Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 3

The wave of violence in the North Caucasus continued yesterday when unidentified gunmen ambushed a police patrol in the republic of Ingushetia, killing four officers and wounding an undetermined number of others. Ingush law enforcement officials claimed that the attackers, reportedly ten of them, fled into Chechnya, toward the town of Sernovodsk, after ambushing the policemen near the village of Aki-Yurt, which is close to the Ingushetian-Chechen border. Chechen officials, however, cast doubt on this version: Aslanbek Arsaev, head of Chechnya’s Ministry of Sharia State Security, told Russian news agencies that there was no “objective confirmation” that the attackers had fled into Chechnya, and suggested it was another example of Ingush officials hastily putting the blame on Chechens. Arsaev conceded that armed criminal groups were operating on Chechen territory, but said a “large-scale” operation was underway to neutralize them (Russian agencies, January 5).

In fact, the Chechen authorities announced yesterday that they had captured the previous night a twelve-man gang which had been involved in kidnapping and robberies along the Rostov-Baku highway. Sharpudi Tasuev, who heads Chechnya’s anti-abduction directorate, said the band had been responsible for, among other things, the kidnapping of a 13-year-old boy in Djohar, the Chechen capital. Tasuev said there were 189 abductions in Chechnya in 1998, and claimed his agency had freed 119 hostages. He said 117 people were currently being held hostage on Chechen territory (Russian agencies, January 5).

In the meantime, the stand-off between Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and his opponents kept the republic’s political atmosphere near the boiling point. The Supreme Sharia Court received an application yesterday from a group of Maskhadov’s supporters–including Deputy Prime Minister Turpal Atgeriev, presidential chief of staff Apti Batalov and National Guard Commander Magomet Khambiev–demanding that field commander Shamil Basaev, Chechnya’s former prime minister and a key Maskhadov foe, be put on trial for “discrediting” the Chechen president. Ramzan Ibuev, the court’s chairman, told Itar-Tass that the court will hear the case in a few days. On Monday (January 4), Khambiev alleged during a television interview that Basaev had received US$2 million from CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovsky (Russian agencies, January 5).

The case brought against Basaev by Maskhadov’s supporters was widely seen as a response to the attempts by the so-called “commanders’ council”–made up of Basaev, Salman Raduev and Khunkar Israpilov–to have Maskhadov removed from office, for allegedly violating Chechnya’s constitution by trying to move the breakaway republic back toward Moscow’s orbit. Last month, the Supreme Sharia Court suspended Chechnya’s parliament, fired its speaker and urged the legislature’s replacement with a Shura–a kind of council of notables. The court’s move was interpreted by some as following the wishes of the opposition field commanders. The court did, in fact, condemn Maskhadov for having violated the constitution, but said that his violations were not sufficient to have him removed from office.

Maskhadov received backing yesterday from Chechnya’s mufti (religious leader), Akhmed-Khadzhi Kadyrov, who charged that the rebel field commanders are pursuing “their own personal mercenary interests and are remote from the needs of the people” (Russian agencies, January 5).