in the sizeable Chechen Diaspora in Europe and Asia. The main objective of this task force is to furnish guarantees to those who decide to return home as Kadyrov supporters that they will not be persecuted by the FSB and federal Interior Ministry.
The wave of returnees invariably inflicted losses on the Caucasus Emirate, which until recently has prided itself on the fact that its supporters have been firmer in spirit than the democratic supporters of independent Ichkeria. Last week, the news agencies of the Caucasus Emirate announced the dismissal of one of its leading figures in Western Europe—the General Representative in Europe—Bukhari Baraev (https://generalvekalat.org/content/view/34/30/), who resided in Austria and decided to return to Chechnya, probably because of Kadyrov’s guarantee that he would not be touched by the authorities. Bukhari Baraev fiercely criticized his former bosses and accused them of abandoning the interests of the Chechen people. This is the first and palpable loss in Umarov’s camp, and more specifically among his appointees in Europe.
Thus it is possible to predict that the crisis of authority will prompt Zakaev to make new decisions. What these decisions will be we can only guess, but we can forecast that in any case it will be a serious test of his maturity as a politician representing the democratic wing of the Chechen resistance movement.