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Chechnya: Is Basaev Planning To Torpedo The Russian-Chechen Power-Sharing Treaty?

Pro-Moscow Chechen President Alkhanov More than two months after Russian forces hunted down and killed Chechen President and resistance leader Aslan Maskhadov, the resistance forces now under the overall command of radical field commander Shamil Basaev still have not mounted any major retaliatory action. But it is unclear whether the resistance is too weak to hit back, or is lying low and preparing a new terrorist attack.

Stratfor suggested the former in a 17 May analysis based largely on claims by Major General Ilya Shabalkin, the Russian military spokesman for the Group of Forces in the North Caucasus. Shabalkin said that Russian forces have succeeded in killing numerous Chechen field commanders, including at least six in the preceding few days, thereby seriously impairing resistance capabilities. But Shabalkin's claims of continuous military successes should be treated with caution, if not skepticism, especially as the website of the militant resistance and the more moderate generally confirmed the death of senior field commanders (such as Ruslan Gelaev and Abu-Walid), stressing their military achievements, courage, and self-sacrifice. In recent days, however, there have been no such confirmations.

Second, at least some resistance groups are reportedly engaged in heavy fighting with federal forces in southern and eastern Chechnya (Vedeno, Nozhai-Yurt, and Shelkokovskii Raion).
Basaev might feel it worthwhile to try to prevent the treaty's signing by staging a terrorist atrocity of such magnitude that the Kremlin would be constrained to abandon any thought of special privileges for Chechnya.

Third, Basaev might be biding his time and planning a major blow against Russia at what he considers psychologically the most advantageous moment. Specifically, he could hope to thwart the signing -- which according to pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Alu Alkhanov is currently set for the second half of June -- of a long-awaited treaty outlining the division of powers between the Chechen Republic and Moscow.

Work on that treaty first began more than two years ago, immediately after the controversial referendum on the new Chechen Constitution. But its signing has been repeatedly delayed, first because the Chechen side's economic demands on Moscow were deemed exorbitant; then due to the assassination in May 2004 of pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov; then again due to Russia's reluctance to agree to all the Chechen leadership's demands.

The initial draft of the treaty, which Kadyrov claimed to have authored, stipulated that until 2010 Chechnya should retain all taxes from the sale of oil extracted on its territory, and that the republic's leadership should control the sale of not only oil but other natural resources such as timber. But Russian Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin argued in October 2003 that no exceptions should be made to Russia's unified tax system.

Kadyrov predicted in December 2003 that the treaty would be signed before the Russian presidential election in March 2004; but that prediction proved wrong. Following Kadyrov's death on 9 May in a terrorist bombing, Musa Umarov, Chechnya's representative in the Federation Council, told Interfax on 13 July that although the draft treaty had been revised several times, its precise content would depend on who was elected Kadyrov's successor in the ballot scheduled for late August. On 24 July, ITAR-TASS quoted Chechen State Council Chairman Taus Djabrailov as saying that the treaty would be signed by the end of 2004. According to Djabrailov, three separate drafts existed: Kadyrov's, one prepared by the Chechen State Council, and a third prepared by a Russian working group chaired by presidential-administration head Dmitrii Medvedev. As Kadyrov had done, Djabrailov argued that the Chechen leadership should have complete control over the oil and gas sector and the revenues it generates, together with a special tax regime.

Following his inauguration in early October as Kadyrov's successor, Alu Alkhanov said the treaty would be signed in spring 2005 and that it would give Chechnya the status of a free-economic zone (even though, at that time, the Russian State Duma had not yet begun debating a draft bill on such zones). In January, Djabrailov announced that work on the draft treaty was complete, Interfax reported on 18 January. He said that from 2005-2015 Chechnya would have the status of "a region of intensive economic development," meaning that its land, subsoil resources (oil), and plant and animal life will be the exclusive and indivisible property of the people of Chechnya -- a formulation that suggests that Moscow has given in to the maximalist Chechen demands for exclusive control over the republic's resources. In addition, the federal center would grant Chechnya annual subsidies of 3 billion rubles ($100 million). A Chechen National Bank would be established as a subsidiary of the Russian Central Bank, and it would be empowered to register new enterprises, including joint ventures with the participation of foreign capital. The treaty further provided for a one-time compensation payment equal to 720,000 rubles for all surviving victims of dictator Josef Stalin's repression.

But over and above those exorbitant economic concessions, the Chechen leadership also insisted on including in the seven-page draft two crucial political demands, according to "Vremya novostei" on 24 January. First, Russian security structures, including the Federal Security Service (FSB), would be forbidden to interfere in Chechnya's internal affairs -- meaning they would no longer be empowered to act as a restraining influence on First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov and his so-called presidential security service. And second, the Chechen leadership demanded a revision of the de facto border between Chechnya and Ingushetia agreed upon when the Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic split in the summer of 1992, to transfer to Chechen jurisdiction parts of Sunzha and Malgobek raions that are currently part of Ingushetia.

The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," however, on 28 January quoted an unnamed Kremlin official as having told "Moskovskii komsomolets" that Djabrailov's list of anticipated concessions was grossly exaggerated, and that the Kremlin was prepared to grant Chechnya only the status of a special economic zone and certain tax privileges. Chechen Prime Minister Sergei Abramov indirectly confirmed that Djabrailov was exaggerating: Abramov told ITAR-TASS on 26 January that the treaty would not designate Chechnya "a region of intensive economic development." But he said the treaty would nonetheless take into account Chechnya's unique situation, giving it the opportunity "to carry out economic transformations much more effectively and with smaller losses" based on an assessment of both the positive and negative experience accumulated by other federation subjects. A commentary in "Profil," No. 2, suggesting that Djabrailov's list of privileges should simply be regarded as Grozny's initial, maximalist negotiating position, might have been close to the mark.

The Chechen-Russian working group tasked with drafting the treaty met in late February for what was intended to be its penultimate discussion, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 February, after which Abramov announced that the wording of the treaty has been finalized. But on the eve of that discussion, Djabrailov again implied that Moscow had agreed to major concessions. He told Interfax on 25 February that the finished text will be presented to the Russian State Duma and that "all [Russian] laws that contradict this document will have to be brought into conformity with it." Djabrailov predicted that the treaty might finally be signed before the end of June, a time frame that Alkhanov repeated on 25 April and then again on 14 May and 19 May. But Alkhanov also insisted that the text of the treaty conforms to the basic tenets of the Russian Federation Constitution.

Regardless of the precise content of the treaty, Basaev might feel it worthwhile to try to prevent its signing by staging a terrorist atrocity of such magnitude that the Kremlin would be constrained to abandon any thought of special privileges for Chechnya. In that context, it is worth recalling that Maskhadov's envoy, Akhmed Zakaev, warned in the immediate aftermath of the Moscow theater hostage taking in October 2002 that "we cannot exclude that the next [Chechen terrorist] group could seize a nuclear facility," Reuters reported on 27 October 2002.

In an interview on 24 May with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya listed a number of cautionary measures taken recently by the authorities in North Ossetia, including the suspension of school classes and restrictions on the traditional celebrations to mark the end of the school year, which, she said, incline her to fear that a new terrorist attack might be imminent.