Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 40

Vakhid Murdashev, one of the four associates of Aslan Maskhadov who were with the late Chechen separatist leader when he was killed last March 8 in the village of Tolstoi-Yurt and are now being tried by the Supreme Court of the Chechen Republic, told the court on October 25 that Russia’s special services may have tracked down Maskhadov through a phone call he received from Tim Guldimann, the Swiss diplomat who led the OSCE mission in Chechnya during the mid-1990s. As reported by Kommersant on October 26, the former Maskhadov adviser tried to convince the court that he had not participated in an armed uprising, which is one of the charges against him. “Yes, I had a pistol, which I was given by the MVD of the republic, but I didn’t shoot anybody with it,” Murdashev said, insisting that all his activities as Maskhadov’s adviser were peaceful. “For example, I helped the president in making contacts in preparation for negotiations.” When the judge reminded him that he was accused of participation in an armed rebellion, Murdashev denied that, insisting that neither he nor Maskhadov wanted to fight and were even opposed to Chechnya’s complete separation from Russia. Murdashev accused both the federal authorities and the West of instigating war in the Caucasus—the latter because it “wanted to control Chechen oil,” Kommersant reported.

Murdashev claimed that in January 2005, former OSCE Chechnya mission head Tim Guldimann called Maskhadov, and that Russia’s special services may have traced that call and thereby discovered Maskhadov’s whereabouts in Tolstoi-Yurt. (Both Shamil Basaev and a Novaya gazeta correspondent have claimed that Russia’s special services traced Maskhadov through his cell phone.) Murdashev also said that representatives of Maskhadov had secretly met with Arkady Volsky, former head of the Russia Union of Entrepreneurs and Industrialists, in order to launch negotiations. “Someone impeded him [Maskhadov] from doing this, and it’s a pity,” Murdashev said.

The judge also questioned Skandarbek Yusupov, who owned the Tolstoi-Yurt home in which Maskhadov was hiding when he was killed. Yusupov said that his nephew Ilyas Iliskhanov had asked him to put up two people for six months and that he had agreed. According to Yusupov, he picked up the Chechen rebel leader in his car on November 17, 2004, without even knowing that it was Maskhadov. When the car was stopped at a checkpoint, Yusupov recounted, “My passengers, having asked me to sit quietly, started to explain something to the soldiers loudly and even crudely used foul language with them, after which we drove through into the village.”

The trial’s first court session took place on October 10, Prague Watchdog reported on October 26. During that session, the four defendants—Murdashev, Yusupov, Viskhan Khadzhimuradov and Iles Iriskhanov—stated that during the preliminary investigation the staff of the regional anti-organized crime directorate (RUBOP) in Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia, obtained confessions by torture and other illegal means. Murdashev and Yusupov said that their health was seriously impaired because of the torture. All four defendants are charged with actively participating in an armed rebellion to forcefully overturn the constitution; disrupting the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation; illegally owning, carrying, and transporting weapons; and using false documents.