Shirvani Basaev, brother of Chechen rebel field commander Shamil Basaev, was reportedly killed by federal forces this week, as was Ruslan Tsagaraev, chief of staff of the separatist forces. The news that Basaev and Tsagaraev had been killed was first reported on December 18 by Federal Security Service sources and confirmed later that day by an official in the office of Sergei Yastrzhembsky, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman on Chechnya. According to that official, Basaev was buried in the Vedeno region, and the federal forces know the exact site of the grave (Russian agencies, December 18).
If Shirvani Basaev was indeed killed, the event hardly ranks as a great military success by the federal forces. Shamil Basaev’s younger brother was known mainly as the brother of “Terrorist No. 1,” as Shamil Basaev is known in the Russian press. While Shirvani tried to copy his brother’s look and manner of behavior, he did not participate in a single large-scale operation during either the 1994-1996 war or the current one. Were it not for his brother, Shirvani Basaev would be nothing more than an obscure Chechen rebel field commander.
Meanwhile, last week the federal forces claimed another major success: They reported that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov had been wounded on November 7 in a special operation which also killed his driver and two members of his bodyguard. The Chechen side, however, has denied this claim (Russian agencies, kavkaz.org, December 13). Indeed, the report should be viewed skeptically. The Kremlin has on more than one occasion announced the wounding or even the death of a well-known Chechen rebel field commander, and the report has turned out to be false. Indeed, it is difficult to know why the Kremlin announced Maskhadov’s wounding more than a month after it supposedly took place. If Maskhadov were in fact wounded, then it would have to be seen as a major victory for Moscow (Russian agencies, December 13). The Russian forces also claimed last week that they had captured one of the Akhmadov brothers in a special operation. The brothers, both of whom are Chechen rebel field commanders, became among the main “specialists” in hostage-taking between the two Chechen wars. They were reportedly involved in the kidnapping and murder of four Western telecommunications workers in 1998 and the kidnapping of Camilla Carr and Jon James, the British aid workers who were seized in 1997 and freed fourteen months later.
IS THE MOLDOVAN LEADERSHIP THROWING IN THE TOWEL?