Basayev's appointment, first announced in a presidential decree posted on June 27 on a Chechen website, can hardly be considered surprising. He is the separatists' top military commander. Prior to being named president of the Chechen resistance movement
earlier this month, Doku Umarov, the new separatist president, was Basayev's subordinate.
"Russian authorities did not want to negotiate with rather moderate people like General Dudayev and Colonel Maskhadov -- who, by the way, were Soviet General Dudayev and Soviet Colonel Maskhadov. Now they have to deal with much more radical people in the North Caucasus." -- Ivan Rybkin
Still, Basayev's appointment may signal a important shift in the separatist camp. Crucially, it leaves him one step away from the presidency.
Usman Firzauli, the separatist government's deputy foreign minister, speaking to RFE/RL from his current home in Denmark, confirmed Basayev's new status as vice president -- and what it means if Umarov is suddenly removed from the picture.
"According to the constitution of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria, in the case a president cannot do his job -- if he is ill, or killed -- the vice president will [automatically] become acting president," Firzauli said. "The appointment of Basayev by President Umarov is a signal to the world community."
It's also a signal to Moscow.
Next In Line
The move comes just days after Umarov announced he was taking the Chechen separatist fight for independence deeper into Russian territory with attacks on military targets.
Basayev has claimed responsibility for the Beslan hostage taking (AFP)
It's a worrying scenario, considering the vice presidential post is now held by the man who has claimed responsibility for organizing the 2004 Beslan school siege and a number of other terror attacks.
Russia, which launched its second war in Chechnya in 1999, has attempted to weaken the separatist movement by killing two of its leaders. Aslan Maskhadov
was killed by Russian special forces in 2005. His successor, Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev
, was in power for only a year before he, too, was killed in an operation earlier this month. Ramzan Kadyrov
, the prime minister of Chechnya's pro-Moscow government, declared the separatist movement had been effectively "beheaded."Increasing Radicalization
But the ascent of Umarov and Basayev appears to indicate otherwise. Firzauli said Russia may think twice before seeking to eliminate a third separatist leader. "If Russia doesn't reach a peace solution in Chechnya during the leadership of Umarov, and will kill Umarov, they will have a gift," he said. "They will have Basayev." Ivan Rybkin
, a former State Duma speaker and former secretary of the Russian Security Council, was closely involved with the Chechen peace process in 1996-98, and liaised with Maskhadov in the run-up to the 1997 Russian-Chechen peace treaty. He told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service that the Kremlin is largely to blame for the fact that a radical figure like Basayev has come to power in the Chechen separatist movement.
"Russian authorities did not want to negotiate with rather moderate people like General [Djokhar] Dudayev and Colonel Maskhadov -- who, by the way, were Soviet General Dudayev and Soviet Colonel Maskhadov," Rybkin said. "Now they have to deal with much more radical people in the North Caucasus."
Firzauli said it's not only the separatist leadership that is becoming more radical -- but the Chechen society as well. "We have a new generation which has grown up during the two wars in Chechnya. They have no jobs, no education," he said. "During their short, young lives they have seen only the brutality and cruelty of the Russian forces. They only know how to blow up Russian armored personal carriers, how to shoot Russian soldiers."
Western governments should do more to help to solve the problem, Firzauli said. Both the European Union and the United States have criticized Russia's conflict in Chechnya, but have stopped short of outright censure.
The West's awareness of Chechnya is also hampered by the lack of journalists and nongovernmental organizations operating in the war-torn republic.
On June 26, the International Committee of the Red Cross appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to allow it to resume visits to detainees arrested by Russian forces in Chechnya.
MORE: To read an analysis of Basayev's appointment and history of his career, click here.
The aftermath of a December 2002 Chechen resistance attack on the main government building in Grozny (epa)
The fighting in Chechnya
has raged, with short breaks, since 1994. It has brought misery, death, and destruction to the North Caucasus republic and to Russia as a whole. View an annotated timeline
of the conflict.
RFE/RL's complete coverage of Russia's war-torn Republic of Chechnya.