Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 43

The Chechenpress website on November 15 posted what it said was the Russian-language translation of an interview given by Chechen rebel president Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev to the Chechen-language service of Radio Liberty. Sadulaev said the reason why rebel “mujahideen” had begun launching attacks in neighboring republics, and particularly Kabardino-Balkaria, was because “the Russians” had begun “terrorizing people” in those republics without any reason.

“They did not like the beards of the men and the Muslim appearance of the women, they did not like the mosques where people pray to God and they did not like the shops selling the Koran and Islamic literature, the Islamic schools where people studied Islam and also young people visiting Islamic-language sites on the Internet,” Sadulaev said. “And so, last year in Ingushetia all the actions of the Russian authorities were aimed at destabilizing the situation in this republic where, as we know, a secret agent was placed at the head [Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov is a former FSB general]. The terror against the population reached such a scale that we were forced to carry out a special operation there and to punish those who were torturing and murdering people. [This refers to the June 2004 raid on Ingushetia]

“The same thing happened in Dagestan, although they had their own combat groups there, and we created a Dagestani front and the mujahideen are controlling the situation there to a considerable degree,” Sadulaev continued. “We managed to do the same in Adygea and [North] Ossetia, and the same sort of work is being carried out in Karachaevo-Cherkessia. But in Kabardino-Balkaria the brutality of the authorities against the people exceeded all limits and reached the point where in September the Russian media published a letter addressed to Putin signed by over 400 people in which they asked the Russian president to grant them freedom to worship, and if this was impossible, then allow them to resettle in any another state where it would be possible. The Russian authorities had the opportunity to understand then that this was a sign that the people’s patience was exhausted and that they would no longer tolerate the brutality and injustice against them. But the authorities, who were constantly coming out with their slogans “Destroy!” and “Crush!” could not listen to and understand these people. And so our Caucasian Front carried out certain work there—carried it out successfully, punishing the butchers with death and seizing many weapons and ammunition as trophies.” Sadulaev vowed that the Chechen resistance would continue to assist rebels in other republics and that “military installations” would continue to be “the target of our attacks.”

Sadulaev also raised doubts about Shamil Basaev’s responsibility for the October 2002 Nord-Ost and September 2004 Beslan hostage seizures, despite the rebel warlord’s own claims of responsibility for those actions. “As we already know, structural changes have taken place in the government of the ChRI,” Sadulaev told Radio Liberty. “Many questions have arisen in connection with the decree on the appointment of Shamil Basaev to the post of head of the military bloc, who is my naib [deputy] and head of the State Defense Committee of the Majlis ul-Shura of the ChRI—this is, essentially, one and the same post. And Basaev is coping with his duties very well. As for the accusations against Basaev of organizing the events at Nord-Ost and in Beslan, it should be noted that this is not the outcome of an investigation by an independent international commission, but merely charges by the Russian press. And the fact that he does not deny his participation in these actions and refuses to identify with the lying leaders of the Russian government is not a bad thing. We have law and order in our country, and we can punish anyone who is guilty but, as we all know, a man is innocent until proven guilty. It should be noted that Shamil did not fire a single shot and did not kill a single person there, but all of this requires a thorough investigation. And if international organizations come to an agreement on a joint investigation into these matters, then our government will assist this in every way.”

Sadulaev said the rebel government’s priorities would remain “peacefulness” and “reconciliation (maslaat).” “We have always been prepared for reconciliation and have never rejected peace, but the enemy must know that we will respond to him with his same methods, and that we will not give up our gazavat [holy war] or the path leading to peace and freedom,” he said. “And this is the main goal of everything we are doing both inside the country and beyond its borders.”

Sadulaev specifically accused the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) of considering arguments only from the Russian side. “Russia, trying to escape responsibility and guilt for the lives of the 250,000 men, women and children killed by them in Chechnya, started to create bandit groups headed by [the late pro-Moscow Chechen president] Akhmad Kadyrov in order to divide the Chechens, to make them enemies of one another, which is called the ‘Chechenization of the conflict.'” he said. “In that way the Russians are trying to present the situation in such a way that the war in Chechnya is ostensibly going on only between Chechens, and Chechens are killing one another, and Russia is only a peacemaker in this situation. And those organizations that in the past worried about us and tried to help us, it seems, has been led astray by the Russian side. We have been asked if we are prepared to sit down at a round table meeting in order to state our position and listen to the opposite side. Yes. We have always been prepared for negotiations, but we do not agree to participate in the kind of puppet show that Russia organizes. Our people, and now other peoples of the North Caucasus as well, are not fighting kadyrovtsy (they are merely agents of Russia), but are fighting Russia, which from the very beginning created this conflict and started the war, and which is still financing and continuing this war. We are prepared for a peaceful settlement of the conflict, but one in which the interests of our country are not infringed, just as we will not offer them conditions that will infringe upon their side.”