Basayev's appointment as Ichkerian vice-president may narrow separatists' options
By Umalt Chadayev
CHECHNYA – On June 27 Chechen pro-guerrilla websites published a decree of the new President of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI), Dokka Umarov, appointing Shamil Basayev, former first deputy chairman of the Ichkerian government, as its vice-president. In the opinion of a number of observers this appointment may significantly reduce the political options of the Chechen armed resistance.
"In my view, Shamil Basayev's appointment as ChRI vice-president may not leave the Ichkerians the option of any political maneuver. Russia refused any dialogue with the democratically elected Ichkerian President Aslan Maskhadov, so they're not likely to talk to Umarov, and even less so to Basayev," says a Chechen political analyst.
"Basayev has long been declared an international terrorist, and now the Kremlin will have plenty of opportunities to say how "the other side" now consists exclusively of bandits, terrorists and murderers, with whom it's impossible and pointless to talk about anything."
"Dokka Umarov may be a good soldier, an expert in guerrilla warfare and so on, but neither he nor Shamil Basayev can really be considered politicians. Though I wouldn't go so far as to characterize Basayev as an Islamic fundamentalist or a Moslem fanatic. He was born in the Soviet system and lived and grew up in it, and that "Soviet-ness" can't be eradicated. Yes, he is probably a man of deep religious faith, but he's not an expert on religion as Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev was, for example, and at the same time he's not as 'Sovietized' as Dzhokhar Dudayev or Aslan Maskhadov were," he says.
"I don't think the change of Ichkerian leadership will cause any fundamental realignments in the guerrillas' tactics and strategy. After Maskhadov's death, Basayev and Umarov effectively took over the leadership of the guerrillas. Now these two principal guerrilla leaders, the last of the Ichkerian 'Mohicans', have merely formalized on paper the real state of affairs in the separatists' camp", the political analyst considers.
The republic's law enforcement agencies are certain that the separatists' actions following the death of Aslan Maskhadov and his successor Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev, who was killed in the town of Argun nearly two weeks ago, show that they have now completely exhausted their resources.
"Umarov has made Basayev his vice-president not out of any great love for him, but because there was no one else to appoint. The Zakayevs, the Udugovs and other ardent 'Ichkerians' ran abroad long ago and have not done badly for themselves there. Now Umarov and Basayev have the whole of Ichkeria at their disposal, since the other serious figures simply didn't remain with them," an officer of the Chechen police is convinced.
At the same time, many in Chechnya recognize the fact that Basayev is a rather charismatic personality, with indisputable authority in the separatists' camp.
"No one mentions it now, but after the first Chechen war Shamil Basayev was a very real hero for most Chechens (and not only Chechens). It shouldn't be forgotten that he came second to Aslan Maskhadov in the Chechen presidential elections of January 1997. And even now he retains the highest authority among the guerrillas. One must give him his due, he's a man of courage, and one who is out of the ordinary, though I personally don't excuse many of his actions, such as the seizure of the school in Beslan, for example," says Khalid Movsarov, a 22-year student at the Grozny Pedagogical Institute.
Shamil Basayev's biography
Shamil Basayev was born in 1965 in the mountainous Vedensky district of what was then still the Chechen-Ingush ASSR. After his return from the army he attended the Moscow Agriculture Institute, but was dismissed in his second year for poor academic performance. Basayev's name first became known in Chechnya in the autumn of 1991, when Russia declared a state of emergency in the republic and made an attempt to send in troops. Then, as a sign of protest against Moscow's actions, three Chechens hijacked a Russian passenger aircraft to Turkey. One of those three Chechens was the then still unknown Shamil Basayev.
After the beginning of the war in Abkhazia Basayev, headed the first group of Chechen volunteers, who left for this republic and took part in armed confrontations with the Georgian army. In 1993 Basayev became commander-in-chief of the forces of the Confederation of the Peoples of the Caucasus (KNK) and deputy Abkhazian defence minister. On his return to Chechnya, he was appointed commander of the reconnaissance and sabotage battalion of the ChRI armed forces, which was usually called the "Abkhazian battalion".
With the outbreak of war on the territory of the Chechen republic in 1994, Dzhokhar Dudayev made Shamil one of the front-line commanders. In June 1995 Basayev's unit seized the town of Budennovsk in Stavropol Territory, southern Russia. In exchange for the lives of the hostages Basayev demanded the cessation of military actions in Chechnya and the opening of negotiations between Moscow and the ChRI leadership. Military actions stopped for several months. In August 1996, guerrilla units under the command of Maskhadov, Basayev, Gelayev and a number of other commanders took the city of Grozny, which led to the signing of the so-called Khasavyurt Accords and the ending of the first Chechen war.
In 1997 Shamil Basayev was appointed vice-premier of the ChRI government, and later acting head of the Ichkerian government. At the beginning of July 1998, he resigned.
After the beginning of the second Chechen war, Basayev was again appointed commander of one of the fronts, and one of the leaders of the defence of Grozny. As he was leaving Grozny, now surrounded by Russian troops, in the winter of 2000 Basayev was blown up by a landmine, and part of his leg was subsequently amputated. Several times the Russian military reported the his death, but on every occasion this information was not confirmed.
In June 2004 guerrilla units claimed by Russian law enforcers to be under the general command of Shamil Basayev carried out attacks on a number of military and police targets in the republic of Ingushetia. He also took responsibility for the seizure of hostages in the North Ossetian town of Beslan in September 2004, and the attack on Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, in October 2005.
Shamil Basayev is a recipient of the highest awards of the ChRI: "K'oman Siy" (honour of the nation) and "K'oman Turpal" (hero of the nation). He bears the title of Ichkerian Divisional General.
Translated by David McDuff.