Glen Howard also met in Moscow with Ruslan Khasbulatov, who in the early 1990s held as high a position as any ethnic Chechen ever has in Russia–speaker of the Russian parliament. Khasbulatov made it clear that he continues to believe that the March referendum was a disgrace. He observed that the new constitution’s text, which would allow the president of the Russian Federation to remove at his own discretion a democratically elected Chechen president, provides for less autonomy than the current federal constitution. By comparison, federal authorities cannot remove or appoint presidents in other autonomous republics such as Tatarstan.
On the subject of Chechnya’s presidential election campaign, Khasbulatov predicted that Duma deputy Aslanbek Aslakhanov probably will not seek to oust Akhmad Kadyrov unless he can get Putin’s support. The primary reason for this is financial, not political. Unlike the Moscow businessman Malik Saidullaev, Aslakhanov is not wealthy enough to mount such an election campaign without financial support from the Kremlin.
Khasbulatov also said that the separatist rebels acquire nearly 80 percent of their weapons by simply buying them from the federal troops–including from the “pro-Moscow” troops of the Chechen Interior Ministry under Kadyrov’s command. And he told Howard that an influential member of the Russian parliament had informed him that as many as 67 percent of all Russian casualties in the war have been from friendly fire.
Finally, Khasbulatov stressed the importance of Radio Liberty’s Chechen-language news service, which he said is extremely popular among Chechens on both sides of the conflict. He argued that Radio Liberty is precipitating a cultural renaissance in Chechnya by teaching a forgotten generation of children their own native language. He said that he had recently received a telephone call at 3:00 a.m. from a group of Chechen police officers in Grozny responding to an interview that he had given to Radio Liberty.