Members of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria (ChRI) government and parliament in exile met in Berlin on July 25 to discuss the formal announcement in Oslo the previous day that ChRI Prime Minister Akhmed Zakayev and Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov, speaker of the pro-Moscow Chechen Republic parliament, have embarked on consultations
aimed at stabilizing the situation in Chechnya.
Those consultations, Abdurakhmanov said in a formal statement read out at the July 24 press conference, were initiated by Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov with the aim of completing the consolidation of Chechen society, and have the full support of both Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Zakayev reported at length to the Berlin meeting on the content of his talks with Abdurakhmanov, specific details of which have not been disclosed. The Berlin meeting unanimously endorsed that dialogue as an opportunity to bring to an end the continuing killing of Chechens by fellow Chechens, specifically, members of the die-hard Islamic resistance headed by Doku Umarov and pro-Moscow Chechen Republic police.
Expressing concern at the escalation of hostilities in recent months in Chechnya and elsewhere across the North Caucasus, the participants agreed unanimously to issue orders to the resistance units loyal to the ChRI to announce a moratorium on attacks on pro-Moscow Chechen police, and to resort to arms only in self-defense.
Since it is impossible to estimate how many of the resistance fighters currently active in Chechnya take their orders from Zakayev, rather than from Umarov, it is not clear what impact, if any, that decision will have on the ongoing fighting. Indeed, the proposed moratorium plays into Kadyrov's hands insofar as he could argue that any resistance forces that continue to target his men must be Umarov's "bandits," and that he is justified in eliminating them without mercy as he vowed to do two months ago.
Similarly unclear is whether any of the three main protagonists -- Zakayev, Kadyrov, and the Kremlin -- believe that the proposed dialogue can indeed contribute to stabilization and reconciliation in Chechnya without the involvement of the resistance headed by Umarov, or whether all three see dialogue as a convenient smokescreen behind which to pursue their own agendas. Specifically, the question arises whether the Kremlin is seeking either to compromise Kadyrov, or at least to circumscribe his authority.
On at least two occasions in the past few months Moscow has failed to accede to a key request from Kadyrov. First, in the wake of the mid-April announcement of the formal ending of the counterterror operation in Chechnya, the Russian authorities nonetheless failed to grant Grozny airport international status and open a Chechen customs service that Kadyrov evidently hoped would serve as an additional source of income. And none of the 20,000-plus Russian troops due to be withdrawn from Chechnya following the lifting of the counterterror operation has yet left the republic. Russian commentators have construed those twin failures as demonstrating the limits to Moscow's trust in Kadyrov.
Second, Moscow failed to back repeated statements by Kadyrov in early June that all the North Caucasus republics should "coordinate" their efforts to wipe out the Islamic resistance, by which Kadyrov clearly meant that Chechnya should have overall control of anti-resistance operations across the region.
Zakayev for his part may be hoping that public recognition of his imputed influence within the resistance could at some point in the future be parlayed into a revision of the formal relations between Chechnya and the federal center. It should be noted that Abdurakhmanov's statement at the July 24 press conference mentioned Zakayev by name without specifying his official position, which thus remains conveniently ambiguous.
As for Kadyrov, even though Zakayev did not commit himself on July 24 to returning to Grozny, as Kadyrov has been predicting for the past year, the announcement of the incipient dialogue serves to deflect attention from the questions surrounding his putative involvement in the July 15 abduction in Grozny and subsequent murder of human rights activist Natalya Estemirova.
Meanwhile, Zakayev's public endorsement of the process of reconciliation launched by Kadyrov with the support of the Kremlin is at odds with a sensational denunciation posted on the ChRI website on July 10 -- after at least one preliminary meeting had taken place between Zakayev and Kadyrov's emissaries.
In that statement
, the self-styled Operative Department of the ChRI General Representation reiterated Zakayev's allegations
of late autumn 2007 that it was Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), in the person of its long-standing agent Movladi Udugov, that persuaded Umarov to turn his back on the cause of Chechen independence and proclaim an Islamic state encompassing most of the North Caucasus with himself as its leader.
But the July 10 statement went even further. It argued, first, that recent developments in the North Caucasus mirror a power struggle within the upper echelons of the Russian leadership that pits the FSB against the Defense Ministry; and second, that it was at the FSB's behest that the North Caucasus resistance launched the June 22 car-bomb attack that narrowly failed to kill Ingushetian President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov.
Since Medvedev named him president last fall, Yevkurov has, the statement claimed, single-mindedly focused on the tactics employed by resistance fighters in Ingushetia and, as a career military intelligence officer, he quickly realized that those activities were being coordinated by the FSB -- -- hence the attempt to kill him.