In an interview posted on the website of the separatist Chechenpress news agency on May 14, Akhmed Zakaev, the London-based foreign minister of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI), commented on the recent open letter from more than 100 British luminaries to President Vladimir Putin protesting human rights abuses in Chechnya (Chechnya Weekly, May 10).
Zakaev said he wanted to “to express thanks to all of the signatories of the appeal in question and also all the previous appeals,” adding: “I believe that this initiative by the representatives of British society has been heard by both the Russian leadership and the Western European governments. Russia can ignore the appeal, but cannot but take into consideration the position of European leaders who, in turn, cannot but take the public mood into consideration.” Asked whether the appeal was connected to “Russia’s interference in European affairs, particularly regarding Kosovo” – a reference to Russia’s opposition to a UN-sponsored plan for the future of Kosovo – Zakaev answered: “As far as I understood it, the appeal was timed for the start of the final year of Putin’s presidency. At the same time, it is gratifying that Putin has ceased to be exclusively a Chechen problem, [by] crudely and counter-productively interfering in the European problems, including the problem of a settlement in Kosovo. It seems to me that much of what is happening in Europe is symptomatic and speaks in a way clearly unfavorable to the Kremlin regime.”
Zakaev was also asked in the interview about the election of Nicolas Sarkozy as the president of France. During the final days of the French presidential campaign, Sarkozy promised to raise the issue of Chechnya with Putin. Sarkozy’s main opponent, Socialist Segolene Royal, also strongly criticized Russia’s human rights record, including in Chechnya (Chechnya Weekly, May 10). Zakaev said that the “repeated mention of the Chechen issue during the [French] election campaign speaks to the sympathy that a majority of the French feel for the Chechens.” Zakaev also said he personally wanted Sarkozy to win the election, if only because of his statements about Chechnya.
On May 8, Chechenpress published an interview Zakaev gave to the Caucasus Forum, a Turkish youth group. Asked whether he thought Putin’s successor next year would change course vis-à-vis Chechnya, Zakaev replied: “Without question, there will be changes of policy. In the Russian tradition, even the son of a tsar who inherited the throne could not happen without innovations in political orientation. Even the replacement of [Soviet Communist Party] General Secretaries did not happen without a change in course. In any case, the situation in the Chechen Republic cannot be changed for the worse, Inshallah.”
Zakaev was also asked about the impact of the deaths of ChRI President Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev and Shamil Basaev on the rebel movement: “Of course, the deaths of President Sadulaev and Shamil Basaev – shaheeds, Inshallah – are an irreplaceable loss, not only for the Chechen people,” Zakaev answered. “One can say about each Chechen leader killed by the Russians that he completely fulfilled his mission. The Russians’ actions are revenge that has come too late. Djokhar Dudaev, for example, raised the Chechens up in their fight for freedom. Aslan Maskhadov delivered the Russians a shattering defeat in the first war, one that knows no analogue in history. Without Shamil Basaev, it is impossible to imagine the upsurge in the holy struggle against the occupiers across the whole of the North Caucasus that we observe today. Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev, with his erudition, was able to validate once and for all the spiritual commonality of all North Caucasians.”
Zakaev was also asked about “the political and social reasons” for the appearance of “such serious internal enemies in the fight for independence” as Ramzan Kadyrov and his predecessor in the post of Chechen Republic president, Alu Alkhanov. “In one of my interviews I spoke about the protective reaction of the Chechen nation, when, during yet another incursion by the Russian punishers, a group of collaborationists without fail comes forward,” Zakaev said. “Whatever ignoble purposes the traitors are guided by, Chechens derive no small benefit from their activities. The armed resistance is freed from the task of providing the civilian population with foodstuffs and necessities. Shifting these tasks through the puppet government to the occupiers, we thereby secure an increase in Russia’s expenditures for the anti-Chechen war. If tens of puppet officials buy dachas and villas for millions of dollars across the globe, then just imagine the hidden part of the iceberg. Another form of resistance is the [twenty thousand] armed Chechens who are supposedly pro-Russian and are receiving high salaries. Without question, there are a couple hundred criminals among them, but in general, they are a buffer between the civilian population and the occupiers. There are many cases in which they execute the punishers. The fact that more than half of the ‘pro-Russian’ forces consist of former resistance fighters in many respects helps our government structures with weapons and information.”