Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 8

In response to a request from Russian law enforcement, Turkey has announced it is ready to turn over Movladi Udugov, the former Chechen foreign minister whom the Russian authorities accuse of being one of the main organizers of the Chechen rebel-led attack on Dagestan in August-September 1999. Udugov is accused of having violated Article 279 of Russia’s Criminal Code, which outlaws “armed uprisings.” But while the Turkish authorities say they are ready to assist their Russian counterparts, Udugov is reportedly no longer in Turkey.

Movladi Udugov is considered one of the main ideologues of Chechen independence. He joined the ruling structures of Ichkeria, as Chechnya’s separatists call the republic, back in the early 1990s, serving as propaganda chief in Djohar Dudaev’s government. During the 1994-1996 war, he put out information about the conflict more professionally than the Kremlin’s propagandists. At the start of the second military campaign in autumn 1999, Udugov left Chechnya, after which he lost practically all of his influence on the Chechen rebel movement. Experts believe that Udugov’s capture would not have a significant influence on the military campaign in Chechnya (Radio Liberty, January 9).

The Monitor’s correspondent met Movladi Udugov on a number of occasions when covering the 1994-1996 military campaign in Chechnya, as well in Moscow afterwards during his official talks with Russian government representatives. His professional qualities were perhaps best summed up during the first Chechen war by Anatoly Kulikov, who then headed the Russian military forces in the breakaway republic, later becoming Russia’s Interior Minister and now serving as a State Duma deputy. “Udugov alone is worth all of the propagandists sitting in Moscow,” Kulikov said at the time. Udugov indeed demonstrated his ability to take advantage of all of the Kremlin’s ideological oversights during the first Chechen war, convincing the rebel field commanders that it was necessary to have good relations with journalists. As a result, journalists felt more comfortable among the Chechen rebel fighters than among the Russian forces, who were suspicious of the media. This meant that that the Russian side lost the propaganda battle right from the beginning, and a majority of Russians came to oppose the war. At the start of the current military campaign, the Kremlin, having studied Udugov’s work during 1994-1996, set up a special organ, Rosinformcenter, headed by Sergei Yastrzhembsky, to provide the campaign with propaganda support.

Following the first Chechen war, Udugov became a deputy prime minister in the government of Aslan Maskhadov, and went to Moscow on a number of occasions for talks with members of the Security Council and Russian government. During one of his last visits to Moscow, Udugov told the Monitor’s correspondent that the talks were essentially worthless and that a new war in Chechnya was inevitable.

Commenting this week on the reports that the Turkish authorities might extradite him, Udugov told the Kavkaz.org website–which he helped create–that there had been no precedent for such an extradition between Turkey and Russia, but said he could not rule out that the Turkish authorities might take some sort of step against him and other Chechen figures. “Today is a time when it is impossible to rule out anything completely,” Udugov said. “A war is going on. I am in the information part of that war. And war is war.” However, in the same interview, Udugov made it clear that he was not in Turkey (Kavkaz.org, January 10). Indeed, Kommersant yesterday quoted anonymous Chechen politicians as saying that Udugov had already left Turkey and that Ankara had simply promised to extradite him simply as a way to show its support for the fight against international terrorism (Kommersant, January 10).