On February 2, the Chechen rebel leader Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev issued three new decrees that radically changed the structure of the separatist government. In the decrees, which were posted on the Chechenpress, Kavkazcenter and Daymohk websites, the leader declares the principle that “all the heads of the ministries and departments of the Cabinet of Ministers of the government should stay on Chechen territory.” He further declared: “I decree to move the activities of all structures of the Cabinet of Ministers of the ChRI, excluding the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Culture of the ChRI, to the territory of the ChRI [Chechnya].”
Following the decrees, Sadulaev sacked all ministers living abroad, including such key figures in the separatist camp as Akhmed Zakaev, who lost his position as a deputy prime minister, and Movladi Udugov, who was the minister of information and press in the dismissed government. On an audiocassette that was given to the press service of the separatist leader, Sadulaev explained the changes by saying that the rebel field commanders’ Military Council (Madjlis-ul-Shura) had vowed “already long ago” to transfer “the leaders of all ministries, departments and civil services back to Chechen territory,” so that “the propaganda of our enemies would not speak about the ‘government in exile,’ calling into question our determination to gain, through the help of Supreme Allah, a victory over the aggressors” (Chechenpress, Kavkazcenter, Daymohk, February 2).
Another explanation that Sadulaev gave for the decrees was dissatisfaction with “the public dispute between some ministers of the Chechen Government about fundamental questions of the Chechen political system.” He criticized the head of his administration, Ibragim Mejidov, for having not stopped immediately these disagreements between the officials and called upon the ministers to maintain discipline.
It is no secret for anybody observing the situation in Chechnya what Sadulaev means by the public dispute: it is an argument between Akhmed Zakaev and Movladi Udugov, which has been going on since early December of last year. Zakaev was furious about the article “Razmyshlenia modzhakheda” (Reflections of a Mujahid), which was posted by Kavkazcenter. The article is full of damnations of the non-Muslim world, especially the West, and it sounds as if the author were Osama bin Laden himself. The article calls upon the Chechen insurgency to reject completely the “state institutions forced [upon the rebels] by the Western political culture,” and to give up the attempts to achieve recognition of Chechen independence by the world community. The author goes further and speaks in favor of abolishing the separatist secular constitution adopted in 1992, assuming that Sharia law, the Koran and the Sunnah of the Prophet [the collection of his sayings] is enough to create an independent Islamic state in the Caucasus.
As an answer, Akhmed Zakaev wrote an article asking why “the Chechens, for whom it is vital to have a juridical base for their national independence, should not have their own Constitution. Such a call [to reject the Constitution] can neither be based on the sacred example of the Sunnah of our Prophet (may Allah be happy with him) nor on elementary logic, but can only bring harm to our cause, which has taken so many irretrievable losses” (Chechenpress, Kavkazcenter, December 12, 2005).
After that, Movladi Udugov published an article calling Zakaev “a democrat” and repeating again that the rebels should not seek a “common platform” with the world, “which has declared an open war on Islam.” Udugov also said in the article: “There are only two worlds, the world of Islam and that of paganism” (Kavkazcenter, January 9).
Observers who commented on Sadulaev’s decrees especially noted that they were issued as a result of a sharp dispute between Zakaev and Udugov. The Russian service of the BBC, which was the first media outlet after the Chechen websites to cover the decrees, struck the keynote. “Zakaev was reduced in his status”, the BBC’s headline read. According to the BBC, Zakaev, who was dismissed from his position of a deputy prime minister, was the loser, and Movladi Udugov, who was dismissed from the post of the Minister of the Information and Press but immediately appointed as head of the information service of the military council, was the winner in the standoff because, according to the BBC, Sadulaev supported Udugov’s arguments.
The Russian media enthusiastically adopted the BBC’s interpretation: “The leader of the Chechen separatists has disgraced Akhmed Zakaev” (NEWSru.com); “Zakaev has been punished for his love of democracy” (grani.ru); and “Sadulaev’s successor has kicked Zakaev away” (lenta. ru). Kommersant and Vremya novostei went further still. They openly declared “that to all appearances, Udugov has gained the upper hand (Kommersant, February 6), and that “judging by the changes made among the personnel, it is Mr. Udugov who won the game, and it is he who tends to see the future Chechnya as a Sharia state” (Vremya novostei, February 7).
In reality, despite the claims of many media sources, the decrees do not prove the victory of Udugov over Zakaev. Quite the contrary: the latest decrees, issued by Sadulaev, can be described as a full victory for Akhmed Zakaev’s arguments. Now that the Chechen war is spreading beyond the republic’s borders and the rebels’ strategy is to unite all Caucasian insurgent groups by proclaiming an imam of the North Caucasus, with Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev being candidate number one, such people as Movladi Udugov are trying to persuade the leadership of the Chechen separatists to abandon the attributes of Chechen independence like the constitution, presidency, and parliament. They believe that since no one recognizes the status of Chechnya and it is impossible to win the war against the Russians within Chechnya’s borders, one should concentrate only on establishing a united Islamic state in the Caucasus and intensify an anti-Russian armed struggle across the whole region. In this case, there would be no more need to appeal to the international community, and it would be more useful to be fully on the side of the Islamic radicals, in order to receive significant financial support from them, which is so badly needed by the rebels.
Yet, Adbul-Khalim Sadulaev, who clearly disliked the open manner of the discussion between Zakaev and Udugov, and who punished them by reducing their positions, supported Zakaev’s views on Chechen independence. Commenting on the decrees, Sadulaev’s press service said that “the President calls the attention of the officials of the Chechen state to the fact that they cannot convert the questions of the sovereignty and legitimacy of the ChRI authority into an object of discussion.”
The message is more than clear. Preparing for the position of imam of the North Caucasus, Sadulaev will not forget his status as the Chechen president, who operates according to the Chechen constitution and who has legal envoys abroad. Moreover, Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev has proved again that he is keeping the promise to respect international law that he made at the very beginning of his presidency following Aslan Maskhadov’s death. In his first appeal to the world community, Adbul-Khalim declared that “the Chechen leadership will continue to have close contacts and friendly relationships with the whole civilized society, but in their turn, the members of that society should take into consideration the basic values of the Muslim nation of Chechnya (Chechenpress, March 11, 2005).
The rebel leader has demonstrated again his subtle skill in putting together such things as a secular constitution, international laws and Sharia Islamic laws.