Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 10

Aslan Maskhadov’s last interview before his death was posted by Chechenpress on March 4. According to the separatist new agency, the questions were submitted to Maskhadov by “correspondents of world news agencies, including Chechen agencies.” Radio Liberty said the questions that the Chechen separatist leader answered had been submitted by its North Caucasus Service via the Internet two weeks earlier.

In the interview, the Chechen rebel leader said he believed a half-hour tête-à-tête with President Vladimir Putin would be enough to bring the Chechen war to an end. “It seems to me that the president of the Russian Federation has been profoundly led astray, and the people to blame are, first and foremost, his special services, the federal forces’ generals, his closest advisors and, especially, his local puppets,” Maskhadov said. “It is my profound conviction that Putin just doesn’t realize what is really going on in Chechnya today…We believe that 30 minutes of honest dialogue face to face is enough to stop this war and to explain to the president of the Russian Federation what the Chechens want – I am certain that he doesn’t know this – and to hear from Putin’s own lips what he wants and what Russia wants in Chechnya. And we don’t know this either. To get this dialogue going all that is needed is to think about the following: Ichkeria requires a guarantee of the security of the Chechen people, and Russia the protection of its regional and defense interests in the North Caucasus. If we are able to open the eyes of our opponents, the Russian leaders, this war can be stopped.”

Maskhadov insisted that rebel forces had obeyed his unilateral ceasefire, which expired on February 23. “I don’t believe there are units on Chechen territory that would ignore my order,” he told Chechenpress. “In my opinion, there are not even such units in Ingushetia, Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessia. These are not empty words; [it is] simply the way things are. All the fighting units in Chechnya and in the neighboring republics are subordinate to the leaders of the Chechen resistance.” Maskhadov indicated that the fighting that did occur during the ceasefire was due to the fact that “the opposing side” conducted mopping up operations and other offensive actions.

Asked whether he really thought “a war” was taking place in the republics neighboring Chechnya, Maskhadov answered: “Already at the beginning of this war it was clear that it was impossible to keep it within the Chechen borders. Exactly the same punitive operations as in Chechnya had begun in Ingushetia, Dagestan, North Ossetia and Kabardino-Balkaria. The FSB and the federal troops imposed this war on all these republics. There was no need to blame Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda for this. I am sure that Bin Laden has never even seen these republics on a map. After that, we were forced to widen the front of the military resistance. I issued orders to form additional sectors: the Ingushetian, Kabardino-Balkarian, Dagestani and other sectors. Emirs were appointed to all these sectors and today they are all subordinate to the Chechen resistance’s military leadership.”

Maskhadov denied that the kidnappings of his relatives had forced him to announce the unilateral ceasefire: “That wasn’t the case. What is the difference – my relatives or the relatives of my mujahideen who met the same fate a long time ago? What will change from all this if my relatives follow theirs? They are all the same to us. The Almighty will reward everyone for what they have done and for their part in this holy war.”

The rebel leader was critical of the West for “biding its time, playing with Putin, trying to solve its global strategic tasks – regional problems, energy problems, and so on.” “[T]he Russian leadership today, taking advantage of this, continues to commit monstrous crimes on Chechen territory,” he said. “You probably heard what Putin said recently, reproaching the Americans: ‘You are fighting in Iraq, killing Muslims, so why can’t we do this in Chechnya?’ Or, for example, here is another of his statements: ‘You hold elections in Afghanistan in order to control things there. We are holding similar elections in Chechnya. Why can’t we?’ Well, imagine the peoples of the Caucasus, Iraq, Afghanistan – they can be killed. Someone can be appointed. In other words, these people have been turned into animals. There is no opposition today to the violation of rights and freedoms of whole peoples. And therefore small peoples, very unfortunately, are left with only one thing – to take up arms and defend their rights and their freedom.”

Without negotiations, “the war will go on,” Maskhadov said. “I can say for certain that the Chechen mujahideen will fight to the end in this struggle, and the flames of this war will engulf the entire North Caucasus. The Russian people will constantly experience the fear of possible retribution from the shahid-suicide bombers in revenge for all the atrocities of the FSB and the federal forces in Chechnya. If today’s Russian politicians do not have enough common sense to stop this war, others will take their place in the future who will stop it, but with great ignominy. We have plenty of patience. Thank God, the Almighty has not deprived us of patience! When the interests of the Western powers and Russia in the Caucasus specifically collide, when the leaders of the Western states realize the degree of danger that comes from Russia for the whole civilized world, then everyone will queue up to ask us, the Chechens, to agree to stop this war. We can wait.”