It would appear that separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov now has a new representative in Moscow. At least, Salambek Maigov’s claim to have been appointed to that position on February 3 has not been directly contradicted by any authoritative spokesman for Maskhadov since Maigov’s Moscow press conference of February 13. Maigov conceded to the reporters at that gathering that he had not spoken directly with the head of Chechnya’s underground separatist government about his appointment, but said that he and Maskhadov have been communicating with each other by fax, audiocassette and courier.
Maigov represents a sharp contrast to the romantic guerrilla fighters who have inspired both fear and grudging respect among Russians. He has lived for most of his life in Moscow, and unlike many members of the Chechen diaspora chose not to return to his ancestral homeland in order to take up arms in either of the post-Soviet Chechen wars. He holds a graduate degree from Moscow’s prestigious Institute of World Economy and International Relations, is said to be well-connected in Russian political circles, and even holds a leadership position in a Russian political movement, the Eurasian Party.
While he opposes the March 23 referendum–any other view would destroy his credibility among both Chechens and independent human-rights activists–Maigov also likes to repeat that “Politics is the art of the possible.” In a live interview with the Ekho Moskvy radio station on February 13, he was asked whether Maskhadov had changed his position and is no longer insisting on independence for Chechnya. He pointedly declined to answer.
Maigov took pains to assure his audience that he is not a replacement for the popular Akhmed Zakaev, now in London where he is fighting a Kremlin attempt to extradite him for alleged acts of terrorism. (The Moscow daily “Kommersant” had reported on February 12 that people in Zakaev’s circle had called the announcement of the Maigov appointment “a canard,” and that Zakaev himself had refused to comment on it.) As Maigov explained the situation, Zakaev represents the separatist president in Western Europe while Maigov represents him in Moscow. He told the Ekho Moskvy audience that he intended to act strictly within the limits set for him by his appointment and that he did not have plenipotentiary authority to engage in negotiations on Maskhadov’s behalf.
According to Kommersant, Maigov did not maintain any links with the separatist government led by Dzhokhar Dudaev in the early and mid-1990s. But in 1997, after the first war, he ran for president of the de facto independent republic. He received less than one percent of the vote, and it is hard to imagine that he could have expected to do better after having spent the war years in Moscow. Nonetheless, he went on to found a political movement called “Chechen Solidarity;” in September 2001, a year after the beginning of the second Chechen war, he tried to hold an all-Chechen congress in Ingushetia with the announced purpose of creating a coalition government to include both pro-Moscow and pro-Maskhadov members. The congress was banned by the Ingush authorities and never got off the ground.
Another indication of Maigov’s position in the political spectrum is that the leadership of his Eurasian Party includes another prominent Chechen: Abdul-Khakim Sultygov, President Putin’s special representative for the observance of human rights in Chechnya.
But despite Maigov’s moderate profile, the Kremlin refused to extend an olive branch to him. According to the website Gazeta.ru, Justice Ministry officials said on February 13 that the Eurasian Party would have to expel Maigov if he does indeed hold the post which he now claims. Justice Ministry spokesman Boris Kalyagin said that “Aslan Maskhadov is a terrorist leader, and a man who calls himself his representative cannot take part in any election. Terrorist organizations are illegal in this country and they will be prosecuted in accordance with the law on fighting terrorism, including their representatives, leaders and activists.” Putin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky responded to the new appointment by declaring that Moscow would not hold talks with the envoy of “a non-existent president of a non-existent state.”