Akhmed Zakaev, the London-based prime minister of the separatist Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI) government-in-exile, responded to Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov’s claim in an interview published the previous day that he had spoken to Zakaev about conditions for his return to Chechnya. Zakaev told the BBC’s Russian service on February 11 that he will not return home until Moscow begins negotiations on a political settlement of the Chechen conflict.
Kadyrov claimed in an interview published in the government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta on February 10 that Zakaev had telephoned him. “Zakaev wants to return; I had a conversation with him,” Kadyrov told Rossiiskaya Gazeta. “He told me: I want to serve better.”
Kadyrov was asked about the FSB’s recent claims that Zakaev was setting up his own armed units and directing attacks in Chechnya—accusations that were earlier criticized by Kadyrov’s spokesman, Lema Gudaev, who defended Zakaev and suggested that the FSB’s comments were aimed at disrupting the Chechen authorities’ efforts to woo former political opponents back home (North Caucasus Weekly, February 6). The FSB also reported that a Zakaev agent involved in setting up these armed units, Isa Khadiev, had been killed during a special operation on January 17.
Kadyrov said in reference to the FSB’s accusations against Zakaev: “I don’t know, maybe he planned to create some kind of groups; the FSB knows better. If Isa [Khadiev] was indeed his agent, then he wasn’t able to carry out any terrorist attacks. Zakaev himself is also no warrior. He is a good actor and a highly educated person. We have the Grozny Theater, where he could once again act, or he could be in charge of the state music hall. So there is work for him in the ministry of culture. I am confirming that.” Kadyrov said Zakaev is afraid of being prosecuted for “sins” he allegedly committed during Chechnya’s wars, but that “we should learn to forgive and to bring people back.” He noted that his government has already brought back to Chechnya two representatives of former Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov’s government—Umar Khambiev, who was Maskhadov’s health minister and later general representative of the ChRI president abroad, and Umar Sugaipov, who was representative of the ChRI president in Britain.
As Interfax noted on February 9, Zakaev is wanted in Russia for allegedly organizing an armed rebellion, setting up illegal armed formations and attacking a law-enforcement official, as well as alleged involvement in the October 2002 hostage seizure at Moscow’s Dubrovka Theater. In 2006, the Prosecutor General’s Office filed new charges against Zakaev, accusing him of using the media to arouse ethnic hatred and threaten violence.
Meanwhile, Interfax reported on February 6 that an unnamed former subordinate of Zakaev had surrendered to police in Chechnya’s Urus-Martan district. According to the news agency, the putative erstwhile Zakaev subordinate, described as a 45-year-old resident of Grozny, said that in 1996-1997 he had been the commanding officer of a platoon within a separate special-purpose battalion led by Zakaev.
In his interview with Rossiiskaya Gazeta, Kadyrov reiterated that he is seeking to bring back to Chechnya all who have not “stained themselves with blood,” adding: “We have few men left after the war. I think we should fight for the life and soul of every Chechen.”
Asked by the BBC’s Russian service on February 11 about Kadyrov’s comments, Zakaev responded: “Ramzan Kadyrov is not making such a statement for the first time. I never discussed with him any kind of promises on my part or conditions for my return. Besides, I can say that it is not only Ramzan Kadyrov who is worried about my job placement. Putin more than once sent his representatives to me and even offered Ramzan Kadyrov’s current job. I expressed gratitude—and I can right now express gratitude to those who worry about my fate—but my position differs on principle from the positions of those people today who have trusted the Russian leadership and are in fact terrorizing their own people. Ramzan most likely does not understand that one can come to power at the point of Russian bayonets, but to remain there [at the point of Russian bayonets] is practically impossible. I think that he needs to worry about his security first and foremost, and as for my job placement, I’ll manage somehow.”
Zakaev further told the BBC’s Russian service: “The parliament of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria literally several days ago confirmed my authority as chairman of the ChRI cabinet of ministers. Our government is working, functioning, and I am sure that a resolution of the Russian-Chechen conflict lies not in the military sphere, not in army operations and military actions, but in the political sphere. And we are working and ready to work in that direction. I declared that in the previous interview; I said that we are open to dialogue even with representatives of Ramzan Kadyrov. So I can add nothing new.” Zakaev also said that “to negotiate about some posts in today’s Chechnya would be very unwise” and that he is not ready to do so.
Kommersant on January 28 quoted Zakaev as confirming that people from his entourage had met with representatives of the pro-Moscow Chechen authorities. “I am ready to discuss with everybody, including representatives of Ramzan Kadyrov, resolving issues that will help avoid the continuation of bloodshed,” he told the newspaper (North Caucasus Weekly, January 30).
Zakaev reiterated his rejection of Kadyrov’s offer to return to Chechnya in an interview with the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets. Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on February 11 that Zakaev told the newspaper he had been visited by an aide to Kadyrov and spoke on the aide’s mobile phone with a man said to be Kadyrov. According to AFP, Zakaev rejected the offer to come home and work in his former profession as a theater actor or run the concert hall, saying that a spate of politically linked murders in Russia meant no guarantee of safety could be trusted.
“I don’t think such promises are reliable,” Zakaev told Moskovsky Komsomolets. “Kadyrov’s own security is in question. A couple of months ago there was an assassination attempt at his home, although this fact was officially denied. I doubt any one right now can give a complete security guarantee on the territory of Russia, not only in Chechnya but also in Moscow. Ramzan and many other people are concerned about my work situation but I’m quite satisfied with my current post as prime minister of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.”
In comments to the newspaper Trud, Kadyrov insisted his invitation to Zakaev was “absolutely sincere” and not a question of “enticing” him back, AFP reported.
Commenting on the back and forth between Zakaev and Kadyrov, Ilya Milshtein wrote in a piece posted on the Grani.ru website on February 11 that Kadyrov is “embodying a long-standing, desperate dream of Chechens”—a dream of “vengeance” for the two wars in Chechnya. “This revenge is multiform—from rehabilitation of Zakaev, in pursuit of whom the Russian Federation Prosecutor General’s Office has unsuccessfully made the rounds of Europe’s capitals, to retribution for war crimes committed in Chechnya,” Milshtein wrote. “The pressure is increasing gradually but inexorably, and it is already impossible to know who is beating whom. Even so, Kadyrov is much freer in his actions both in Chechnya and in Russia than a majority of the federal politicians. The borders of that freedom are still uncharted, but are expanding steadily.”
For his part, Stanislav Dmitrievsky, the head of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, the group formerly based in Nizhny Novgorod which was shut down on the orders of a Russian court in October 2006 and is now based in Helsinki, wrote in a commentary for the APN.ru website on February 11 that Kadyrov’s invitation to Zakaev to return to Chechnya was a “PR” action, given that the FSB has not given up on its intention to win Zakaev’s extradition to Russia to face prosecution. “It turns out that either Kadyrov is bluffing or we already are dealing with a princeling who can dictate his terms to the federal law-enforcement authorities and power bodies,” Dmitrievsky wrote.