Prague, 1 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The appointment of Shamil Basaev, Russia's most wanted man, was announced last week on a rebel website.
The separatist government lost a key figure when its moderate president, Aslan Maskhadov, was killed by Russian forces in March. This latest move, says Aleksei Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center, is a sign the separatists are consolidating and adopting a more radical stance.
"The fact that Basaev returned [to the government] means primarily consolidation, because Basaev left the government after the  terrorist act at the Dubrovka [theater in Moscow]," Malashenko told RFE/RL. "There is one more issue – is Basaev's comeback a sign of radicalization? I think it is. I think that's practically inevitable. The only question is what form of radicalization it will take."
Malashenko said it is difficult to guess how the separatist government will evolve under Basaev's influence. A more radicalized movement might mean more terrorist acts or more attacks on federal forces. It could also mean more Islamist rhetoric and a stronger ties to broader Islamist trends.
Aslan Doukaev, director of RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, says Abdul-Khalim Sadullaev, Maskhadov's successor as president of the separatist government, is looking to unite two different political groups in one cabinet. "I believe the new leader is trying to unite two opposing groups within the [separatist] movement," Doukaev said. "There is the more moderate movement based mostly in Europe -- people like [Maskhadov's former envoy Akhmed] Zakaev, for example -- and the more radical people, like Basaev and others."
Moderates and radicals have always coexisted in the Chechen separatist movement. Moderate members tend to align themselves with the West, while the radical maintain a more Islamist agenda. Maskhadov himself led the moderate movement, even seeking to negotiate a peace settlement with Russia. He also condemned terrorism and barred Basaev from the rebel government after the 2002 Dubrovka siege.
Ties between the two men, however, were not unfriendly. A separatist website published photographs of the two men apparently working together to plan military operations against the federal troops.
Sadullaev, the current president, is a little-known Muslim cleric with no significant political clout. His rule has allowed Basaev to regain influence within the movement.
Usman Ferzauli, a moderate and the separatist government's new foreign minister, told RFE/RL by phone from Denmark, where he lives as a refugee, that Basaev's government appointment will force him to become more responsible. "Excluding him from the government gave him the possibility to commit more terrorist acts -- namely in Beslan," he said.
Ferzauli also describes Basaev as a solider who "will not refuse to take orders" from the separatist defense council. The separatist government and the defense council, Ferzauli added, will "push" Basaev "to be quiet."
"They keep telling us, 'Look, now your prestige is going to go down.' I'm sorry, but I have a very logical question. When did they ever consider our prestige to be high, and who of them ever tried to talk with us?" - Chechen foreign minister
Further afield, however, there is speculation that Basaev's appointment will tarnish the international standing of the Chechen separatist movement. Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said he was "deeply disappointed" that the separatists had formed a government that worked for democracy yet welcomed the inclusion of "a terrorist like Basaev."
Ferzauli, however, says the international community has abandoned the Chechen separatists and does not care who represents the movement. "They keep telling us, 'Look, now your prestige is going to go down,'" he said. "I'm sorry, but I have a very logical question. When did they ever consider our prestige to be high, and who of them ever tried to talk with us?"
World Chechen Congress Chairman Deni Teps also told RFE/RL there is nothing left for the separatists but to unite and take a more radical stance. "Neither Russia, nor the West noticed our calls for peace and our attempts to negotiate with Russia," Teps said. "So what should we do? We should defend ourselves using the same methods [as the Russians]. There is no other option."
Teps said federal troops are terrorizing the Chechen population, and that the separatists are acting only in response to their aggression. In this way, he said, Basaev's return to the government will strengthen their efforts.
Others disagree. RFE/RL's Doukaev said there is little chance moderates and radicals will be able to find common ground. He said any hope that Basaev will take orders from the defense council or other government officials is naive.
Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center said the separatists -- whether radical or moderate -- are not the only force in the republic. The Kremlin's interests are represented by the republic's pro-Moscow administration. The majority of ordinary Chechens, meanwhile, are simply tired of the war.See also:Chechen Resistance Leader Names Chief NegotiatorFor a dedicated webpage on RFE/RL's reporting of the Beslan school hostage tragedy and its consequences, see "Remembering Beslan".