Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 22

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed on June 2 that Russia has proof that Chechens were involved in the bloodshed in the southeastern Uzbek city of Andijan on May 13. “We have information that Islamic extremists, structures of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, remnants of the Taliban, and some Chechen terrorists were involved in this,” Intefax quoted Lavrov as saying during a press conference in Vladivostok. According to Itar-Tass, he added: “We are verifying the information. We hope for a dialogue on the matter with all the sides concerned.”

The following day, Chechen President Alu Alkhanov rejected Lavrov’s assertion. “There is no Chechen link in Uzbekistan,” he told journalists in the St. Petersburg suburb of Pushkino. While conceding that “Chechens might be there, just as there might be representatives of other nationalities,” Alkhanov said: “I know they have nothing to do with either the Chechen Republic or the Chechen people.” Likewise, Chechen Security Council Secretary Rudnik Dudaev told Interfax that he would ask Russia’s Foreign Ministry to produce specific evidence of the involvement of Chechens in the Uzbekistan violence. “If there is specific evidence it should either be made public or an apology should be made to those citizens of the Russian Federation who live in the Chechen Republic,” Dudaev told the news agency, adding that Lavrov’s comments had aroused “extreme anger in the republic.”

Lavrov, however, repeated his assertion on June 4. “We have data that Chechen and other foreign militants were involved in those developments,” Itar-Tass quoted him as saying. “It’s also known those people have frequent contacts with Talebs in Afghanistan.” Lavrov noted that the U.S. Department had issued a warning of possible terrorist acts in Uzbekistan, adding: “I don’t think our information is very much different from what others have.”

On June 6, two days after Lavrov’s second statement, Alkhanov said in response to a question during a press conference at Itar-Tass’s offices in Moscow: “I do not rule out that Chechens or Chechnya’s representatives might have been among the rioters, but to deny or confirm this I must have facts. At this point I have none. In modern civilized society we know perfectly well that terrorism is not an ethnic phenomenon. If we focus on ethnic affiliation, we shall be able to invent no end of connections. I will not be surprised at all, if representatives of other ethnic groups, not just Chechens, were among them.”

Chechen separatist officials and media dismissed Lavrov’s allegations out of hand. The London-based separatist representative, Akhmed Zakaev, called the Russian foreign minister’s claim of a Chechen hand in the Andijan events “absurd,” adding that the Russian authorities have routinely claimed a Chechen role in a majority of the events across the globe over the last several years. Earlier, on June 2, the Kavkazcenter website claimed the Russian foreign minister’s assertion of a Chechen role in Andijan was in fact a response an item that the website had posted on May 30. Written by an Uzbek member of the underground Islamist organization Hizb-ut-Tahrir, the item alleged that 5,000 Russian troops had participated in the violent suppression of the Andijan demonstrations.