Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has appointed former acting Prime Minister Shamil Basaev as deputy commander-in-chief of the republic’s armed forces. Basaev and his associates have been charged with mobilizing 5,000 reservists of the Chechen army, who are to maintain order in the republic during the current state of emergency and crackdown on crime. At the same time, Maskhadov disbanded Chechnya’s Shariah Guards and Special Islamic Battalion, because fighters from both these units took part–on the antigovernment side–in last week’s clashes in Gudermes. The commanders of both units have been stripped of their military ranks. (NTV, June 20; see also the Monitor, July 16, 20)
These actions demonstrate Maskhadov’s determination to neutralize the rogue field commanders who have taken the side of the Islamic radicals. The president is going for broke: either Maskhadov will show that he is in charge in the republic, or he will be replaced by the radicals who accuse him of appeasing Moscow. But Maskhadov has no hope of asserting his control unless he has Basaev on his side.
Basaev became a national hero in Chechnya after leading the June 1995 raid on Budennovsk. He was Maskhadov’s main rival in last year’s presidential election, getting about 30 percent of the vote. Many observers saw Basaev’s recent resignation as prime minister as a sign of a dramatic decline in the president’s influence in the republic, since Basaev’s alliance with Maskhadov was all that had restrained many influential field commanders from going over to the side of the president’s enemies.
The fact that Maskhadov has now succeeded in persuading Basaev to become deputy commander-in-chief is an undoubted victory for the Chechen president. Maskhadov has managed to show the population that he continues to enjoy the support of Chechnya’s most influential field commander. The result is a paradox: Basaev–a man on Russia’s “most wanted” list–finds himself objectively “on Moscow’s side,” since his appointment as deputy commander is the main factor now preventing the radicals, who oppose any compromise with Moscow, from coming to power in Chechnya.
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