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Saidullaev succeeded Aslan Maskhadov (pictured) as leader of the Chechen resistance
Abdul-Khalim Sadullaev, the successor to slain Chechen President and resistance leader Aslan Maskhadov, told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service in a 3 June interview that he strongly condemns terrorism and said it is not part of the resistance's policy.
Sadullaev also said that while the resistance will continue to try to inflict the maximum damage on the Russian armed forces and military targets, they will not attack peaceful civilians, women, and children, and will not take them hostage. Sadullaev was answering questions submitted to him by RFE/RL.
Sadullaev was virtually unknown until he was named Chechen president three months ago following Maskhadov's death. It is therefore not possible to say with any certainty whether he played any role in the Moscow theater hostage taking in October 2002 or last September's hostage taking in Beslan. Russian officials blame both Maskhadov and radical field commander Shamil Basaev for those terrorist acts.
Sadullaev admitted that Maskhadov's killing on 8 March was "a painful blow for us," but he added that the ongoing struggle for the freedom of the Chechen people is not being waged in the name of one man. "If something happens to one of us, it does not mean the war of liberation will end; those who survive will continue the struggle."
Sadullaev said that in 2001, "at the beginning of the second war," Maskhadov signed a decree naming Sadullaev vice president but, at Sadullaev's request, did not make that decree public. Sadullaev said "I did not believe that he would be killed and I would take his place...I did not want him to die first." He said that "when peace comes...we shall hold elections and elect a new president."
Sadullaev said that Maskhadov's death has not resulted and will not result in any "hasty" changes in tactics. He said "Aslan believed that this cause is just and he was ready to die for it if need be." He went on: "the path we have chosen is the only one and we have one single goal. Freedom is impossible in an unfree country, and in an unfree country human rights are worthless and cannot be protected. Russia has shown us this yesterday and continues to do so today."
Sadullaev claimed that human rights have never been respected in Russia, and he cited the example of TV footage on combating crime which frequently shows Russian policemen beating a detainee who is lying on the ground. If a man is already on the ground, Sadullaev argued, there is no need to beat him. He said such police brutality in Russia is "the norm." For that reason, Sadullaev continued, "there is no way Russia can teach us human rights or justice."
Asked about his relations with radical field commander Shamil Basaev, Sadullaev hinted at disagreements within the Chechen resistance leadership, but he did not at any point mention Basaev by name. He said he is trying to maintain unity within the resistance and channel its efforts in a single direction, and for that reason he will neither sever relations with anyone or try to force anyone to cooperate against his will. "Our nation is very small," he pointed out, and so unity is of paramount importance.
He said that in line with Maskhadov's decree of 2001 naming him vice president, it was envisaged that field commanders should meet and take decisions on "important strategic issues" and matters of internal and foreign policy only after discussing them within the Defense Council.
Sadullaev argued that "we have the right to accept any help that will enable us to inflict damage on the enemy in the political, ideological and economic sphere and by targeting his [armed] forces. We can do this, and we have a right to do it." He said that he met with Maskhadov shortly before he was killed to discuss possible military targets in Russia. In that context, Sadullaev stressed that attacks on such targets should avoid injuring civilians.
Sadullaev spoke with undisguised contempt of those Chechens who cooperate with the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership, especially the "Kadyrovtsy," the notorious special police regiment loyal to First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, whom he referred to as "pharisees." Sadullaev recalled that during a search operation in the village of Samashki two weeks ago, the Kadyrovtsy openly stole belongings from villagers' homes while Russian servicemen accompanying them stood by and watched, but did not intervene to stop them. He said of the collaborators that "there is nothing human and nothing Chechen left in them," especially Ramzan Kadyrov and Sulim Yamadaev, commander of the so-called Eastern Batallion.
Asked to comment on the policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Sadullaev said he seeks to create new points of tension in the North Caucasus by provoking "people who are living peacefully" to the point that there is a backlash against Moscow. Sadullaev said explosions and killings in Daghestan have become as frequent as in Grozny because Putin has no cohesive North Caucasus policy. He said the situation is just as bad in Ingushetia, and only a little better in Kabardino-Balkaria. Adyegya, for the moment, remains comparatively quiet, but Moscow is trying to provoke unrest there, too, he said.
Sadullaev predicted that Putin will move against the long-time president of Kalmykia, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, as "he wants to install his own people everywhere." Sadullaev went on: "It was Putin who began this war and he has no way to end it. The war cannot end with us being forced to our knees and capitulating, and Putin has left himself without an alternative. With his loud pronouncements, those of a stupid and shortsighted person, he has cut off the only path to ending the war." Sadullaev predicted that the war will continue "as long as the price of oil remains high, as long as Russian kids are ready -- despite the demographic crisis -- to put on Russian uniforms and serve in the army, and until something breaks Putin's back." But he continued: "I do not think this can go on for much longer. There will have to be an end, especially as our forces are not becoming weaker, and we are prepared to go on fighting." Sadullaev went on to predict that "Putin will try to get rid of those people who witnessed massive human rights violations and genocide. He will try to destroy anyone" who could record what happened for posterity.