Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 11

The French journalist Sophie Shihab, who has covered Chechnya for years and visited it clandestinely a number of times, wrote in Le Monde on March 10 that both the Kremlin and radical Islamists were ecstatic over the killing of Aslan Maskhadov. “Whether the people of the Kremlin knowingly destroyed the leader of the Chechen resistance or they managed to do it by chance is not all that important,” she wrote. “The result was the same – the radicalization of the resistance, more murders, terrorism and misfortune in the whole of the North Caucasus. In any case, that is the fear of those in Moscow and the West for whom Aslan Maskhadov was a bulwark of moderation in his camp. That is, those who, unlike Vladimir Putin, do not equate [the man] who was elected president of Chechnya in 1997, promising to strengthen peace with Russia, and his rival Shamil Basaev, who always promised to continue the war.”

Journalist and veteran Russia watcher Christian Schmidt-Hauer wrote in the German weekly Die Zeit on March 11: “Vladimir Putin resumed the war [in Chechnya] to help him score a victory in the presidential elections. Since that time Moscow has no longer wanted real negotiations. Maskhadov was torn between peace proposals and military operations, dissociation from terror and solidarity with fanatical field commanders. He was the Last of the Mohicans. Now a generation of fundamentalists is coming in his place. It no longer knows Russians, only occupiers. With its arrival, Putin will get what he deserves.”

The Washington Post put forward a similar analysis in a March 11 editorial. “If, in the 1980s, the South African apartheid regime had killed Nelson Mandela, it would have committed the same kind of blunder that Russian special forces committed this week when they killed the Chechen separatist leader, Aslan Maskhadov,” the newspaper wrote. “This is not because Mr. Maskhadov was in any way similar to Mr. Mandela in personality, values or stature; he was not. But he represented, in Chechnya, the same kind of relative moderation. The South African regime knew that if Mr. Mandela and his allies were not made part of a democratic settlement, it would be left to deal with a younger, more violent and more radical generation of activists later on. And this is the scenario that has come to pass in Chechnya: With the death of Mr. Maskhadov – a secular Muslim and a former Soviet army officer – the Russians are left to face a younger, more violent and more radical generation of activists.”