Why Was Khizri Aldamov “Returned” to Chechnya?

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 13 Issue: 13

It came as a complete surprise when Chechen TV, on the evening of June 13, broadcast a meeting between Ramzan Kadyrov and Khizri Aldamov, who was the general representative in Georgia for the separatist Chechen Republic of Ichkeria from 1994-2004 and is now a Georgian citizen. Aldamov indicated in his statements that his primary motives were “repentance” and a desire to live in his homeland, Chechnya. The voiceover said enthusiastically that the former representative of Ichkeria had fully repented and wanted to be useful to his Chechen homeland (www.youtube.com/watch?v=szXbBjnNFIU).  Khizri Aldamov hailed from the village of Duisi, which is in the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia’s Ahmet district. Aldamov has nothing in Chechnya that would make it his homeland – no home, no relatives. He has lived in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi for the past 20 years. The only thing that connects Aldamov to Chechnya is that he is an ethnic Chechen.

Aldamov’s repentance does not diminish his role in the separatist movement from 1994-2004. He was a very active politician who oversaw practically all interactions between the Georgian governments of Eduard Shevardnadze and Zviad Gamsakhurdia, on the one hand, and the Ichkerian government, on the other. The Ichkerian representative regularly received sensitive assignments, as for example, in the case involving the February 1998 attempt to assassinate Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, in which Chechens allegedly participated. Following intensive contacts and an exchange of information, Tbilisi and Grozny issued a joint statement about Moscow’s involvement in the assassination attempt (https://kommersant.ru/doc/192248). Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov’s visit to Georgia in August 1998 helped to raise Khizri Aldamov’s political weight not only among Georgian Chechens, but also among Georgians generally. Aldamov was recognized as an official figure and became part of the Georgian political elite as a member of the Georgian Christian Party. The Ichkerian representative’s activities in Georgia consistently irritated Russia. For example, an attempt was made on his life in 2004; he survived the attempted poisoning while his nephew died. “The doctors told me that my auditory nerve was damaged; I acquired a disorder of the nervous system and dysfunction of the musculoskeletal system,” Aldamov recounted following the assassination attempt (https://nohchipress.info/?p=6611). Although he once accused the Russian security services for his poisoning, he now accuses the Georgian security services (www.kommersant.ru/doc/487607/print). Since recovering, Aldamov has ceased to participate in the political life of Ichkeria.

Aldamov left Georgia in 2011. His motivation for doing so had nothing to do with his dislike of President Mikheil Saakashvili. Rather, Aldamov attempted to reunite with part of his family that had moved to France several years earlier. To achieve that goal, Aldamov flew to Kazakhstan, in order to get into Europe via a third country. However, on instructions from the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), he was detained in Kazakhstan, and spent several months there before his surprise appearance on official Chechen TV on June 13. Approximately 7-9 months elapsed between the moment of Aldamov’s arrest in Kazakhstan and his repentant statement on Chechen TV. It must be noted that the FSB still dominates decision-making over the security services of the former Soviet states, with the exception of Georgia and the Baltic countries. So foreigners who trust the “independence” of the security services of the former Soviet states should be very careful about their travel plans.

On June 20 – one week after his first appearance on Chechen TV – Khizri Aldamov gave a lengthy press conference at the offices of the Chechen information agency Grozny-Inform that was broadcast on the Grozny TV channel the same day. The ex-representative of Ichkeria explained why he decided to leave Georgia. He said that, first of all, he did not want to live in Georgia where Saakashvili was president. Secondly, he said he disliked the fact that in the 1990s, President Shevardnadze had flirted with rebels while “terrorist organizations did not shy away from any methods” (www.chechnyatoday.com/content/view/21029/159). Aldamov also claimed that the Georgian government had played political games, trying to create a “government of Ichkeria” in exile using Ahmed Zakaev and Ahyad Idigov. Lastly, Aldamov said he was impressed by Ramzan Kadyrov’s achievements and the restoration of the destroyed city of Grozny (www.ChechnyaTODAY.com, June 21). It is unclear why Aldamov’s reservations about 1990s policies impacted him so belatedly or why no one, except he and a few Russian journalists, has information about terrorist organizations in Georgia. Another interesting question from his revelations concerns his claims that the Georgian government has the ability to unite two entirely different political groups representing Ichkeria in the West – those of Zakaev and Idigov, who do not recognize each other, to put it mildly.

All of these peculiarities indicate that Aldamov’s appearance on Chechen TV was likely to be caused not by Aldamov’s repentant and mercenary personal characteristics, but rather was the result of his forced cooperation with the Russian security services. The apparent aim of having a former politician from Aslan Maskhadov’s entourage appear on TV was to add weight to the achievements of the current Chechen leadership. However, compared to the period of 2005-2008, the novelty of repentant rebels and leaders defecting has worn off. It is hard today to surprise audiences or add points to Kadyrov’s achievements with such revelations. This episode is nothing more than a worn out page from the playbook of the Russian propaganda machine in Chechnya.

Khizri Aldamov’s “return” to Chechnya will likely be used by Russia to discredit Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. In the run-up to the parliamentary elections in Georgia this fall, the Russian government is intent on releasing more information, casting Saakashvili’s government in a negative light. The targets of this information warfare are not so much the citizens of Georgia but Western countries. Russia’s use of a long forgotten figure testifies to the crisis in Moscow’s thinking in this field and its limited ability to counter Georgian soft power in the North Caucasus.