Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 1 Issue: 5

The no. 46 issue of Moskovskie novosti features the text of a new, lengthy interview with Aslan Maskhadov, the president of Chechnya. A correspondent for the weekly had, through intermediaries, submitted a series of questions to Maskhadov, and the Chechen president had then sent back an audiocassette containing his replies. Maskhadov’s location was not indicated. (It should be noted in this regard that, on November 18, the first deputy Russian military chief of staff, Valery Manilov, stated during a press conference in Beijing that “warlord” Maskhadov was still in Chechnya [Itar-Tass]).

In his taped comments, Maskhadov underscored his conviction that the Russian generals running the present war have finally understood that they “have stepped on the same rake as they did in the first [1994-1996] war.” “A protracted war is being transformed into a partisan war, and no large army has ever won a partisan war…. They have deceived their president by saying that they would offer to him a rapid victory.” By now, Maskhadov observed, all the Russian military and police based in Chechnya as well as the pro-Moscow Chechen administration understand that “they will have to leave [Chechnya].” Before they depart, however, they are all trying to make a great deal of money as fast as they can. “The activists from the [pro-Moscow Chechen] temporary administration are carrying out oil by the trainload. The contract soldiers–who are common marauders–are under the guise of ‘mopping-up’ operations carting off literally everything: drinking mugs, spoons, kitchen ware, everything which remains in the possession of the people.” In an understanding with Chechen “traitors,” the commanders of Russian military units and their men are taking innocent Chechen civilians hostage under the pretext that they lack a certain stamp in their internal passports or a certain pass and are then selling them back to their relatives. At checkpoints manned by OMON police special forces, they, in agreement with the pro-Moscow “militia,” engage in open extortion.

As for the Chechen separatists, they, according to Maskhadov, have divided themselves into “small maneuver groups,” consisting of ten to fifteen men, spread over the entire territory of Chechnya. These groups then strike at Russian military columns, military headquarters and checkpoints. This strategy is costing the Russian military “two to three times more losses” than would regular frontal conflicts. Dismissing Russian government and military reports that large numbers of foreign “mercenaries” are fighting in Chechnya, Maskhadov emphasized that it is the “Chechen people” who are doing the great bulk of the fighting; in addition, he said, there are perhaps “fifty or sixty Arabs” remaining in Chechnya from the first war, as well as a few Dagestanis, Ingush and Kabardians.