Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 127

On Monday evening, President Aslan Maskhadov–appearing on Chechen television wearing a military uniform for the first time since his election as president–called on the nation to rally around the Chechen leadership and to fight against kidnappers, those who steal oil and those who traffic in drugs.

On June 23, Maskhadov declared a state of emergency in Chechnya, putting all of its ministries and government departments on a war footing and taking personal charge of a crackdown on crime which, he said, was his main aim in declaring emergency rule. (Kommersant-daily, July 1) Observers believe Maskhadov will use the anti-crime drive as a smokescreen to crack down on the republic’s private armies and, in particular, to neutralize warlord Salman Raduev. In fact, crime and the militias are intertwined. As the BBC’s Tom de Waal reported after a recent visit to Chechnya, the republic has no functioning economy. There is no money for investment and there are no jobs. People have little choice but to turn to crime and kidnapping as a significant source of income. Gangs have earned so much money this way that they are able afford top-grade weaponry and are now far better equipped than the police. (BBC, July 1)

Maskhadov has denied that there is a threat of a coup in Chechnya, or that the state of emergency has anything to do with the increased activity of Salman Raduev and the June 21 seizure of the television center in Djohar. But many observers believe he will try to use the three weeks of emergency rule to disarm Chechnya’s regional warlords and their militias. An indirect sign of this is the order issued by Chechnya’s Supreme Shariah Court (which is controlled by the president) banning vigilante justice based on blood revenge and imposing the death penalty for those found guilty of observing the custom. (Kommersant-daily, July 1) Blood revenge has so far been one of the main obstacles preventing Maskhadov from settling accounts with rogue field commanders. According to the law of blood revenge, the entire clan of a murdered man is obligated to kill his murderers in return. It is this custom which restrains Maskhadov, who fears–and not without reason–that decisive action could provoke civil war in Chechnya.