Ramzan Kadyrov, the son of pro-Moscow Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov and the head of his father’s presidential security service, told Interfax on May 3 that Aslan Maskhadov may be among a group of fighters surrounded by federal forces in Chechnya’s Kurchaloev district and that the rebel leader may have been wounded. The younger Kadyrov cited as “indirect evidence” that Maskhadov was wounded signs that fighters had carried away a wounded person on a homemade stretcher while leaving behind the bodies of six of their comrades killed in the fighting. Ramzan Kadyrov claimed the group that has been surrounded is made up of fighters gathered by Maskhadov from across Chechnya’s mountainous areas and that it also includes Rappani Khalilov. He is an Islamic separatist guerrilla leader whom the Russian authorities accuse of masterminding the bombing of a Victory Day parade in Kaspiisk, Dagestan, that killed forty-two people (see the Jamestown Monitor, May 13, 2002).
Meanwhile, the chief of staff of Akhmad Kadyrov’s security service, Artur Akhmadov, told Interfax that police were combing a large wooded area between the villages of Tsentaroi, Alleroi, Yalkhoi-Mokhk and Gansolchu and that a total of eight rebel fighters had been killed during the sweep. Ren-TV’s evening news, in a broadcast on May 3, showed footage of the bodies of what it said were six fighters killed in the operation.
Asked about Ramzan Kadyrov’s claims, Maskhadov’s emissary, Akhmed Zakaev, told Ekho Moskvy on May 3 that he had not had contact with the rebel leader or his administration for two days. Zakaev added, however, that Maskhadov was not personally participating in operations that separatist fighters were conducting. “There is a worked-out plan for combat operations in the spring-summer period that is controlled by the supreme commander-in-chief Aslan Maskhadov and members of the State Defense Committee,” Zakaev told the radio station. “But special-forces operations are being carried out in regions of the republic and, naturally, people on both sides are being killed.”
Kavkaz-Center, for its part, reported that a representative of the separatists’ Military Committee had denied that Maskhadov had been wounded (Kavkazcenter.com, May 4). The website also confirmed that rebel forces were conducting a special operation “to destroy one of the national-traitors, [Akhmad] Kadyrov’s close aide Sulim Yamadaev.” Interfax reported on May 3 that rebels had twice, within several hours, tried to kill Yamadaev, who commands the pro-Moscow government’s “Vostok” special forces unit, each time using radio-controlled bombs. RIA Novosti reported on May 3 that a roadside bomb in Grozny, the Chechen capital, had killed one of Akhmad Kadyrov’s bodyguards and injured two others.
The claims that Aslan Maskhadov has been wounded and is surrounded must be treated with caution, given that the Russian authorities have on numerous occasions prematurely announced the deaths of various rebel field commanders (though it is true that several of them, including Abu al-Walid, Khattab and Ruslan Gelaev, finally, were killed). The Kadyrov administration, it should be noted, has in recent weeks repeatedly predicted the rebels’ imminent demise and hinted that Maskhadov might surrender voluntarily (see Chechnya Weekly, April 21, 28). Whatever the case, NTV television opined on May 3 that a special operation to capture Maskhadov may be “pegged to Vladimir Putin’s inauguration, scheduled for May 7, so that a major success can be reported to Moscow.”