The separatist Chechenpress news agency on May 27 published several decrees issued by rebel leader Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev, one of which named London-based rebel emissary Akhmed Zakaev as the rebel government’s minister of foreign affairs. Zakaev replaces Usman Ferzauli, who will now serve as Zakaev’s deputy. According to a chronology provided by Newsru.com on May 29, Zakaev, who prior to this latest reshuffle was the rebel government’s culture minister, was stripped of his additional position of deputy prime minister in February of this year for engaging in “public polemics” with the new separatist leadership headed by Sadulaev. On May 30, Chechenpress specifically took issue with Newsru.com’s characterization of the reasons why Zakaev lost his deputy prime minister’s post, stating that his public disagreement was not with the rebel leadership, but with “one of the former ministers of the Chechen government” — an apparent reference to Movladi Udugov (Chechnya Weekly, February 9).
Chechenpress also posted the transcript of an interview that Zakaev recently gave to Radio Liberty’s Chechen-language service, in which he played down the significance of his appointment as the ChRI’s foreign minister. “The duties and work that I must carry out remain unchanged; they have not changed and cannot change,” he told the radio station. “The president and government have developed a unified strategy, according to which all work abroad will be subordinated to one department, [and] the remaining ministries, and in particular the heads of the ministries, will have to be at home, taking stock of the state of affairs on the fronts, controlling the situation on site.”
Asked whether he would, “as earlier,” seek “a path to peace,” Zakaev responded: “I am firmly convinced that the conflict in Chechnya, and in all of the North Caucasus, can be resolved only by means of peace negotiations. Our aspiration for peace has not weakened; we all continue to strive for it, and I am certain that there is no other way. I think that the leadership of Russia understands this well, and that the forces in Russia currently seeking to resolve this problem by peaceful means are growing. As far as I know, conversations about a peaceful resolution of this issue are taking place among officials of the Russian government, not to mention grass-roots organizations. Aslan Maskhadov offered even at the beginning of the war to resolve this problem by means of negotiations, and since that time our position has not changed. Our current ChRI president Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev holds to this course as well. He has more than once noted that we are not against peace and accord; the only thing that has changed is that we no longer intend to beg for it. If the opposing side decides to use political methods to resolve this issue, then we, of course, will meet them halfway. Just as we will continue to work with grass-roots organizations and to apply maximum efforts on this path.”
Kommersant wrote on May 30 that Akhmed Zakaev’s appointment to the post of ChRI foreign minister is evidence of the waning influence of “radicals” like Movladi Udugov on the separatist leadership, which, according to the newspaper, now does not even rule out “a resumption of negotiations with the Russian side.” Zakaev’s appointment as foreign minister, wrote Kommersant, “notably strengthens the position of the moderate wing of the Chechen separatists,” which was weakened after Aslan Maskhadov’s death. The newspaper quoted Zakaev as saying that he had serious disagreements with Movladi Udugov, who, according to Zakaev, “denies the need for the international community to recognize our independence; I, on the contrary, believe that on the path to our goals we cannot ignore world public opinion.” The newspaper quoted Udugov as saying that Zakaev’s views were incompatible with the demands of Islam, which, he said, should be the basis on which Chechen statehood is built.
According to Kommersant, when Sadulaev removed Zakaev as deputy prime minister and simultaneously stripped Udugov of his post as separatist minister of press and information for their “public polemics on issues of the republic’s state sovereignty,” Udugov was given a new position as head of the Chechen National Information Service under the State Defense Committee Majlis-ul-Shura. This marked a victory for Udugov and the radicals, wrote Kommersant, noting that another leading moderate, Maskhadov’s long-time foreign minister Ilyas Akhmadov, also lost his post and that Sadulaev in the summer of 2005 brought Udugov and Shamil Basaev back into the separatist government (as minister of press and information and first deputy prime minister, respectively). On top of this, Zakaev was ordered to deal exclusively with cultural matters and not to speak in the name of the ChRI government, wrote Kommersant. According to the newspaper, the rebel leadership, in re-elevating Zakaev, is seeking to rekindle to the international community’s interest in the issue of Chechnya, which has faded since Maskhadov’s death. “Akhmed Zakaev is known as a politician in international circles; he will undoubtedly be more useful in his capacity as head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs than anybody else,” the former separatist foreign minister, Usman Ferzauli, told Kommersant, adding that he did not rule out a resumption of peace talks. “We have new proposals that might interest Moscow,” Ferzauli said.