Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 11

Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov has allegedly accused fellow rebel leaders, including Shamil Basaev, Movladi Udugov, Zelimkhan Yandarbiev and others, of having “led the country to such a mournful finale.” Maskhadov supposedly made this statement in an interview with an underground rebel radio station whose broadcasts are now distributed on audiocassettes around Chechnya. He condemned the rival rebel leaders for having, during the period between the end of the 1994-1996 war and the start ofthe latest conflict in autumn 1999, become “engrossed in the creation of headquarters, fronts, the conducting of congresses rather than strengthening statehood.” At the same time, Maskhadov, who was elected Chechnya’s president in 1997, did not call into doubt the need for armed struggle, complaining only that the disagreements between the rebel leaders had led to defeat in battles with the Russian army (Russian agencies, January 16).

It has been known for some time that there are serious differences between Maskhadov, on the one hand, and Basaev, Udugov and Khattab–the Jordanian or Saudi born field commander–on the other. These contradictions came out into the open between the two military campaigns in Chechnya, and in July 1998 large-scale armed confrontations broke out in Gudermes between Maskhadov’s military units and Islamist fighters, which killed more than fifty people. Maskhadov blamed “Wahhabis” for this violence–using the catch-all term used in Chechnya for Islamic fundamentalists–and began active measures to neutralize them. He issued a decree liquidating the Sharia Guard and a special Islamic battalion, both made up of fundamentalists. He also ordered the deportation of four foreigners from Chechnya for proselytizing on behalf of “Wahhabism.” The fundamentalists in Chechnya, however, were supported by Khattab, Udugov and (partially) Basaev. In August 1998, a month after the internecine battles in Gudermes, Udugov claimed in an interview with the Monitor’s correspondent thatthe term “Wahhabi” was a “canard” put out by Russia’s special services.

Maskhadov’s relations with Khattab, Basaev and Udugov worsened following the August 1999 armed raid into Dagestan, which was organized by Basaev and Khattab and served as one of the main pretexts for the Kremlin’s decision to send troops into Chechnya. Maskhadov at the time publicly condemned the raid. Udugov, on the other hand, supported Khattab’s and Basaev’s actions, claiming that the Chechens had invaded Dagestan to fight “world Zionism” and that their ultimate goal was the “liberation of Jerusalem.” Following the introduction of Russian troops into Chechnya, however, the rival field commanders decided to drop their disagreements and unite against the invaders, just as they had done when Russian troops entered Chechnya in December 1994.

That Maskhadov has criticized his rivals so harshly while the conflict with the federal forces is continuing may mean that their conflict has become very serious indeed. However it is too early to draw definite conclusions. It cannot be ruled out that Maskhadov’s putative demarche was a provocation organized by Russia’s special services. In fact, the Chechen rebels’ Radio Kavkaz denies having interviewed Maskhadov and claims that what is being quoted is an interview he gave in the summer of 2000. Khalid Khamzatov, Radio Kavkaz’s editor, dismissed the whole story involving Maskhadov’s alleged denunciation of his rivals as a propaganda action by Russia’s special services. This view was shared by the rebel military headquarters, which was quoted as saying that the story was simply another episode in the “information war” (, January 16).

Russia’s special services have in the past tried to cause splits among the Chechen rebel leaders. Last December, the newspaper Izvestia published an article, apparently inspired by the Russian special services, which claimed that Maskhadov had agreed to stop fighting if he would be allowed to leave for Malaysia, where his family is living.

Meanwhile, Nikolai Britvin, deputy to Viktor Kazantsev, the presidential representative in the Southern federal district, this week accused Maskhadov’s representatives of having derailed negotiations for a possible political settlement to the Chechen conflict. Britvin said that the conditions Maskhadov’s representatives had put forward are “unacceptable.” For his part, Maskhadov’s representative, Akhmed Zakaev, said that the Chechens had not put forward any conditions, that they were ready for negotiations without any conditions and blamed the federal side for the breakdown of the negotiations. Zakaev and Kazantsev met one time last November at Moscow’s Sheremetevo Airport. Britvin did not rule out further meetings, if they are held according to the federal conditions. However, Anatoly Kvashnin, head of the Russian armed forces general staff, declared that “there is no possibility for negotiations with Aslan Maskhadov, Shamil Basaev and Khattab.” The newspaper Kommersant said the new hard line from the Russian side was the result of the latest military “successes” by the federal forces, particularly the recent antiguerrilla operations in Argun (Kommersant,, January 15).