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Chechen Leader Talks To RFE/RL

The following responses from President Aslan Maskhadov to questions submitted by RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service were received on 13 June. As a matter of policy, RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service also continues to solicit comment on the situation in Chechnya from the Russian Interior Ministry and the pro-Moscow Chechen administration in Grozny.

Describing the current military situation in Chechnya, Maskhadov said: "Today the federal troops play a waiting game. You don't see their big military columns in the forests anymore. And they are not engaged in large-scale mop-up operations, sealing off towns in the process. They are biding their time. There is only one reason for that: They apparently hope to incite a war between those who support [slain pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji] Kadyrov, the local police force and all Chechens loyal to them, on the one hand, and the mujahedin, on the other. They [the Russians] are supporting them now. When necessary, they give them assistance. Occasionally they cordon off whole forest tracts. When [our] fighters launch attacks against them, they call for artillery and air support. When special operations are carried out in towns and villages, they seal off the area. That's the new tactics of the Russian Army.

"So far as the GRU [Russian military intelligence], the FSB [Federal Security Service], and other punitive bodies are concerned, they keep doing the same job they did before. They still terrorize people. They still carry out their night raids into villages and homes. They still seize people who vanish without trace afterward. Local police and Kadyrov's security force started to attack the relatives, sisters, and wives of the mujahedin. They take them away and torture them. Sometimes they burn down their houses. The resistance does not feel threatened by these attacks. These are not the kind of people we could be afraid of. After all, what can they do that the huge Russian Army could not do?

"The Chechen fighters display great discipline in their struggle. I am with them in the forests at the moment. In those places where there were only 10 of them, these days we see 40, 60, 100 fighters. Every day we see their numbers increase. I've been thinking a lot about the reasons for that. The more that people like Kadyrov oppress innocent people and make their lives unbearable, the more they turn these people against themselves. Those who join our ranks do so out of anger.

"Every day -- the Russians of course try to hide that -- we launch big operations against their forces. In eight to 10 places, we carry out acts of sabotage daily. Every day we kill 10 to 20 of their soldiers. Their Chechen proxies suffer the same casualties in the Nozhai-Yurt and Vedeno raions of Chechnya. We are planning to make changes in our tactics. If so far most of our effort was focused on acts of sabotage, from now on we'll be launching big attacks."

Maskhadov suggested three possible scenarios for the 9 May assassination of Kadyrov, which he condemned in an official statement as an inexcusable act of terrorism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2004).

Maskhadov said: "In my view, he might have been killed by those who had installed him there in the first place, namely the Russian government and the FSB. There can be only one reason for that: They had great hopes that he might start a civil war in Chechnya that might sow discord among Chechens, that he might set Chechens against Chechens and divide them. That was the great hope. And they lent enormous support to the man who undertook to do all that. Why did he have to be removed then? He had probably become a liability. The Russians are running out of time and it's getting increasingly difficult to carry on with the war. They've probably realized that Kadyrov and people like him will not be able to unleash a civil conflict in Chechnya.

"There might be another explanation for his death. When the second Chechen war started and Chechen Mufti Kadyrov went to Moscow [in November1999] to stand next to [then Russian Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin, turning against his people and becoming its executioner, our court sentenced him to death. Our military commanders were entrusted with the implementation of the court's decision. If the mujahedin executed the sentence, no one should be surprised. That could have happened.

"The third reason that comes to mind is that it might a retribution in a blood feud. Those who know Chechen traditional law and customs will not be surprised to hear that. There are three or four private prisons in Kadyrov's ancestral village and in his home. There they keep even the fathers, mothers, and sisters of the fighters, humiliating and maltreating them. If they take a fighter captive, they murder him. Chechens never forget certain things and always seek retribution."

Asked whether the Chechen resistance might field a candidate in the 29 August elections for a successor to Kadyrov, Maskhadov said: "That is simply not possible. Whoever runs in this election -- a fighter or otherwise -- becomes a traitor to his people. He becomes the enemy of the people. He will have to stand next to the Russians and destroy his own people. How can those who vowed to rid their people of the Russian oppression participate in an election organized by the Russians in accordance with the Russian Constitution, turning against their own people?"

Asked whether he would contest that ballot, Maskhadov responded: "I was elected president by the people in a fair election recognized by the international community and the Russian state [in January 1997]. The election was conducted in accordance with the law and in presence of independent observers. If I tried to run in this coming election, I would become a traitor and turn against my people. I would be destroying my own country."

"I know only one thing: We will not stop our struggle, and we will not back off as long as the enemy tramples our soil. We'll keep fighting until he leaves our country. We won't accept anything short of this."

As for possible approaches to resolving the ongoing conflict, Maskhadov said: "We tried to approach the Russian government with our proposal several times. We told them, 'Let's stop this war ourselves without involving anyone into this process.' We are fighting to eliminate the danger to the very existence of the Chechen people. And where does this danger emanate from? From the Russian state. They start wars with us whenever they want. They deport us whenever they want. They brand us traitors. They call us terrorists. They blow up their houses in Moscow and Volgodonsk and blame us for that. As long as we remain under the jurisdiction of their constitutional law, the danger will always be there. Our fight is about this danger. This danger will be eliminated only if we get an international status, only international law can protect us.

"So far as other things are concerned, we are prepared to do whatever they want us to do, whatever they find advantageous. We can jointly manage our economy, defenses. We can jointly guard our borders. We can create a common currency and conduct our diplomatic affairs together. We can think of common investment programs. We are prepared to sign agreements on collective security and join the fight against terrorism. That is what we are telling the Russians. But they don't want that. I see only one reason for that; it's because of their old imperial ambitions. In this situation, we are compelled to seek friends elsewhere simply because Russians don't want friendship with us.

"The second way to stop this war is based on 'the principle of conditional independence' that we have put forward [see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2003]. International institutions in full agreement with the international law should call for the cessation of hostilities and the start of peace negotiations. That should be their responsibility. When the war stops, Russians should pull out their troops and the international community [should] send in a peacekeeping force. An international administration will supervise the process of governance and mediate in our talks with the Russians. This might be another solution that we would welcome. We see no other way out.

"If the Russians think they are going to win this war, they are wrong. If necessary, we'll fight as long as it takes. We are not going to pass on this struggle and the suffering that it involves to our posterity. We took this responsibility on ourselves."