March 8 also marked the first anniversary of the killing of Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov, which was the subject of commentary in both the Russian media and on separatist websites.
In a statement posted March 8 on the separatist Chechenpress news agency’s website, separatist President Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev said a year had passed since “the Kremlin criminals, craftily luring [him] supposedly for ‘peace negotiations,’ in bad faith murdered the ChRI president, our brother and mentor, a glorious son of the Chechen people Aslan Maskhadov (a shahid, Inshallah!). That crime completely revealed the foul essence of our enemies, stripped of even the rudiments of military honor. To kill craftily, staging ‘negotiations;’ to poison; to blackmail by taking relatives hostage—these are the methods of these vile monsters, against whom the Chechen mujahideen are conducting a holy jihad.” Sadulaev was referring to the version of events first reported by Anna Politkovskaya in Novaya gazeta that Maskhadov was “lulled by the promises” of Andreas Gross, the Swiss parliamentary deputy and former Chechnya rapporteur for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), that a political settlement of the conflict was possible, and that Russia’s special services managed to locate him in the village of Tolstoi-Yurt by tracing SMS messages he had sent from his cellphone (see Chechnya Weekly, September 22, 2005).
Chechenpress posted similar statements marking the anniversary of Maskhadov’s death from members of the separatist Chechen parliament, including its speaker, Zhalaudina Saralyapov.
Kavkazky Uzel on March 8 quoted a 65 year-old Grozny resident, Idris Tsamaev, as saying: “No one might say it today, but Aslan Maskhadov was the democratically elected president of Chechnya. One has to recognize that. In addition, he was recognized by the international community and by Russia itself. Yes, he made many mistakes, he did not live up to many of our hopes, but it was possible and necessary to reach an agreement with him to stop this senseless and unnecessary war.” A former lawyer, Mikhail Sataev, told the website: “I, probably like a majority of the inhabitants of our republic, was deeply shaken not so much by the fact that Maskhadov was killed, but by the showing of his body on Russian television channels. It was reminiscent of medieval mockery of the body of a fallen enemy. For some reason the Russian leadership refused to hold negotiations with the elected Chechen president, declaring him a terrorist, although no one presented any evidence of this, and now they solemnly receive the leaders of Hamas, which is recognized in a number of countries as a terrorist organization. In addition, the refusal to return the body of Aslan Maskhadov to his relatives also does not bring honor to the Kremlin.”
In an item posted on March 8 on gzt.ru, the website of the Gazeta newspaper, Dmitry Balburov and Rustem Falyakhov wrote: “Maskhadov was doomed. Not because he headed (at least formally) the weaker side of the military conflict, but because he was an extremely inconvenient figure not only for the federal center, but also for the Chechen radicals. Besides several tens of devoted fighters, he had no one he could depend on. The former Soviet army colonel condemned terrorism, offered himself as the main negotiator with the bandits in Beslan under minimal security guarantees, announced his readiness to hand Shamil Basaev over to an international [war crimes] tribunal. He told Western media that Vladimir Putin was ‘deeply mistaken’ about the situation in the republic, relying on doubtful information supplied to him by the generals and Chechen ‘puppets.’ He convinced everyone, and above all himself, that the war could be ended in 30 minutes after a personal meeting with Putin. With all of these actions, Maskhadov only harmed himself—in Moscow, his readiness to make peace was not believed; in Chechnya, he was suspected of cowardice and even treason. However, because of a strange concatenation of circumstances, he was liquidated only when the likelihood of peace negotiations with the separatists drew near. The death of Maskhadov changed little from an operational standpoint, but very much from a political standpoint.”
The two Gazeta writers also compared Maskhadov with the man likely to become Chechnya’s next president. “Experts said then [after Maskhadov’s death] that all chances for a peaceful exit from the circle of violence that had lasted for more than a decade in Chechnya had disappeared, and that Moscow had rid itself of the last person among the militants with whom it was possible to conduct at least some sort of dialogue,” they wrote. “The replacement for the former Soviet colonel has already gathered full force, recruited new armed followers, found new useful contacts on Staraya Ploschad [offices of the presidential administration in Moscow], in addition to the one, most important contact. It is, of course, Ramzan Kadyrov. If a year ago his influence in the republic was determined to no small degree by his father’s name and Vladimir Putin’s personal patronage, today the red-bearded fighter by the strength of his character has turned into a self-sufficient and powerful internal political factor. In daily life, the professionally qualified artilleryman and mathematician Aslan Maskhadov looked cultured, even shy. The brutal Ramzan Kadyrov (it is said in Chechnya that he has incomplete secondary education) lets it be known with all of his expressions that it is better not to stand in his way. Maskhadov very much valued the power of words, spoke slowly—carefully choosing his words—but very eloquently. Kadyrov with all of his rural pronunciations and slangy lexicon loves bombastic oaths and promises. Maskhadov was respected for courage in extreme situations and the ability to hear out an opponent…Kadyrov is simply feared: the entire republic knows full well that in moments of contention he stops at nothing. The former colonel [Maskhadov] could not become the leader of all the Chechens precisely because of his relative softness. The former militant [Kadyrov] will hardly become a national leader precisely on account of his excessive harshness. The portrait of the best Chechen president still stands to be painted by the Kremlin artists—if they indeed really are interested in such a picture.”
Similarly, Andrei Babitsky said in discussion on the anniversary of Maskhadov’s death aired March 8 on Radio Liberty that Maskhadov’s weakness was his strength. “He was a person who could never carry through this or that model of behavior, radical or the opposite, to its conclusion,” the Radio Liberty correspondent said. “He always stopped somewhere midway, and therefore he was not a radical by temperament, intellect, [or] politics…And in that sense he was an obstacle to certain processes of radicalization inside the resistance.”
In the same Radio Liberty discussion, the London-based Chechen separatist emissary, Akhmed Zakaev, agreed that Maskhadov was a barrier to the radical tendencies of Shamil Basaev. “Maskhadov was by nature an idealist, and for him the methods that Shamil Basaev allowed and permitted himself were unacceptable. While Maskhadov was alive, there was a clear-cut orientation of all the people who were seeking not only a military victory over Russia, but were seeking concrete goals—that is, the building of an independent Chechen state. And now, I think, that issue has somewhat faded…as a result of this long war. Today military-political centers have formed in all of the North Caucasian regions, and, unquestionably, Chechnya is the detonator of these centrifugal forces that have formed in the North Caucasus, in the Chechen republic, and the leadership of Chechnya cannot limit itself strictly to the national interests of the Chechen state or the Chechen people, because very many people from the North Caucasian republics and nationalities stand under the flag of the struggle in the North Caucasus.”
Former Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov, for his part, insisted that Maskhadov refused to negotiate with Moscow. Kulikov, who currently sits on the State Duma’s Security Committee, told Ekho Moskvy radio on March 8 that Maskhadov was repeatedly offered the chance to sit down to negotiations “beginning in 1995 and up to the last days,” but that “he stubbornly refused this and even assisted the terrorists.”
Meanwhile, polit.ru reported on March 8 that the Committee for Anti-War Actions and the Anti-War Club were planning to hold a demonstration in Moscow on March 9 to protest the war in Chechnya and demand that Aslan Maskhadov’s body be turned over to his relatives. Demonstrations marking the anniversary of Maskhadov’s death were also scheduled to take place in Warsaw and Istanbul on March 8-9. Maskhadov’s son, Anzor, told Ekho Moskvy that he and his family would not end their efforts to recover Maskhadov’s body from the Russian authorities.