“Whatever the case, the Kaspiisk bombing came on the heels of fresh Russian claims of victories against the Chechen rebels, over and above Khattab’s reported assassination. Top Russian officials variously claimed to have information that Khattab’s comrade-in-arms, Shamil Basaev, had also been killed; that three field commanders loyal to Aslan Maskhadov, the rebel leader and Chechen president who was once recognized by Moscow, had been killed in an ambush; that thirty-seven heavily armed rebels had converged on Tsentroe, hometown of Akhmed Kadyrov, the head of Chechnya’s pro-Moscow administration, and laid down their arms. But while Russian state television showed video footage of this putative surrender, some observers remained skeptical: Vyacheslav Izmailov, a former Russian army major and Afghan War veteran who is Novaya Gazeta’s military correspondent and has much experience in Chechnya, speculated that both the mass surrender and Khattab’s death were proof that the rebels had gone into movie-making and were in search of an Oscar.
Russian claims aside, the war in Chechnya ground onward, with the usual slew of reports of rebels ambushing troop columns and Chechen villagers wounded or killed during security sweeps by Russian troops. Indeed, Memorial claimed that some 2,000 people detained by Russian forces in Chechnya had disappeared without a trace and more than 1,000 had been killed during Russian counterinsurgency operations in the breakaway republic since July 2000. The human rights group also produced evidence suggesting that Order No. 80, issued this past March by General Vladimir Moltenskoi, commander of the Russian forces in Chechnya, with the ostensible aim of imposing greater control over and discipline on forces carrying out security sweeps, was being ignored completely.