The notorious Chechen rebel field commander Arbi Baraev has been killed in a special operation by Russian forces. The first information about Baraev’s death appeared on June 24 and was officially confirmed the following day. According to Russian officials, Baraev was killed during a battle by his home village of Yermolovsky, near Djohar (Grozny), the Chechen capital. The battle was part of an operation by special forces of the Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service (FSB) around the villages of Alkhan-Kala, Alkhan-Yurt, Kulary and Yermolovsky. According to presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky, seventeen rebel fighters from Baraev’s inner circle were killed in the battle along with the field commander himself, and a large number of rebels were taken prisoner. Also according to Yastrzhembsky, one Russian soldier was killed and six wounded during the operation. Meanwhile, Movladi Udugov, the Chechen rebels’ chief ideologist, confirmed Baraev’s death, but said that around half of the fifty fighters in Baraev’s unit had managed to escape and that the unit is now being commanded by Baraev’s nephew.
Baraev’s killing does indeed mark a success for Russia’s special services, and Yastrzhembsky compared it to two other successes of the current military campaign–the destruction of, first, a large portion of the Chechen rebels as they fled Djohar and, second, the rebel unit led by Ruslan Gelaev at the village of Komsomol’skoe (Russian agencies, June 24-25; Radio Liberty, June 25).
Arbi Baraev was undoubtedly one of the more odious figures among the Chechen resistance’s major field commanders. He was born in 1973 in the Chechen village of Yermolovka, not far from the Chechen capital and prior to 1991 was a traffic police sergeant. Interestingly, he was completely unknown during the first Chechen military campaign of 1994-1996, and only received national notoriety during the brief period of de facto Chechen independence that followed the end of that campaign and lasted up to the reintroduction of Russian troops into the breakaway republic in 1999. Indeed, Baraev became notorious as the main “specialist” in the hostage-for-ransom business that flourished in Chechnya during that period. His band was suspected of being behind the kidnapping of journalists from NTV television, the Itar-Tass news agency and Radio Russia; Valentin Vlasov, a representative of the Russian president; two FSB officers in Ingushetia; and a young Israeli boy, Adi Sharon. Baraev was also a suspect in the 1997 murder of Akhmal Saitov, a Russian government representative in Djohar. In addition, he is believed to have personally beheaded three Britons and one New Zealander kidnapped in 1998 while working for a for a British telecommunications company in Chechnya.
Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov openly stated that people like Baraev were ruining Chechnya’s image in the eyes of the world community. In July 1998, a battle between pro-Baraev radicals and pro-Maskhadov forces took place in the city of Gudermes, after which Maskhadov stripped Baraev of his military rank. Following the re-entry of Russian troops into Chechnya in 1999, however, the two men put their differences aside and together fought the federal forces.
But neither was Baraev noted for conducting military actions against the Russian forces during the second Chechen war, and thus the significance of his death at the hands of Russian special forces should not be overstated. It means that a dangerous bandit and criminal, not a significant rebel field commander, has been killed (SMI.ru, June 25; Nezavisimaya Gazeta, June 26).
…WHOSE DEATH COULD CLEAR THE WAY FOR POLITICAL SETTLEMENT.