In an interview with RIA Novosti published on August 8, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov insisted that there is no personal conflict between him and the Yamadaev brothers—Sulim and Badruddi—but simply that the law must be upheld. “When a person serving a sentence in a prison on the order of a court suddenly ends up being commander of an armed group, not to mention a group of servicemen of the Defense Ministry of the Russian Federation, this at minimum raises questions,” he said. Kadyrov was apparently referring to Badruddi Yamadaev, who was convicted of attempted murder in 2003 but was subsequently freed from prison under murky circumstances and served as the commander of one of the Vostok battalion’s companies until being put on the federal wanted list for kidnapping earlier this year (North Caucasus Weekly, May 1). “I think that this happened with the connivance of the leadership of the 42nd Motor Rifle Division, to which the Vostok battalion is subordinated.”
Kadyrov added: “Some mass media and journalists have at times wrongly interpreted my statements concerning the Vostok battalion, groundlessly asserting that I supposedly spoke out in favor of its disbandment. I don’t understand why demands to obey the law arouse such loose talk and attempts to stir things up by various media! In fact, I noted that all the members of a military unit should not suffer because of certain individuals. The backbone of the servicemen is conscientiously fulfilling its military obligations. But a criminal should be in prison—I don’t know a more precise way to say it! The public also knows about crimes committed by the former commander of the Vostok battalion, Sulim Yamadaev, who not only covered for a criminal [i.e., Badruddi Yamadaev], but has himself participated in the kidnapping and murder of citizens of the [Chechen] republic. The Investigative Committee recently launched a criminal case against him and put him on the federal wanted list. We have received appeals from citizens of the republic who claim that their relatives were kidnapped by the Yamadaev brothers. We are simply obligated to get to the bottom of this. The criminal actions of the Yamadaev brothers and a number of persons operating together with them were a black mark on the entire Russian Defense Ministry and discredited the local authorities. It is completely natural that doubts arose among citizens of the republic, who [suspect that] the authorities are simply covering up the crimes of battalion servicemen. I have already said that I, as guarantor of the constitution, cannot allow a criminal, whatever his regalia and position, to stroll around in freedom. I will again repeat that I am not calling for the disbandment of the Vostok and Zapad battalions, although there are questions concerning the latter as well. There are complaints from citizens about unlawful actions by Zapad battalion servicemen.”
It is clear from Russian media reports over the last several days that, contrary to Kadyrov’s claim that Sulim Yamadaev is already the “former” commander of the Vostok battalion, Yamadaev is still in command of the battalion and has led elements of the battalion in battles with Georgian forces in and around South Ossetia (see the article above and Mairbek Vatchagaev’s article below).
RIA Novosti also asked Kadyrov to comment on the situation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia—specifically, about reports that Adyg peoples, including Circassians, Kabards, Adygs and Abazins, might offer armed assistance to Abkhaz forces fighting against the Georgian military. “First of all, I generally believe that war should be the last argument in resolving such conflicts,” he answered. “Chechens have in full measure experienced and seen what armed conflicts bring—ruin, hunger, death and destruction. Secondly, the Chechen Republic is a subject of the Russian Federation and we do not have the right to make such political decisions. In this connection, I note: the country [Russia] has a political leadership, and if it makes a decision, we are to carry it out undeviatingly and in any form, whether it is in the role of peacekeepers or the role of negotiators, or in any other form. I want to call attention to the fact that in that region, despite difficult conditions, Russian peacekeepers, the only guarantors of peace, are effectively and responsibly fulfilling their duties.”
As for the Georgian-Russian war itself, Kadyrov commented: “Georgia carried out an attack on South Ossetia on the first day of the Olympic games—on a day on which it has been, on the contrary, customary to halt any wars. That, in and of itself, says a lot. This is aggression. The situation in the region is genuinely dangerous and has already reached unprecedentedly dramatic bounds and arouses extreme concern. Now the main thing is to take immediate action to defuse the situation and restore at least relative stability. In my view, it is not too late to avert mass bloodletting and new victims. The Georgian leadership needs to come to its senses and return to civilized means for resolving difficult political problems. I also think that the international community should not remain uninvolved … when the fate of hundreds of thousand of people is being decided, and that it is simply obligated to express its fundamental view of the current situation in the region.” The leadership of the North Caucasus rebel movement, for its part, has been sharply critical of Russia’s actions in Georgia without embracing the Georgian leadership (see Mairbek Vatchagaev’s article below).