Danish police today detained Akhmed Zakaev, a high-ranking official of the separatist Chechen leadership. The arrest came at the request of Russian authorities. It's not clear yet whether the arrest could herald additional detentions of Chechens abroad.
Prague, 30 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Danish police today detained Akhmed Zakaev, a senior envoy of the separatist president of Chechnya, Aslan Maskhadov. Zakaev was attending a world congress of the Chechen people, which ended in Copenhagen yesterday.
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen today confirmed the detention. "On Friday, [the] 25th [of] October, the Danish police received a request from the Russian police authorities concerning the arrest of Mr. Zakaev with a view to his extradition to Russia. The initial request was followed up during the weekend by further requests containing information about Mr. Zakaev's alleged criminal activities," Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen said Russian authorities yesterday provided the Danes with more information. "The Russian police authorities provided the information that Mr. Zakaev was under suspicion for participating in terrorist activities in the period 1996 to 1999 and, furthermore, was under suspicion for having taken part in the planning of the hostage taking in Moscow on the 23rd [to the] 26th [of] October. On this basis, the Copenhagen police concluded that there were sufficient grounds for the arrest of Mr. Zakaev," Rasmussen said.
It is not clear whether Danish authorities will extradite Zakaev.
Ekho Moskvy radio quoted Denmark's ambassador to Russia, Lars Vissing, as saying today that Danish law would prevent Zakaev's extradition. He said Russia and Denmark do not have an extradition agreement.
A Danish government official who requested anonymity said, however, that Denmark and Russia are both members of a 1957 European Convention on Extradition, and that Zakaev could possibly be extradited on that basis.
Denmark also does not extradite people to countries that permit capital punishment. Although Russia announced a moratorium on capital punishment in 1996, it has not formally revoked its death-penalty laws.
The Danish government official said that if Denmark intended to extradite Zakaev, it would first seek Russian guarantees that Zakaev would not be executed.
It's not yet clear whether the Danish move to detain Zakaev signals a wider crackdown on Chechen officials abroad.
James Nixey is an analyst of Russian and Eurasian affairs at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in Britain. He told RFE/RL a political shift is possible. "It seems likely the arrest of Zakaev in Copenhagen [indicates] that any Chechens in authority positions around Europe are definitely wanted men. It remains to be seen whether a country such as the U.K. or even France would go to the lengths that Copenhagen did," Nixey said.
Nixey said Denmark was under enormous pressure from Russia because a world congress of the Chechen people took place in Copenhagen on 28-29 October.
Nixey said that after the recent hostage taking in Moscow, European governments will face greater pressure to be tougher on Chechens. He said this pressure will come from both Russia and the United States.
But the former chairman of the Lithuanian parliament, Vytautas Landsbergis, has argued that one must make a clear distinction between the separatist Chechen leadership and terrorist groups. Landsbergis attended the congress as an observer and has always been a strong supporter of the Chechen cause.
As he told RFE/RL today, one should be very careful of any "evidence" coming from Russian authorities. "I would strongly advise everyone not to repeat the vocabulary of Russian propaganda. The propaganda war [that Russia is now waging] is absolutely concentrated on one point: to equate the [Chechen] resistance, led by Aslan Maskhadov, and international terrorism," Landsbergis said.
Officials in Moscow meanwhile have cheered the arrest of Zakaev. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev told journalists today in Moscow: "In Denmark, Zakaev was arrested. Documents have been presented by our prosecutor. I think that our investigators have been waiting for this for a long time, and we hope that he is quickly extradited to Russia."
Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov said today in Moscow: "We are grateful to the parliamentarians of the world for their active discussions about the terrorist actions in Moscow and for rendering help to us. The Federation Council believes that the doors of European nations and all the world should be closed to the emissaries of terrorism."
Not everybody in Russia agrees with this view. Former parliamentary speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov described the detention as "ridiculous." "Zakaev is not a terrorist. I don't think he participated in any actions. I have no doubt he will be released," he told Ekho Moskvy radio.