Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 34

Chechen rebel leader Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev gave an interview to Gazeta Wyborcza that the Polish newspaper published on September 9. The separatist Kavkazcenter website published a Russian translation of that interview on September 13.

Among other things, Sadulaev was asked whether the rebels’ war is a “liberation” struggle or a “jihad,” given that they are now led by a religious figure—meaning Sadulaev himself. He replied that it is a “defensive jihad,” meaning a “defense of the homeland from an invasion by an external enemy, the liberation of our motherland from occupiers and the establishment of genuine freedom on our land.” He added that the Chechen war could be described both as a “jihad” and a “liberation war.”

Noting that Aslan Maskhadov had constantly offered to sit down for negotiations with the Russian authorities, the interviewer asked Sadulaev whether he would do the same. Sadulaev responded that Maskhadov indeed “offered the path of peace, although he also saw that the enemy constantly rejected his peace initiatives.” Sadulaev added: “The paths to peace that Maskhadov offered, we also adhere to, and I am of that opinion. But there is one ‘but:’ I am not a supporter of constantly offering peace. Because the Russians will not be inclined toward peace as long as they don’t have a need for it. And I am not prepared to offer peace to the Russians all the time for no particular reason, in order to play up to them. I repeat once again that we are not planning to turn away from the path of peace that Aslan offered; we have not changed our opinion on that account. We simply are not prepared to appeal to Russia for peace all the time. We have already let the Russians know that peace is possible here at any time, and that this peace depends upon them. But I do not intend to ask them for this any more.”

Sadulaev was asked about his relations with Shamil Basaev. It should be noted that Sadulaev issued a decree last month naming his cabinet, in which he named himself as prime minister and Basaev as first deputy prime minister. Basaev was given responsibility for the “power” agencies, including the National Security Service, the Anti-terrorist Center and the Interior Ministry.

Sadulaev told Gazeta Wyborcza that he “always had and always will have friendly, good relations with Shamil Basaev,” but added that there is one issue about which they have disagreed going back to the period before Maskhadov’s death. “It is that Shamil does not rule out taking hostages when conducting special operations or sabotage actions. Official Dzhokhar (former Grozny) does not accept such methods of conducting war. The ChRI [Chechen Republic of Ichkeria] leadership does not see any benefit in that and thinks that it does not contribute to the attainment of peace.” At the same time, Sadulaev argued, given that “the leadership of Russia, beginning with its president, has turned hostage-taking into official state policy” in the North Caucasus and given the overall “cruelty of our historical enemy…no one can forbid (Shamil Basaev) from manifesting a corresponding reciprocal reaction—neither the President of Chechnya nor the Emir of the GKO [State Defense Committee]—Madzhlisul Shura. The only thing that can be undertaken here is to have a personal principled assessment. But as chief and subordinate, as mujahid to mujahid, we have good mutual relations. On the remaining matters he fulfills all the duties he is entrusted with, and rather successfully…. When Shamil wants to answer the Russians in kind, we don’t find a way to punish him, we don’t see in the Sharia any prohibition, so as to stop him. We can only advise Shamil: ‘We don’t think that anything good will come out of what you are doing; please, don’t do it.'” Sadulaev also quoted a verse from the Koran stating that aggression can be met with aggression.

Asked whether Basaev’s actions damage the reputation of the Chechen resistance, Sadulaev answered: “One cannot react to the activity of Shamil unambiguously. Shamil Basaev is the head of the top committee in the GKO-Madzhlisul Shura—the Military Committee. He coordinates with the commanders of the fronts and sectors the missions to strike blows against the occupiers and national-traitors. And we are very happy with those operations, and also the activity of Shamil and his emirs. It does not demolish the image of the Chechens. And we only differ in our opinions concerning the taking of hostages; the ChRI leadership does not approve of that.”

On August 30, following Basaev’s elevation to the post first deputy foreign minister in the separatist government, Agence France-Presse quoted Ousman Fersauli, the Chechen rebel official living in exile in Denmark who is the new separatist government’s foreign minister, as telling the Danish daily Politiken that the international community “should be happy that Basaev has been included in the government, since this means we have him under control.” Within the new government, Basaev “is just a soldier who must obey,” he said. “And if he doesn’t he will be arrested, and I am convinced that he will not commit other terrorist acts.” Fersauli said he was opposed to terrorist acts like the ones Basaev has claimed responsibility for, but that serving in the same government as Basaev did not compromise his convictions. “No, this will not change our stance,” he said. “Basaev will not get involved in foreign policy. It will be up to me and Akhmed Zakaev to take responsibility for that.” Zakaev, who is exile in London, was named culture minister in the new separatist government. Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller, meanwhile, said he deemed it “unacceptable” that Basaev had been included in the Chechen rebel government.

Meanwhile, Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov told Interfax on September 14 that Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev’s deputy, Shamil-Khadzhi Muskiev, had been killed along with four other rebels in a battle with law enforcement officers in the city of Argun. Kadyrov claimed that Muskiev was “the main ideologue of the illegal armed formations—the right hand of Sadulaev,” and that Muskiev was directly responsible for the murder around 90 people in the village of Tsatsan-Yurt in the Kurchaloi district. Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov told Itar-Tass there were losses among the law enforcement personnel in the Argun battle, but gave no numbers. The Russian-Chechen Friendship Society (ORChD) reported that two policemen were killed in the battled, while Radio Liberty reported that three policemen were killed, including the commander of Argun’s special police group.