March 9th 2005 · Prague Watchdog / Ruslan Isayev · PRINTER FRIENDLY FORMAT · E-MAIL THIS · ALSO AVAILABLE IN: RUSSIAN 

Most Chechens shocked by Maskhadov's death, fear turn for the worse

By Ruslan Isayev

CHECHNYA/INGUSHETIA – The death of the Ichkerian President and Chechen resistance leader Aslan Maskhadov has caused shock among most Chechens, in spite of the fact that during his lifetime he was accused of having indirectly started the war because he did not disavow field commander Shamil Basayev in time.

It is natural that Maskhadov’s death will be the most appreciable blow to the Chechen resistance since the events of 2000, when more than a thousand guerrillas were killed defending the village of Komsomolskoye. In order to regroup and choose a new set of tactics for conducting military operations, the Chechen resistance needs time.

With Maskhadov’s death a new phase of the conflict in Chechnya is beginning, one that will be characterized by great cruelty on both sides. In a pseudo-victorious push, the Russian special forces are trying to finish off the resistance. The guerrillas, on the other hand, will most probably halt their operations for a while.

Everything depends on who will be chosen as leader of the State Committee of Defence of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, which was headed by Maskhadov. This structure was created especially for war, and it controls the coordination of military operations.

The situation may now alter for the worse. Writing in one of the Russian journals about a month ago, the Russian philosopher Grigory Pomerants wrote literally as follows:

“As long as the Chechens are fighting, they may collaborate with anyone they like, including Al-Qaeda. But they don’t need Al-Qaeda as a guiding force, because they can guide themselves… The best defence against Al-Qaeda in Chechnya is provided by Maskhadov and Basayev. If they are removed, the Chechens will be left without leaders of their own. And it’s then that Al-Qaeda will have a chance of taking Chechnya into its hands. We ought to be praying for the health of Maskhadov and Basayev, not putting prices on their heads.”

This is also word-for-word the opinion of most of Chechnya’s peaceful inhabitants. People are really crushed and depressed by the news of their President’s death.

“I’m proud that he left in a way that was fitting for a real warrior and a man of honour. It would have been worse if he’d been caught and humiliated like Saddam Hussein. I didn’t have that courage and I had to surrender and take amnesty,” was how Salavdi, one of the amnestied guerrillas, who is at present living in Ingushetia, commented on the President’s death.

66-year-old pensioner Maret Nikayeva is also very upset by Maskhadov’s killing: “What did he ever do to the Russians, for them to kill him? Why don’t they kill Basayev, who has done far more harm to Russia? He’s working with them, that’s why they don’t kill him. But Maskhadov wanted negotiations, and that’s why they killed him. They (the Russians) always kill the innocent ones, who don’t want war.”

A young woman named Zina, who lives in Chechnya, thinks that Maskhadov’s death is a great tragedy for the Chechen people. When asked why, she replies:

“Well, I voted for him. He was Chechnya’s legitimate President. And that’s also how many of my friends, relatives and neighbours feel. It’s a great loss for me and my people. Many people in Chechnya will stay at home as a sign of mourning, to express their solidarity with those who are fighting the Russian troops.”

The reaction of ordinary people to Maskhadov’s death is unambiguous. Almost everyone I spoke to expressed regret. The expression on the faces of many was one of grief. At the moment when one of the Russian TV channels showed the body of the slain Maskhadov, the women wept, and tears came to the eyes of several of the men.

Indeed, Maskhadov’s fate is very similar to the fate of his people. Unlike Basayev and Dudayev, Maskhadov had no wish to fight to the end, until victory. Although he was a regular soldier, he always considered that it was impossible to solve the problem by war. Even with the passage of so many years and all his wanderings, Maskhadov never lost his human face, and always talked about the need for negotiations.

“I doubt if Putin will feel much rejoicing in Maskhadov’s liquidation. At least, I didn’t see it in his face. I think he understands the whole danger of the situation, which may get out of control,” said a resident of Chechnya named Beslan.

“Even if they capture and kill Basayev and the other commanders, there are others, young and uncompromising, who will take their place: I know what I’m talking about, and I know how others of my age feel,” the 24-year-old Beslan notes.

Translated by David McDuff.


 · Chechen guerrilla leader Aslan Maskhadov killed (PW, March 8, 2005)



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