Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 41

Interfax reported on October 31 that when President Putin was asked during an interview with the Netherlands’ Nederland 1 television and NRC Handlesblatt newspaper why Russian troops cannot find Chechen warlord Shamil Basaev, he responded: “Why hasn’t [Osama] bin Laden been found yet? [He has not been found] because people like him are hiding like rats, using their supporters as shields.” Chechen President Alu Alkhanov, for his part, said on October 27 that he believes Chechen rebel warlord Shamil Basaev is located somewhere in the North Caucasus. The quicker Basaev and his accomplices are located, Alkhanov told a press conference at the offices of Interfax in Moscow, the quicker they can be “neutralized” and the situation in Chechnya and the North Caucasus stabilized.

Several observers, however, believe that Russia’s special services—or, at least, some within their ranks—know where Basaev is but are not interested in capturing him. The journalist Yevgeny Kiselev said in an interview with Ekho Moskvy radio on November 1 that if Basaev did not exist, he would have to be invented. “Mr. Basaev is needed; such a person, hiding and running around the mountains on crutches or on his artificial limb, is needed by the Party of War, which hasn’t disappeared, which needs to continue this special operation—in other words, the war in Chechnya—which has been going on so many years,” Kiselev said. “It is well known that there is the version—I didn’t make it up—that in general Mr. Basaev has had special relations with certain Russian special services virtually since the start of the 1990s.” According to Kiselev, the rumor is that Basaev has had special ties with the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian army’s general staff, the GRU.

In a similar vein, the journalist Aleksandr Minkin speculated in an interview with Ekho Moskvy on October 20 that there are certain people within the Russian authorities who have had a “long and fruitful” relationship with Basaev. “If since 1995, since Budennovsk, for ten years they haven’t been able to catch him, that cannot be for no reason,” Minkin told the radio station. “It means he is in contact with someone. He was freed from ambush, freed from encirclement. And now in Nalchik, on the day that Nalchik was seized, they said that evening that Basaev had been killed, and then it turned out that he was alive. I’ll say something different. I think that he will be killed at some point, but I don’t think he’ll ever be taken alive. He knows so much about those high-ranking people, that like Maskhadov, an unexpected death awaits him – at the moment he agrees to negotiations.”