Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 11

The killing of Aslan Maskhadov was the cause of a diplomatic dust-up between Poland and Russia. On March 9, the day after the Russian authorities announced that the Chechen rebel leader had been killed, Polish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Alexander Checko stated, as quoted by Reuters: “Those who committed this murder wanted to prevent a (peaceful) agreement. It was not only a crime but also political stupidity and a big mistake…Maskhadov was the only one with whom they could talk. Now this option has been crossed out.”

The following day, Interfax quoted from a Russian Foreign Ministry statement, which read: “Moscow has reacted with incomprehension and bewilderment to a statement made by Aleksandr Checko, an official representative of the Polish Foreign Ministry, who, as news agencies report, has called the elimination of Aslan Maskhadov, one of the leaders of the terrorist groups in Chechnya, ‘not simply a crime, but also politically stupid and a great mistake’. As is known, on Maskhadov’s direct instructions, terrorist acts were carried out in Beslan, Moscow and other Russian cities. He has the blood of thousands of Russian citizens on his hands, including children. If that is called Aslan Maskhadov’s striving for a political settlement in Chechnya, then the Polish side obviously has a distorted view of such processes and also of the fight against international terrorism as a whole. The question arises: will Poland in similar statements also regret the elimination of terrorist-murderer Shamil Basaev, whose name is on an antiterrorist list sanctioned by the United Nations, or [of] Osama bin Ladin?”

Kommersant reported on March 14 that Prime Minister Marek Belka, who was in Madrid on March 10 for an international conference on terrorism, said that day that Checko had over-dramatized the situation and had simply wanted to point out that the problem of Chechnya was being handled exclusively by means of force. “We will never excuse crimes that Chechen terrorists have carried out against the people of Russia,” Belka said. The Polish prime minister’s comments apparently did not assuage the Russian government. On March 11, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov phoned Polish Foreign Minister Adam Rotfeld. During that telephone conversation, Kommersant reported, Lavrov “characterized the anti-Russian appraisals of Maskhadov’s murder by official Polish representatives…as unacceptable and not corresponding to the elementary norms of interrelations of states, especially participants in the global anti-terrorism coalition.” According to Kommersant, Rotfeld responded by expressing regret for Checko’s statements, which, he said, did not reflect Warsaw’s official position on the issue.

Moscow, however, did not let it rest there. Sergei Yastrzhembsky, President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to the European Union weighed in on March 13. “Polish officials commented on the elimination of Aslan Maskhadov in a rather surprising manner, because it is obvious that those who presented their opinion on this event did not have the slightest idea and were not even willing to understand the role played by Maskhadov,” Yastrzhembsky told the Rossia state television channel. Maskhadov, he asserted, was “not just a link between members of the separatist movement” but “one of the leaders of terrorist underground responsible for many bloody terrorist acts on the territory of the Russian Federation.” “Before making official statements, they should have studied the subject,” said Yastrzhembsky, added that Poland was searching for an independent role in European affairs but doing so “unfortunately at the expense of Russia.” “Often, the Polish political elite approaches current affairs through the prism of past events,” Yastrzhembsky opined. “However, that historical experience often gives a distorted picture of the present.”