Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, who in the past consistently stressed his readiness for political negotiations with the Kremlin, has delivered a message promising stepped up attacks in Chechnya, Ingushetia, and beyond, and that rebel forces will kill the winner of the next Chechen presidential election, set for August 29.
In a “video interview,” the transcript of which was posted on the Kavkazcenter.com and Chechenpress.info websites on August 1, Maskhadov said he had “approved” the June raid on law-enforcement and governmental installations in Ingushetia, that it had been conceived and prepared by the rebel Military Committee, and that it was “revenge” for depredations committed against Ingush and Chechens by federal and local pro-Kremlin forces in Ingushetia. “The war in Ingushetia started from the time that Ruslan Aushev, who was elected [president] and recognized by the people, was removed from office and FSB employee [Murat] Zyazikov was put in his place,” Maskhadov said. “It was precisely the Russian special services that unleashed war against both Chechen refugees and their own Ingush. Bulldozers were used against the refugees. They were deprived of light and gas. They were murdered. Accusing many local inhabitants of helping the mujahideen, they [the Russian special services-EDM] surrounded their homes with Ingush troops, APCs, set [their homes] on fire, killed, and tortured their owners. . . . Witnessing this, the number of those wanting to fight on our side, including our Ingush brothers, increased.”
According to Maskhadov, 950-1000 “mujahideen” gathered from the rebels’ Ingush, Suzhensk, and Achkoi-Martan “sectors” participated in the Ingushetia operation, which was under the command of veteran Chechen rebel field commander Dokku Umarov. This account differs somewhat from one given by Kavkazcenter.com on July 26, which said that both Umarov and rebel field commander Shamil Basayev were in charge of the operation. This posting quoted Basayev as saying that 570 rebels had taken part in the raid and contained a video segment of Basayev and Maskhadov (see EDM July 30).
In any case, both the July 26 and August 1 postings make it clear that while Maskhadov did not participate in the June operation in Ingushetia, it had his blessing. Further, Maskhadov indicated in the August 1 message that there will be more such operations. “That fact that 1,000 mujahideen entered three cities [in Ingushetia-EDM], completely carried out their tasks in the time allotted, and came back with [only] several wounded shows that the operation was successful,” Maskhadov’s statement read. “We have the capability to carry out such operations in Ichkeria, in Ingushetia, and in Russia. And we will prove that.”
Maskhadov reserved perhaps his greatest wrath for members of Chechnya’s pro-Moscow administration, whom he called “traitors” and “hypocrites.” Referring to the August 29 presidential election necessitated by the May 9 assassination of Akhmad Kadyrov, Maskhadov said: “It makes no difference to us who Putin names: that person only has the time left until the hand of the mujahid reaches him. Allah decides everyone’s term.” Maskhadov also said his forces will not “cross the boundary of what is allowed by Allah” and thus will “not touch the fathers and mothers, sisters, and brothers of the hypocrites.” However, he added: “But I swear to Allah — and this is my vow to the mujahideen who remain alive — that there will be no place in our country for those hypocrites who do not repent. They must be harshly punished within the boundaries of what Allah permits.” The war in Chechnya, Maskhadov said, will end when “the troops withdraw, the people pause for breath, and the president is a person chosen by the people themselves” (Kavkazcenter.com, Chechenpress.info, August 1).
Maskhadov’s hard-line rhetoric was not entirely out of the blue. In a July e-mail, he told Reuters that negotiations were only “one of the paths to ending the fighting” and “not an end in themselves,” adding, “as sad as it sounds, I think the current Russian-Chechen war will outlive Putin.” He also suggested that his forces would strike targets around Russia. “As for Chechens carrying fighting into Russian territory, my opinion is: this would be absolutely legitimate — in any case, no less legitimate than the allies in World War II carrying fighting into the territory of Hitler’s Germany,” he wrote. “If Chechens possessed warplanes or rockets, then air strikes on Russian cities would also be legitimate.” In the e-mail, Maskhadov called the August 29 election a “farce” (Reuters, July 18; see also EDM, July 27).
Meanwhile, the Associated Press on August 1 quoted an anonymous official of the pro-Moscow administration as saying that thirteen servicemen, including seven Russian soldiers, three Federal Security Service officers, and three Chechen police officers had been killed over the previous 24-hour period.