Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 30

The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office announced on July 26 that it has launched a new criminal case against Akhmed Zakaev, the London-based foreign minister of the separatist Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI). “In June-July 2006, Zakaev, who resides in the United Kingdom, gave several interviews, allowing himself to use such phrases as ‘to oust Russians from Chechnya,’ ‘to throw Russians away,’ ‘the Russian aggressor’s inhuman methods’ and so on,” Interfax quoted the office as saying. “These phrases convey an intention to instigate hatred and enmity with regard to ethnic Russians and to shape a negative ethnic image of the Russian people. Zakaev described hostile actions and dangerous plans against residents of the Chechen Republic and, in fact, issues a threat to use force against ethnic Russians.”

As MosNews reported on July 26, the Russian authorities have already charged Zakaev with armed rebellion, forming of criminal bands and an attempt to kill a police officer. They also accuse him of involvement in the October 2002 Dubrovka theater hostage seizure. Russian prosecutors claim that Zakaev’s actions come under the British law on terrorism, which envisages criminal responsibility for instigating terrorist activity and specifically prohibits calling for or preparing terrorist acts. A British court, however, previously refused to hand over Zakaev to Russia.

The announcement of the new charges against Zakaev follows comments about him made by President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg during the G8 summit. “You don’t have to roam archives, we have evidence, videos of his criminal activities,” quoted Putin as saying during a July 16 press conference. “When we are told, ‘Let’s bring up the subject of Syria,’ or Iran or any more countries that shelter [foreign] terrorists, why not mention other countries as well?” Last month, Russia’s new prosecutor general, Yury Chaika, indicated that he would continue the Kremlin’s battle to win the extradition of Zakaev and the tycoon Boris Berezovsky, who also received political asylum in the United Kingdom. “Together with specialists from the prosecutor’s office in Great Britain, we will analyze all the criminal cases where we have been refused extradition,” Chaika said on June 26 in televised comments. “Whatever action we need to take, we will do it.” Chaika added that a group of specialists from the prosecutor’s office, the foreign ministry and the justice ministry would travel to London to discuss extradition issues.

Zakaev, for his part, denied the new charges against him in a telephone interview with Ekho Moskvy on July 26. “I have a great many ethnic Russian friends in Russia, who could, when things get difficult, confirm the exact opposite and prove to the court that I am neither a chauvinist nor anti-Russian,” he told the radio station. “What I said about the occupation of Chechnya by Russia’s or Russian troops, is a juridical fact, which I can also prove in court. I certainly believe that responsibility for the policy that is being pursued these days by Russia’s leadership and for the propaganda that has contributed to the emergence of fascist and racist movements in Russia itself should be borne by none other than Russia’s leadership and not by Zakaev, who since the start of hostilities, has urged Russia to resolve this conflict peacefully.” Zakaev said he was willing to answer all questions in a British court, which he called “the most appropriate structure” for rendering a legal assessment of both his own statements and Russian policy in the North Caucasus.