One commentator, Radio Liberty correspondent Andrei Babitsky, noted that Baraev’s death could strengthen the hand of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. He noted that at the start of the current military campaign, Maskhadov, by accepting Baraev and other radical field commanders like Shamil Basaev and Khattab as allies, left himself open to being blamed for condoning their various crimes and the armed incursion they led into Dagestan in 1999. But the situation is now changed, cardinally. About a month ago, Basaev announced that he had not been under Maskhadov’s command since 1998 and was conducting completely autonomous military operations. According to Babitsky, Basaev, as the “imam of Chechnya and Dagestan,” sees his main fight as being against “unbelievers” in these two republics, with the goal of setting up a single Islamic state in the North Caucasus, under his–Basaev’s–de facto control. For his part, Maskhadov’s goal since the start of the current military campaign has been to resist the federal troops in order to force the Russians to sit at the negotiating table.
In this context, Baraev’s death takes on a new significance: It means that one of the main obstacles to peace talks has been removed. Indeed, it is quite possible that the Kremlin sought to eliminate one of the rebels’ most radical and odious commanders to clear the way for the start of negotiations with Maskhadov (Radio Liberty, June 25).
On the other hand, it may be simply be the case that the Russian side has decided to go all-out in order to score some military victories in Chechnya, given the growing perception both at home and abroad that the federal forces are unable to defeat the rebels. Today, on the heels of the reports of Baraev’s death, some media reported that Russian border guards and army special forces units had managed to either kill or capture Khattab, the Jordanian-born rebel field commander, during a battle in the Sharo-Argun Gorge along Chechnya’s border with Georgia. Izvestia cited an unnamed source in the headquarters of the federal forces in Chechnya as saying it was “almost certain” that Khattab had been captured. The Lenta.ru website reported that the body of rebel field commander killed during the Sharo-Argun Gorge fighting was believed to be Khattab’s. The Gazeta.ru website, however, reported that the rebel fighters killed during the fighting in the Sharo-Argun Gorge did not belong to Khattab’s units. Citing sources in the Russian military base at Khankala, just outside Djohar, the website reported that the rebel rebels fighting in the gorge were being led by Ruslan Tagaroev, a field commander who was closely connected to Baraev (Izvestia, Lenta.ru, Gazeta.ru, June 27). For its part, a Chechen rebel website reported that the battle in the gorge was continuing and that “some seventy-five” Russian troops had been killed. While the website quoted a report from the scene of the fighting by a commander “Amir Abdurakhman,” it did not indicate who was commanding the rebels fighting in the gorge (Kavkaz.org, June 27). The Russian side claims that twenty-one rebel fighters have been killed so far in the Sharo-Argun Gorge battle, which began late June 25, when Russian forces ambushed a forty-man rebel unit (Lenta.ru, June 27).
In another apparent Russian military success, Interior Ministry special forces reportedly captured Turpal Movsaev, the head of Aslan Maskhadov’s special units. The official RIA-Novosti news agency reported that Movsaev was caught with a list of 18 persons targeted for assassination, including officials of Chechnya’s pro-Moscow administration, the Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service (Russian agencies, June 26). This morning, Abubakar Kadyrov, nephew of Akhmad Kadyrov, head of the pro-Moscow administration in Chechnya, was killed when a mine blew up his car while he was leaving his home village of Tsentoroi in Chechnya’s Kurchaloevsky district (Russian agencies, June 27).
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