Russian human rights activists were pessimistic about the effect that Aslan Maskhadov’s killing would likely have on the Chechen conflict. Lyudmila Alekseyeva, leader of the Moscow Helsinki Group, said that Maskhadov’s death was not “good news,” Interfax reported on March 8. “He was a man with whom we could start negotiations,” she said. Likewise, Aleksandr Cherkasov of the Memorial human rights center said that Maskhadov was “the only person with whom it would have been possible” to sign a peace treaty committing “a considerable part” of the separatist rebels to laying down their arms and returning to civilian life. “Maskhadov was not the leader of the terrorist wing of the Chechen separatists,” Cherkasov said. “On the contrary, he had disagreements with the terrorists on combat tactics. Now, Basaev is unlikely to put an end to terrorist activities in Chechnya and other North Caucasian republics.”
Novaya gazeta correspondent Anna Politkovskaya told Ekho Moskvy on March 8 that Maskhadov’s killing would “not only not stop the war in Chechnya, but complicate it still more.” “We are left with two figures equivalent in terms of baseness -Basaev and Kadyrov Jr.,” she said, referring to the Chechen rebel warlord and the pro-Moscow Chechen deputy prime minister. Politkovskaya lamented the loss of a moderate who could have negotiated with Moscow to end the conflict. “I am simply in shock,” she said.
Democratic Union leader Valeria Novodvorskaya said that Maskhadov’s death was a disaster not only for the Chechen people, but also for the whole of Russia. Now Russia has no one with whom to negotiate, she said, given that while Maskhadov was denounced as a “brigand” and a “bandit,” “everyone will remember that he was a legitimate president, and Russia recognized him as such.” She added that Maskhadov “fought honorably, observing the Geneva Convention; he denounced acts of terrorism and tried to prevent them, and he will be hard to replace.” The federal authorities killed him precisely in order to close the door to negotiations once and for all and allow the war to continue “till the end of time,” Novodvorskaya added, lenta.ru reported on March 9.
Human rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina told Deutsche Welle’s Russian Service that neither the rocket that killed Djokhar Dudaev in 1996, nor the terrorist bombing that killed Zelimkhan Yandarbiev in 2004, nor the killing of Maskhadov have brought peace in Chechnya any closer. There are many people in Chechnya for whom banditry has become and end in itself, but there are also those who saw “the moderate Maskhadov” as a legitimate leader, she said, adding that it is now impossible to determine with whom to negotiate. Gannushkina added that separatists must not be equated with terrorists, as the federal authorities do. “Like it or not, Maskhadov was a restraining center,” she said. “His elimination can untie the hands of many supporters of the radical struggle. Maskhadov unequivocally condemned the events in Beslan, [and] recognized Basaev as a criminal. For the leader of the separatists that was an important step. Now that leader is no more.”
Ingushetiya.ru reported on March 8 that residents of the republic neighboring Chechnya felt that by killing “the moderate leader of Chechnya, Aslan Maskhadov (like Djokhar Dudaev in his time), with whom it was possible to conduct negotiations, the federal authorities are opening the space for extreme radical forces” that rely exclusively on terrorism. “These forces are getting support from the populations of the North Caucasus republics,” who see that the federal forces are uninterested in negotiations and seek only the destruction of all resistance leaders, the independent website wrote. “Some inhabitants with whom our correspondents spoke are certain that Maskahdov’s death was very advantageous to the current leadership of the Chechen republic, which fears that if the federal authorities were to enter into negotiations with the resistance leaders, it would mean the end of power for the Kadyrovs, Yamadaevs and Alkhanovs,” the ingushetiya.ru commentary concluded.
An unscientific express poll conducted by Ekho Moskvy on March 8 found that 82 percent of its listeners thought the killing of Maskhadov would aggravate the situation in Chechnya, while 18 percent thought it would pacify the situation in the republic.