September 30th 2008 · Prague Watchdog / Dzhambulat Are · PRINTER FRIENDLY FORMAT · E-MAIL THIS · ALSO AVAILABLE IN: RUSSIAN 

Death of a hero (weekly review)

Death of a hero (weekly review)

By Dzhambulat Are, special to Prague Watchdog

GROZNY, Chechnya – The audacious murder of one of the Kremlin’s most loyal allies, Ruslan Yamadayev, in the centre of the Russian capital has prompted memories of the not so distant days when the future Hero of Russia and Duma deputy served under the banners of Ichkeria, the independent Chechen state.

The future Ichkerian general Ruslan Yamadayev did not cram in the classrooms of a military academy, or hone his fighting skills on the battlefield, or sit poring over operational maps at night, ready to defend the fatherland. Instead, he became a general in the way that was widespread in those years. Dzhokhar Dudayev, the first Ichkerian President, once said that by the very fact of his birth every Chechen is already a general. Some of Dudayev’s comrades-at-arms interpreted this joke as a guide to action, and in free Ichkeria the brigadier-generals began to sprout like mushrooms after rain. To be sure, the “brigades” under the command of the newly fledged warlords were only a few dozen men strong – but then Chechens, as everyone knows, have a tendency for poetic exaggeration.

One of the Yamadayev brothers at least – Sulim – actually had some military experience, which enabled him to undergo a wonderful metamorphosis. After the storming of Grozny in August 1996, a decree by President Maskhadov transformed him from a rank-and-file guerrilla into a general overnight.

Ruslan Yamadayev is believed to have fought against the federal forces during the first Chechen war, and even to have been awarded Ichkeria’s highest honour, the Hero of the Nation. And in the second Chechen campaign Ruslan Yamadayev and his brothers made a dizzying career. This was the period when an oath of loyalty to the federal centre carried far more value than education, experience, an aptitude for business, or human qualities. To opt for Russia signified the making of a choice in the very highest category. The result: three Heroes of Russia in the same family.

But Ruslan went further than the others. By September 2001 he was already ensconced in the post of deputy military commandant of Chechnya. Since as a former “brigadier” he knew a quite a bit about how the military life of the mujahedin was organized, he was given the task of leading Russian troops around the mountains in search of enemy units.

According to those who know, under Ruslan Yamadayev’s direction more than 150 guerrillas met their deaths, or at least the ones who were named on the list of enemies of the Russian state. Soon the Yamadayev family’s second brother, Sulim, also arrived in the commandant’s office, and also assumed the post of deputy commandant of Chechnya. As for the commandant himself, General Kizyun, he is known to have been in the car with Ruslan Yamadayev at the moment when the latter was shot in Moscow, and to have been seriously wounded.

Yet another Yamadayev, Dzhabrail, headed a GRU spetsnaz special company manned by Chechens. To be sure, Dzhabrail was not lucky. He was killed in a bomb blast in his own residence on the outskirts of Vedeno.

Ruslan Yamadayev soon moved to the Russian Duma, where he had friends and where he lobbied for the interests of his clan. Ramzan Kadyrov sensed the danger posed by the hyperactive brothers, and began to deal with them. Having gradually destroyed or neutralized all the armed groups not under his control – groups which the law enforcement bodies had formed from local residents – he came to the Yamadayevs, who had the reputation of being untouchable. In order to smash the Vostok special battalion headed by Sulim, Kadyrov needed to pull levers that were both military and political.

Kadyrov did not launch military operations against the Yamadayev forces, mainly for the reason that such a duel might not have concluded in his favour. Instead, he decided to adopt a role which did not come naturally to him – that of defender of the law. Old skeletons came tumbling out of all the cupboards. Scores were settled with the Yamadayevs for everything: the extra-judicial executions, the law enforcement operation in the settlement of Borozdinovskaya, and the hostage-taking raids outside the republic.

It is said that immediately after Ruslan's murder in Moscow Sulim Yamadayev sent Ramzan Kadyrov a text message informing him that he was going to dispose of him at the end of Ramadan. For his part, Ramzan replied that he didn’t intend to wait for the completion of the fast.

There will obviously be no revolution in Chechnya because of the murder of Ruslan Yamadayev, let alone of his brother Sulim. To the Chechen man in the street these events are just the customary wrangling between clans about power and money.

The illustration is borrowed from the Novaya Gazeta web site.

Previous weekly reviews can be read at

(Translation by DM)


 · A parade of corpses before the decisive battle (PW, 12.5.2008)
 · Chechen battalions slipping out of control (PW, 28.8.2007)



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