On May 2 the Turan News Agency in Baku, Azerbaijan released a lengthy summary of a recent interview conducted with the Chechen separatist president of Chechnya, Aslan Maskhadov. The interview was translated into English by BBC Monitoring and posted on May 3. As spring has arrived in Chechnya, Maskhadov remarked, the separatists have stepped up the activities of their mobile detachments and sabotage groups. The separatists are launching strikes against Russian checkpoints, commandant’s offices, columns and other military targets every day. The Russian side, for its part, is “carefully concealing its losses.” Some Russian units and subunits are being withdrawn from Chechnya, but only those “that have slipped out of the control of the command and that the generals do not know what to do with.” The units that are being withdrawn are being secretly replaced with others; in this way, the Russian authorities are deceiving both their own people and the world community.
During the interview, Maskhadov expressed confidence that the separatists would soon reach their goal of expelling the Russians from the republic. “Our forces,” he said, “are getting ready for strong, large-scale operations, which will put an end to the second military campaign in Chechnya.” Despite the presence of Russian elite troops throughout Chechnya, the separatists have succeeded in creating a well-organized system to coordinate their subunits, the police and even civilian structures. Maskhadov claimed that there was a mobile separatist detachment in every Chechen village, the head of which also directs civilian structures there. “There is no central television, but each sector commander has his own TV, radio and information and analytical departments.”
Despite the marked strengthening of their position, the separatists, Maskhadov underlined, remain interested in negotiating a settlement with the Russian leadership. The Russian side, in his view, is, however, reluctant to start talks, although it understands that the war has become “meaningless” from its point of view. Negotiations, Maskhadov said, “should start in accordance with the requirements of three Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) sessions, without any conditions.” The main requirement for establishing relations with the Russian Federation, he emphasized, “is security guarantees for Chechens. Apart from this, Chechnya should be a subject of international law.” As long as Chechnya remains under Russian law, “the threat of genocide” by the Russian state will remain.
Asked what kind of state the Chechens wanted, Maskhadov responded: “We will build a state in which Islamic principles will coexist with the customs, traditions and character of the Chechen people. There will be no Wahhabism, no fundamentalism, no extremism.” Maskahdov’s main desire, he emphasized, is “to stop the war, build a normal state and create civilized relations with all neighbors.”
Earlier, on April 23, Maskahdov had appeared on Chechen separatist television and “issued an ultimatum to the Russian soldiers and officers.” In the ultimatum, delivered in Russian and Chechen language, he “gave the Russian military command two months for the withdrawal of the occupation troops from the Chechen state. In the opposite case, after expiration of this term, the Armed Forces of the Chechen state will,” he said, “begin large-scale military operations for the elimination of the Russian occupiers” (Chechenpress.com, April 27).
Commenting on these and other such recent statements, President Putin’s official spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, opined that “Maskhadov is suffering from megalomania.” In point of fact, he said, “the terrorists’ capabilities have been reduced to isolated acts of sabotage” (Glasnost-Caucasus Daily News Service, May 2).
Writing in the May 3 issue of The Independent (London), correspondent Patrick Cockburn summed up what he had seen during a recent visit to the republic: “In a trip through the villages of western Chechnya, an area held by Russian troops for almost eighteen months,” Cockburn wrote, “everybody I interviewed believed the present desultory guerilla war would inevitably grow. This wholly contradicts the official line espoused by President Putin.” “One well-informed Chechen,” Cockburn continued, “who did not want his name published, said: ‘In every village and town in Chechnya there are between fifty and 200 [people] preparing their weapons and uniforms in order to fight. He said that many Chechens [had] opposed armed resistance to the Russians because the three years of de facto Chechen independence, between 1996 and 1999, had been disastrous, with crime and kidnapping rife. ‘The real watershed for Chechens was in August and September last year,’ he believes. ‘They found that the occupation was very cruel and the Russians did not care if you were pro-Russian or wanted to stay neutral.'”