RFE/RL correspondent Babitskii traveled to Chechnya last month, where he interviewed Umarov. Umarov, who is 40 and who returned from Moscow to join the resistance at the beginning of the first Chechen war 10 years ago, said that "after everything Russia has done in Chechnya over the past six years," he currently sees no alternative to continuing armed resistance. At the same time, he said he has the impression that the era of Russian President Vladimir Putin is coming to a close, and that "sensible people" will come to power in Moscow.
He categorically rejected the suggestion that the Chechen population favors the republic remaining part of the Russian Federation, saying that less than 1 percent of Chechens support that option.
Like former Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, who was killed by Russian forces on 8 March, Umarov and Sadullaev unequivocally condemn the recourse to terrorism advocated by fellow field commander Shamil Basaev. Umarov said terrorism "has not undergone any legitimization in the eyes of the Chechen resistance." He added that "we do not have the right" to commit such atrocities. "If we resort to such methods, I think no one will be able to return to a purely human image," he said.
The Russian authorities, however, consider Basayev, Sadullaev and Umarov to be terrorists, just as they considered Maskhadov and all those who are fighting against Russian forces in Chechnya to be terrorists. Although Basaev has been proclaimed a terrorist by international monitors, including the United States government, other figures associated with the Chechen resistance -- including Maskhadov, Sadullaev, and Umarov -- have not.
RFE/RL reported that Umarov is an adherent of traditional, non-radical Islam. Correspondent Babitskii noted that "a new situation is emerging in the underground resistance." "If earlier the Wahhabis formed separate djamaats and fought independently of those Chechens who practiced traditional Islam, today...you can find men of diverging religious persuasions within a single armed formation, and this does not give rise to conflicts as it used to do when the salafits branded the adherents of traditional Islam as pagans and tried to convert them," Babitskii said.
Babitskii reported that the Chechen resistance currently move more freely throughout the republic than they did during his last visit two years ago, and seem less apprehensive of being tracked down and apprehended by Russian forces.
Read the full interview