For the second time in four months, Chechen television screened
on May 29 a grandiose four-hour live talk show intended to vilify, and to demolish lingering public support for, the concept of an independent Chechen state. On both occasions, Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov presided over the proceedings and steered the discussion in the desired direction.
The first such epic performance on February 18 targeted those Chechens who fled abroad to escape the fighting of the past 10-15 years, and who now choose not to return to the police state over which Kadyrov presides, despite his repeated appeals to them to return and play a role in Chechnya's reconstruction -- in strict accordance with his personal vision of the optimum relations between Chechnya and Russia, and the republic's leadership and the population at large.
The stars of the February 19 talk show were Bukhari Barayev, former special representative in Europe of Doku Umarov, the Chechen resistance leader who in November 2007 proclaimed himself the head of a hypothetical North Caucasus emirate, and Ramzan Ampukayev, a leading member of the Chechen exile community in Europe. Both men had returned to Grozny only days before.
Participants also included Ayub Khatayev, a former aide to Chechen Republic Ichkeria (ChRI) President Aslan Maskhadov, who was killed in March 2005; and Magomed Khambiyev, who served for a time as Maskhadov's defense minister but surrendered to the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership five years ago, reportedly
to shield his family from reprisals; and several amnestied former resistance fighters.
Barayev denounced his former resistance comrades in arms who had not yet laid down their arms and surrendered, and appealed to them to do so forthwith. Khatayev sought to denigrate Maskhadov, who, he alleged, was ready in October 2004 to sign a formal document stipulating that Chechnya should become a Russian Federation subject. Khatayev claimed that letter had already been signed by renegade field commander Shamil Basayev, and by ChRI Vice Presidents Vakha Arsanov and Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev. Yandarbiyev was assassinated in Qatar in mid-February 2004.
Khambiyev for his part said it was he who persuaded Maskhadov not to sign that document. Khambiyev also claimed that Basayev pressured exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky to give the resistance $1 million to fund its activities. Part of that cash, Khambiyev continued, was used by resistance ideologue Movladi Udugov to launch the Kavkaz satellite TV channel.
The May 29 talk show took the vilification of Maskhadov one stage further. This time around, the leading roles fell to Kazbek Makhashev, who served as interior minister under Maskhadov; former Deputy Prime Minister Lom-Ali Alsultanov; and former Chechen mufti Bay-Ali Tevsiyev.
Makhashev affirmed (as have several Western analysts who tracked the power struggle in 1999 between the moderate and pragmatic Maskhadov and the radicals Baseyev and Udugov) that on the eve of the resumption of hostilities in the fall of 1999 the situation in Chechnya was total chaos, armed groups had seized power and Maskhadov had no influence over events.
Tevsiyev said his appointment as mufti by Maskhadov in late 1999 was invalid given that Maskhadov was not empowered to dismiss then-mufti Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov (Ramzan's late father). Tevsiyev also said he regretted having proclaimed a "ghazavat" (holy war) against Russia at Maskhadov's instigation. He said there were no grounds for doing so, but that Maskhadov insisted at the time that faced with that threat, Moscow would agree to peace talks.
That affirmation is questionable, however. If the Chechen resistance had indeed proclaimed a ghazavat, the Russian media would have had a field day playing up that pronouncement in order to blacken Maskhadov in the eyes of the international community. But there is no documentary evidence whatsoever to substantiate Tevsiyev's allegation.
Moreover, Maskhadov, a former career officer in the Soviet Army, was not an overtly religious man. One Russian military commentator recalled in an article in "Krasnaya zvezda" last November that when asked in the early 1990s by a Sajudis activist in Lithuania whether he believed in God or Allah, Maskhadov responded, "I personally believe in artillery." In fact, during the early months of the war Maskhadov appealed repeatedly to the international community, without success, to persuade the Russian authorities to agree to peace talks.
If, as "Kommersant" suggested on June 1, Kadyrov's objective in staging such epic denunciations is to please his masters in Moscow, the question arises: why does he still feel the compulsion to do so, and does he really believe this kind of Stalinist theater of the absurd is the most effective approach?