The liquidation of Aslan Maskhadov – a new stage of the coup d’état in Russia?
Vladimir Voronov, specially for Prague Watchdog
Maskhadov is dead. But the war continues, because the death of the president of unrecognised Ichkeria has not so far solved any of the essential problems. Yet could it?
However, in order to answer the question “What will happen in Chechnya now?” we must at least know what the disposition of forces was at the moment of Aslan Maskhadov’s murder, and what was the resistance’s real potential. And this is a tricky problem that contains many unknowns.
If it is really true that Maskhadov held in his hands all the controlling threads of military operations, their planning and coordination – then yes, the blow was a powerful one, and the movement was decapitated, if only for the simple reason that there was among the separatists no other figure of equivalent stature, either from the point of view of purely human authority or of military talent. While Shamil Basayev, now de facto becoming the most resistance’s most significant figure, is unquestionably also a talent – but of a completely different kind.
However, if we are to take seriously the Kremlin’s assertions of recent years –
that Maskhadov was only the nominal head of the resistance, that in reality there was no single centre of control, that each of the field commanders acted independently – then Maskhadov’s departure from the political scene does not solve anything at all.
In my view, both of these positions are built on sand, because they completely ignore the reality of today’s Chechen resistance – its military-technological, moral-psychological, human and financial potential. How can one talk of what will happen without having any idea of the purely military resources of the sides involved?
The present-day Chechen resistance is a “ground zero”, a riddle with many unknowns: rumours abound, but no one really knows the real situation. Reliable information about the resistance’s potential is simply not available. Perhaps not even to the special services.
Opening the way to radicals
In spite of all this, though, one thing is obvious: Maskhadov’s death cannot fail to bring about changes. But of what kind? On a superficial analysis, that he will be avenged, that a great many field commanders will have their hands untied, and that the last obstacle in the way of the crazy extremists – not only the Basayevs, but the Barayevs – has fallen. And that the show will no longer be run by those who until now have only taken up arms in order to avenge their murdered relatives. Nor even by those who are fanatically ready to stand up for the cause of Chechen independence – they, indeed, are few in number.
No, Maskhadov’s death opens the way to radicals of a different kind. Just who they are may be gathered from a study of the materials on the Kavkaz-Center website, which traditionally expresses the views of Udugov and Basayev rather than those of moderate leaders of the Maskhadov type.
Here is a fairly typical position of the site, diplomatically outlined, it is true, in the words of Boris Stomakhin, editor of the newspaper Radikal’naya politika on December 28 2004: “After all that has been done to them, the Chechens are now fully entitled to revenge. They have a full moral right to attack the enemy-aggressor on his own territory, as without blinking an eye this enemy has destroyed a quarter of their small nation. The Chechens would have a right to revenge even if all the Russian occupying forces had cleared out of Chechnya long ago…”
After Maskhadov’s death these sentiments were more clearly expressed by the political scientist Saad Minkailov: there is no reason to regret that the peace process is being postponed for an indefinite period – “All those discussions are off the mark. They don’t concord with our aims. The war will take its course, and we shall have to fight, and fight again.”
And fight not at all for Chechnya’s freedom, since “the slogan… of driving out the occupiers from the territory of Ichkeria doesn’t produce any results. We shall gain nothing by them moving their military hardware 150 or 200 kilometres away from the site of today’s deployment and signing some papers or other. The logic of events dictates a different task: to drive the Russian occupiers out of the whole of the Caucasus.” But “the lawlessness being perpetrated by the Kremlin regime throughout the entire North Caucasus makes that task easier.” In other words, the worse things get, the better.
It is true that Shamil Basayev himself only outlined his position after a rather lengthy pause, and then somewhat vaguely. Though in the interview he gave to Kavkaz Center on March 28 he did not attempt to conceal his satisfaction that by getting rid of Maskhadov, Moscow was untying his hands: “All the mujaheddin have taken Aslan’s death calmly, one might even say with satisfaction, in the sense that it has given them the resolve to continue the struggle….”
Basayev expressed himself in more definite terms in his interview with TT, the Swedish Telegraph Agency, on March 21: “In order to hold out and win in this war we must use the enemy’s own weaponry and methods against him. We must not try to please either the West or the East. We must be ourselves and, gritting our teeth, march forward without looking from side to side.”
At all events, here it is, the first and visible consequence of the liquidation: “Oh, so that is what you’re like? Then we shall be like that, too! You were unwilling to talk to the most peaceful and moderate of us – so now you will have to deal with the extremists.”
But in my view this is precisely what the Kremlin analysts, for all one’s sceptical attitude in relation to their competence and professionalism, could not possibly have failed to calculate. Because, in order to make a prognosis of what will happen “after Maskhadov”, one must try to understand the most important thing: why did the Kremlin give the order to kill Maskhadov? And why precisely now?
The “2008 Problem”
It is now obvious that the whole of that detective story of March 8 – Tolstoy-Yurt, the bunker, the dynamic impact, and so on – was nothing but a smokescreen, created in order to conceal the fact that Aslan Maskhadov was killed quite deliberately. It was only possible to kill him by an order that one man alone in our country – Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin – can give. That, of course, is only a hypothesis, and even, one might say, a series of conjectures. Except that now they are being constructed both from the facts, which are fully available, and from the analysis of what the authorities wanted to conceal from us.
And what they are trying to conceal is precisely the fact that Aslan Maskhadov was deliberately killed on the orders of the Kremlin. If Putin had needed Maskhadov alive, everything would have looked different, and there would have been no need to invent fantastic versions of the event that clashed with one another, or to stack the evidence, destroying the house and the cellar where Maskhadov is said to have been hiding, there would have been no need to get rid of the house’s owner, or to conduct mocking dances with the corpse.
Putin did not need Maskhadov alive: Maskhadov was a major figure who had to be reckoned with, whom one could not simply process through the Basmanny District Court with a life sentence so he could be quietly murdered in his cell – like Raduyev.
Maskhadov was neither a Raduyev nor a Basayev, but a real national leader, whose legitimacy was far more substantial than that of Alkhanov and all the Kadyrovs put together. And indeed, the West would not – within the extent of its abilities – have allowed a captive Maskhadov to be dealt with in that way. Now, however, Mr Putin can shrug his shoulders and say disingenuously: “I’m ready for talks.”
But in my view, the decisive factor was a different one: with the information available, it was not hard to predict that after the liquidation of Maskhadov the situation in the Caucasus might be up for grabs. On the question of what kind of people would replace him – see above. And that is also something that could easily have been calculated. So perhaps the deed was done precisely in order to pull the cork out of the bottle, thus releasing the djinn of Chechen terrorism?
Or even – and here I utter a subversive thought – not so much to release it as to reveal it: as if to say, look, the only forces left are the intransigent ones who will detonate bombs in Russian cities. And of course, the ability of the Kremlin and the Lubyanka exploit such situations is well-known: Basayev’s Daghestan campaign brought Vladimir Putin into the prime minister’s chair, the apartment block explosions improved his ratings, and, in thinking of recent events one remembers the tragedy of Beslan, which became a convenient pretext for the implementation of a decision, one that already been taken, to abolish elected governors.
So, following this logic, why should one not suppose that the Kremlin is consciously provoking a wave of terror which may become the most ideal pretext not only for tightening the screws but also for solving the problem that is the most urgent one for Putin’s team just now – the “2008 Problem”? After all, if the country is engulfed by the flames of terror, if the bombs go off in peaceful cities, and Basayev comes to town, then how can there possibly be elections, what kind of Constitution can there be?
And the temptation to solve the “2008 Problem” once and for all in this way is a very great one. All the way to declaring a certain person Russia’s supreme ruler for life. Perhaps that was the main aim of the special operation?
Vladimir Voronov is a freelance journalist.