The reported Chechen rebel attack on the city of Gudermes comes in the wake of the looming confrontation between the United States and Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban regime over the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Russian authorities have been making efforts to emphasize what they claim are close links between the Chechen rebels, on the one hand, and Osama bin Laden and other Islamist terror organizations, on the other. Last week, Vladimir Ustinov, Russia’s prosecutor general, said he had proof that Chechen rebels had received training in foreign countries and funding “from bin Laden and other Wahhabi organizations.” Ustinov and said that he had informed Lord Frank Judd, chairman of the Council of Europe’s subcommittee on human rights, who was on a visit to Moscow, about the alleged links (AFP, September 14). Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) have claimed that the Afghanistan-based Islamist organization Jamaat-al-Islami may have been behind both the September 11 attacks on the United States and the September 2000 bombings of apartment buildings in Moscow and other Russian cities, which killed hundreds of people. Sergei Kuzyin, Russia’s military commandant in Chechnya, claimed last week that, following news of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Chechen rebel fighters celebrated with protracted tracer fire that allowed Russian forces to pinpoint their positions. These reports were not independently confirmed (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, September 13; see the Monitor, September 13).
Meanwhile, the pro-Chechen rebel website, Kavkaz.org, claimed in a commentary posted today that Russia was attempting to provoke a war between the United States and Afghanistan. Russia’s motives in doing so, the website alleged, was to “secure its interests in Central Asia” and, if the United States manages to “significantly weaken” Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban regime, “to try to return to Afghanistan.” The website argued that both Israel and Iran also have an interest in such a scenario: Israel would gain a free hand to deal with “the defenseless Palestinian people” and Iran would be better positioned to realize its ambitions vis-a-vis Caspian Sea oil and push its territorial claims against Azerbaijan (Kavkaz.org, September 17). Kavkaz.org is linked to Movladi Udugov, the Chechen rebel ideologist who is closely connected to the radical rebel field commanders Shamil Basaev and Khattab. Russia’s special services have alleged that Khattab, said varyingly to be either a Jordanian or Saudi of Chechen extraction, is closely connected to bin Laden (see the Monitor, September 16, 20, October 5, 1999).
BALTS ALIGN WITH UNITED STATES AND NATO.