The leadership of the self-declared republic of Chechnya-Ichkeria and the leadership of Afghanistan’s Taliban movement have established diplomatic relations. The Taliban government itself is recognized only by Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
On January 16, Taliban leader Mullah Omar met with former Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev in Afghanistan and officially announced that the Taliban recognizes Chechnya’s independence. The Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement denouncing Omar’s action as being aimed at creating a kind of “bandit international.” According to the Foreign Ministry statement, the Taliban’s recognition of Chechnya was the action of an “illegal regime not recognized by the world community” and is the target of United Nations sanctions (Russian agencies, Kavkaz.org, January 17).
The Taliban’s recognition of Chechnya’s independence was not unexpected. Official Djohar and the Taliban have long been in close contact. Chechen delegations have visited Afghanistan on more than one occasion, and about a year ago then Chechen Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov traveled to Kabul and officially declared that the Chechen state recognizes the Taliban government. Following the start of the current war in Chechnya, Kremlin representatives claimed on several occasions that the Taliban was providing military aid to the Chechens. Russian officials charged that the Afghans gave the Chechens four Stinger missiles and trained Chechen fighters in Taliban-run military training camps (Kavkaz.org, January 17; Nezavisimaya gazeta, October 24, 1999).
While Moscow has not produced convincing evidence of military links between the Taliban and the Chechens, it is likely that their charges are not without basis. One of the most influential field commanders, Khattab, a Chechen of Arab extraction, fought against Soviet forces in Afghanistan, and established close contacts with field commanders there. Two years ago, in a conversation with the Monitor’s correspondent, Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev admitted that he and his fighters had been in Taliban military training camps three times.
Meanwhile, Acting Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday agreed to the presence of international representatives in Ingushetia and Chechnya. In a press conference yesterday, Lord Russell-Johnson, chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), said he made this suggestion to Putin during a three-hour meeting in Moscow earlier in the day. According to Russell-Johnson, a permanent presence of international observers in the North Caucasus is necessary in order to ensure the “normal dissemination of objective information about the situation in the region.” Earlier, after arriving in Moscow, Russell-Johnson had warned that Russia’s membership in the Council of Europe might be revoked. The Council, which Russia has belonged to since 1996, is calling for a political solution to the Chechen conflict. On January 27, PACE will hold special hearings concerning Chechnya, and Russell-Johnson will deliver a report on the situation (Radio Liberty, Russian agencies, January 17).
COMMUNIST SELEZNEV LIKELY TO BECOME STATE DUMA SPEAKER ONCE AGAIN.