In an interview published by two separatist websites on July 5-6, Chechen separatist president Aslan Maskhadov reiterated that he is ready for negotiations with the federal authorities, while claiming that his forces have the means to fight on for years, should the Kremlin choose to continue the war. More surprising and tantalizing, however, were comments made on July 6 by Murat Zyazikov, president of Ingushetia, which was recently the target of a devastating raid by anti-government insurgents. Zyazikov indicated that he is open for negotiations with Maskhadov.
The interview with Maskhadov, transcripts of which were published by both the Chechenpress and Kavkazcenter websites, was dated June 20, two days before the rebel attacks in Ingushetia. “If they [the Russians] haven’t completely lost their minds, they must understand that even if the war lasts for 5-10 years and they find another Kadyrov [Akhmad Kadyrov, the pro-Moscow president who was assassinated on May 9] or ten like him, they will not achieve a victory through war and treachery,” Maskhadov said in the interview. “The only way to end the war is through a truce. And we are offering one.” He also said that if Russia withdraws its troops from Chechnya, “then we ourselves will reinforce the southern borders and not allow the influence here of other states, not allow them to go to the Caspian across Chechnya, but all of this on the condition that Russia will understand and help us.” It should be noted that in the transcript of the interview posted by Chechenpress, Maskhadov was quoted as saying his forces could fight for another 5-10 years with little problem. However, the transcript of the same interview posted by Kavkazcenter quoted him as saying his forces could fight for another 20 years with little problem. The transcripts were otherwise identical (Kavkazcenter.com, July 5; Chechenpress.com, July 6).
Maskhadov’s latest offer of an olive branch was quickly brushed aside by Chechen Interior Minister Alu Alkhanov, who is favored to win Chechnya’s August 29 presidential election thanks to backing from the Kadyrov clan and the Kremlin’s tacit blessing. “I have always said that if we announced that we were prepared for negotiations with him [Maskhadov], he would never hold them with us,” Alkhanov said. “He is not the kind of person who needs peace. On the contrary, he needs instability both in Ingushetia and Chechnya.” Alkhanov also ruled out talks with Chechen rebel field commander Shamil Basayev (Interfax, July 6). Basayev recently appeared on a videotape broadcast by Al Jazeera, in which he condemned the February assassination of the former acting Chechen separatist president, Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, adding: “We are not planning any operations in foreign countries … unlike the Russians who assassinated our former leader in Qatar” (Aljazeera.Net, July 3).
If Alkhanov’s instant rejection of Maskhadov’s latest peace offer was predictable, the comments made by Ingushetia’s president, Murat Zyazikov, were not. Zyazikov, who was in Moscow, told reporters that those responsible for the June 21-22 attacks in Ingushetia were “international rabble in the worst sense of the word” and included terrorists from the Middle East, Central Asia, and elsewhere in the North Caucasus. At the same time, when asked about the possibility of talks with Maskhadov, Zyazikov answered, “Any dialogue inside Chechnya that would bring peace closer, I would support.” He added, however, that this was an issue for the federal center and President Vladimir Putin to decide (Rosbalt, Regnum.ru, July 6). In addition, Zyazikov admitted that abductions by federal and local security forces like those that have plagued Chechnya have spread to Ingushetia. He called the trend “very serious” but insisted his administration is “fighting against this” (Associated Press, July 6).
Zyazikov’s comments were surprising, given that he is a retired FSB general who many observers believe won Ingushetia’s presidency in 2002 thanks to electoral manipulation by the federal authorities, who viewed him as a pliable replacement for Ruslan Aushev, the republic’s previous president and a vocal critic of federal policy in Chechnya (Jamestown Monitor, April 30, 2002). Zyazikov’s comments were also surprising given that at the beginning of June, he had denied allegations by human rights groups like Amnesty International and Memorial that abductions in Ingushetia were on the rise.
It seems clear that the June 21-22 insurgent attacks — not to mention a failed assassination attempt by a suicide bomber in April — rattled Zyazikov. So too, perhaps, have other developments suggesting that he is losing control of the situation in the republic. On July 5, Ingushetia’s mufti, Magomed Albogachiyev, announced that he was stepping down from his post as chairman of the Spiritual Board of Muslims of the Ingushetia Republic. Albogachiyev said in a statement that the June 21-22 attacks had demonstrated the inability of the republic’s administration to protect its citizenry. “There is at present an extremely tense social-political situation in the republic,” his statement read. “Increasingly frequent abductions of citizens, a serious growth in criminal manifestations, corruption and bribe-taking at all levels of government, [and] a worsening economic situation are causing justified outrage and indignation on the part of the republic’s population.” The Zyazikov administration’s polices are splitting society and “fraught with unpredictable consequences,” Albogachiyev said (Regnum.ru, July 5).