Prism Interview: “We Set Off For Budennovsk With A One-Way Ticket”
"We Set Off for Budennovsk with a ‘One-Way Ticket’…"
A Prism Interview With Shamil Basayev’s Deputy, Aslambek Abdulkhadzhiev
Aslambek Abdulkhadzhiev is a deputy and right-hand man of Shamil Basayev, the commander of the reconnaissance & sabotagebattalion and the organizer of the act of terrorism in Budennovsk.Formally Aslambek Abdulkhadzhiev, as any other member of Basayev’sgroup, is a man wanted by the Russian special services for his part in the terrorist act in Budennovsk. However, the fact isthat he has recently returned to his native settlement (Shali),lives there almost openly and performs his duties as the Shaliarea commissioner. The interview was conducted for Prismby Marina Perevozkina.
PRISM: What are your duties today?
AA: I am the commissioner of the Shali area. The area includes the Vedeno district, the city of Argun and the Shalidistrict. Simultaneously I am the commandant of the Shali district.I have held the latter post ever since Dudayev appointed me in1994.
PRISM: Do you enjoy full power in the area? Are there Khadzhiev government structures present in the area?
AA: Khadzhiev belongs to the occupation regime. He is a Chechen but at the same time he is a representative of the RussianFederation. Both [Salambek] Khadzhiev [chairman of the ChechenNational Salvation government- Ed.] and [Umar] Avturkhanov [chairmanof the Chechen Provisional Council- Ed.] were appointed by adecree of the Russian president. They exercise power in those regions which are controlled by the Russian troops. Their representativesare present in the area today but they enjoy power only as longas the Russian tanks are here.
PRISM: Are there Russian tanks in Shali still?
AA: What difference does it make? The range of tank fire is 13 kilometers, while they are currently positioned two kilometersfrom the outskirts of Shali. Therefore, it can be said that theystay in Shali.
PRISM: Is this in line with the agreement?
AA: The agreement reads: The Russians shall pull their troops a distance away from the positions as soon as the Chechensbegin to hand in their arms; when the disarmament is completedthe Russian troops shall be withdrawn from the republic. Therefore,they have moved their troops a distance away from Shali, however,their military commandant’s office still remains in the city.I asked the Russian military commandant: "What are your aims and tasks here?" He shrugged his shoulders and said something about organizing self-defense units and protectingthe facility from possible provocations. They have organizeda "circular defense" in the facility; apparently theyanticipate an attack.
PRISM: So they do nothing but self-defense?
AA: Yes, nothing but self-defense.
PRISM: And you are the real power in the area?
AA: The real power belongs to the people, not to me. It is up to the people to decide what kind of power they want andwho they want to be their leader. Let it be the a precedent inworld history but the right to decide must be handed over tothe people, not to those with big money.
PRISM: How is the disarmament going on in your area?
AA: Shali was seized by the federal troops on March 29th, so in fact disarmament has been underway here since April.Our people rushed to hand in their arms because amnesty was promisedto those who did….
Incidentally, it is obvious that the most of the people assignedby the Russian Federation to exercise power in Chechnya are notvery scrupulous ones. The people who collected arms from ourpeople often used threats. "You must hand in 25 guns perevery thousand of the population," they demanded, "orwe will take you to a filtration camp." The population ofShali is 40,000 people. If we had 1,000 submachine guns herethe federal troops would never have taken Shali. The fact isthat practically all arms have been confiscated from our people.
PRISM: Do you believe the agreement will be fulfilled?
AA: The people here and elsewhere in the republic are against hostilities. They want Russian troops withdrawn and freeelections held in the republic. But as long as Russia relieson her appointees here, who are despised and ostracized by themajority of our people, provocations will continue. I think ifDudayev only agreed to the wording "Chechnya enjoys fullsovereignty but in the composition of the Russian Federation"they would not only stop disarming us but would agree to go home, leaving their arms here. Moreover, they would recognizeDudayev and accept his return to Grozny and would get rid ofKhadzhiev, Avturkhanov and Labazanov.
But this wording is unacceptable for us. For centuries the Chechenshave never accepted that their country would be subservient toa foreign power. Not to Tsarist Russia, nor to Soviet Russia,nor to democratic Russia. Therefore, no Chechen is entitled tosign a treaty on Chechnya’s entry into the confederation of a foreign state. Why should I grant somebody the right to decidewhere I am free and where I am not? All people are born free!
PRISM: And how about you? Aren’t you persecuted? Aren’t
you on the wanted list?
AA: In fact, we ourselves insist on a trial…. The
‘1. Terminating the hostilities and separating troops;
2. Releasing all prisoners;
3. Disarmament, removal, and eventually, withdrawal of
4. Denouncement of terrorism and sabotage, mutual
agreement not to use force, and extradition of Basayev
group by the Chechens.’
As far as I am concerned, all is good in the text and I agreewith it. After all, our motivations (for what we did in Budennovsk)were precisely as stated in the first three items of the agreement.We had set off with one-way tickets: To die or to have the warstopped. Some 150 Chechen men had volunteered because the situation compelled them. A large sum of money was offered to us (by theRussian side during the operation). If money had been our motivewe would have taken it.
PRISM: How much did they offer?
AA: I think, it was a sheer bluff on their part, because
they offered $10 billion.
PRISM: You think they intended to deceive you?
AA: This has not been widely advertised, but they deliveredto us a large attache-case full of US dollars, a sort of a bribe.We did not count the money: We threw it all on the floor andburned it. I really wish that there would be a trial– an openone, with journalists admitted, preferably in an internationalcourt. However, I would agree to a Russian court too. I havea lot of documents at my disposal proving that a state-sponsored terrorism was committed against the Chechen people….
Incidentally, I would like to reply to those who say we foughtsolely against civilians in Budennovsk: The fact is that on ourway through Budennovsk we shot down two helicopters, three aircraftand two armored vehicles — civilians are not supposed to havesuch equipment. The city was cordoned off and we were engagedin a battle for several hours. Fourteen of our men died in thisbattle and another 50 were wounded. If there had been only civiliansin Budennovsk all would have been different. We fought our waythrough the city but we did not shoot civilians on purpose. Yes,we did open fire on the military men and police and we did killthem. We killed five hostages, but we were forced to do it: For5-6 hours [they refused to meet our demand] to send journaliststo meet us.
PRISM: You have said your Budennovsk mission was as ifa "one-way-ticket" journey…
AA: We knew Russia’s aims in Chechnya. Our task was to
have the extermination of the Chechen people stopped
while Russia’s task was to preserve her control over the
territory. Russia waged this war for territory while we
waged the war to preserve our people.
When I heard the first broadcast saying there were 20 terroristsand 40 hostages in the hospital I immediately rushed to the hostagesand told them to call their relatives or friends and report thereal situation: That there are some 200 Chechens and some 5,000hostages. I did this because I was almost sure that with such information (20 and 40) they would simply bomb the facilityto the ground. After that we waited for an attack.. We hopedfor an attack. Because if there had been no attack, the worldwould have viewed it all in a different way. But when they beganto kill their own people, this was to our advantage. However,up until the very last moment when we stepped down from the bussesin Zandak none of us believed we would survive.
PRISM: How did you get this idea: To expand the war to the territory of Russia?
AA: The idea came to our minds when bombs were fallingon our heads. When we understood we have nowhere to go. A typicalsituation: We set our defense lines along the outskirts of asettlement; helicopters arrive and men with loudspeakers announcethat if the militants do not leave the settlement it will bebombed. We analyzed the tactics of the Russian troops on theChechen territory and concluded that only diamond cuts diamond.Therefore, we concluded, the only way to have the war stoppedwas to retaliate in the same way.
PRISM: If, God forbid, hostilities resume, would you do
the same again?
AA: Hostilities will resume only if [the Russians] insist
again that Chechnya is part of the territory of the
Russian Federation. If they consider it acceptable to
wage a war in one part of the Russian Federation then why
shouldn’t a war be waged in other parts of the Russian
Federation? If they say to us that Chechnya is part of
the Russian Federation and simultaneously crowd us high
into the mountains then why should we think that the
Russian Federation ends in these mountains for us, i.e.,
that we have no other territory?
Here I must say we do not plan anything like Budennovsk. TheBudennovsk tragedy will never be repeated. Moreover, we did notmake these plans except as a last resort. Why was the world wassilent when Shali was bombed, when some 400 people were killedor wounded? In fact, the evil we did in Budennovsk was noteven 30 percent of what they did in Shali. And what was world community’s reaction when they wiped out Samashki and Serzhen-Yurt?
PRISM: You are saying Budennovsk will never be repeated.
Then what will happen?
AA: I want peace. Budennovsk is the way for all small
people to save themselves. Today it is possible to have
all the might of a big state turned against this state.
Therefore, this war is senseless and it must be stopped
no matter how much certain politicians would wish it to
PRISM: We see reports time and again about some "third parties" staging provocations. What are these forces?
AA: Two forces are present here: Russia and Chechnya. As for the traitors — they are not a force at all.
PRISM: Has there been progress on the removal of the troops? Has this item of the agreement been fulfilled?
AA: No. For example, take this military commandant’s officewhich is still present in Shali. In fact, the office is a militaryformation. The agreement reads that the Russians shall pull theirmilitary units a distance away from the positions immediatelyafter the disarmament process begins, i.e., immediately afterthe first submachine gun has been handed in. As I see it a military commandant’s formation is a sort of "police" for the military. As long as the military have left the town I failto understand what the commandant’s office is doing here now.The only possible explanation is that they keep the formationhere as a "reserve" to stage provocations.
PRISM: When, in your opinion, could the war be considered
AA: The war will be over after the Russian army of
occupation is withdrawn and after free elections are held
in the republic. Elections must be held in the presence
of independent observers in order to rule out any
possibility of election fraud. Election commissions must
be formed of representatives from the both sides.
PRISM: What are the prospects for the negotiations?
AA: The war can continue for another 10 years but the only way to put an end to it is via negotiations. In fact, thisis the only way to have any war ended. If Russia has not yetcome to understand that it is impossible to speak to a wholepeople from a position of strength then Russia is in danger herself.Did you visit the rally in Grozny on September 6th? Did you hearthe demands pronounced by our people there?
PRISM: They demanded freedom, independence and withdrawal of the troops…
AA: Doesn’t a people’s expression of its own will matter in this world? As long as there are two contradictory principlesin force in international law– the right of nations to self-determination and states’ rights to territorial integrity andinviolability of existing borders–such problems will never beresolved. Take away one of those laws, don’t leave people anyillusions. Don’t provoke them into fighting for independence.Just get rid of one of these laws and human rights activists would no longer have to go anywhere or defend anyone. Afterall, it is much easier to find and extinguish the initial sourceof fire than to fight fires throughout the entire world….
PRISM: Salambek Khadzhiev told me that his government controls 90 percent of the territory of Chechnya…
AA: If I use his method of calculation the result willbe that I control 460 percent of the territory (laughs).
PRISM: Addressing you as a military man I would like to
AA: I am a civilian. It is the war that has forced me to
take up arms.
PRISM: Nevertheless, you are a military man today. So my question is: Is the Russian army a good fighter?
AA: I would like to warn the Western states against viewingthis war as a basis for drawing a conclusion that the Russianarmy is weak and they can do whatever they want. This army doeshave the might. It has arms and military equipment. Their failureshere are largely a result of purely a psychological factor. Thosesoldiers, officers and generals of the Russian army who had refused to take part in this war understand that this is a dirty war.They know that this is an unfair war, a war for the interestsof a narrow circle of persons. The Russian soldiers who foughthere did not have a Motherland behind them. For the sake of theirland, for their Motherland the Russian soldiers will fight. Andhere they had to fight against women, children and elderly. Itis for this very reason that the going got tough for them here.There exist special methods of waging war: For example, when you enter a house on enemy’s territory you must first throwa couple of hand grenades and fire a burst from your submachinegun before you come in. So they did as they were taught. However,when they came in they found mutilated dead bodies of women,children and elderly, not militants. This discouraged them fromadvancing further.