Accessibility links

Breaking News

Russia: The Ideological Split In The Chechen Leadership

Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev (file photo) (official site) Chechen resistance leader Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev issued a decree on 5 February stripping Deputy Prime Minister Akhmed Zakayev and Health Minister Umar Khanbiyev, both of whom currently represent the resistance in Europe, of those government posts, and ordering most Chechen ministers currently abroad (except Zakayev) to return to Chechnya. ( RFE/RL spoke to Zakayev --> on 6 February about the recent reshuffle.)

Zakayev has recently engaged in a polemic with radical Chechen ideologues, including Press and Information Minister Movladi Udugov, who reject an independent Chechen state in favor of an Islamic state encompassing the entire North Caucasus and who argue that resistance fighters should not be constrained by the norms of international law.

Recent Polemic

Over the past two months, Zakayev has published two lengthy articles taking issue with what he terms the "musings" of Chechen "ideologues," including Udugov, and accusing them of being in cahoots with Moscow.

The first such article, posted on 19 December on the resistance website, opens with the stated intention of setting out the official viewpoint of the resistance leadership with regard to the proposals of analysts who "are putting forward ideas that entail a radical revision of the ultimate goals and strategic tasks of the Chechen national liberation struggle."

Specifically, Zakayev continued, those writers argue that the resistance should not be constrained by international law or human rights norms, an argument that Zakayev claims is inconsistent with the Islamic concept of justice. Zakayev admits nonetheless that the conduct of many so-called democratic Western states in this respect is less than exemplary.

Different Approaches

Zakayev reasons that Chechens cannot achieve the independent statehood they aspire to exclusively by military means, but need a "political voice" that can convince the international community that their desire for independence is valid. From that angle, eschewing human rights norms would therefore be counterproductive, Zakayev argues, as the international community would then write the Chechens off as "bandits, marauders, and murderers," which, he continues, is exactly what the Kremlin is hoping for.

Zakayev goes on to reject the argument that Chechnya does not need a constitution. He points out that not only does every independent sovereign state have a constitution, but that to denounce the 1992 constitution of Djokhar Dudayev's Chechen Republic Ichkeria would be to undercut the legal foundations of the sovereignty of that republic, and of all its institutions, including its government, parliament, and armed forces.

Zakayev then targets his opponents' demands to bury the idea of Chechen independent statehood in the name of a Caucasus caliphate with Sadulayev as imam of the Caucasus.

Zakayev admits that the resistance forces battling Russian colonialism in the North Caucasus are no longer exclusively Chechen. But, he says, there is a "huge gap" between military cooperation against a common enemy and establishing a single unified North Caucasus state.

He insists "there is not, and cannot be, any national freedom without national sovereignty, without a national state," and that "national sovereignty is not an obstacle to various kinds of integration with other peoples and states but on contrary serves as the basis for such integration... It will only be possible to speak of real forms of unification of Chechens with other peoples of Caucasus only after the North Caucasus is liberated from the military-political presence of Russia."

Movladi Udugov supports an Islamic state in the North Caucasus

It would, Zakayev continues, be "irresponsible, harmful, and a crime" to begin dismantling Chechen statehood at this juncture. After all, he reasons, "in 1990 the Chechens restored not an imamate but their national sovereignty, and in 1994 they went to war against the Russian aggressors not under the slogan of creating a Caucasus caliphate, but to free our country from Russian occupation."

Democracy And Islam

Two weeks later, on 30 December, posted what was billed as a statement from Sadulayev's administrationexpressing support for Zakayev. That statement said that the "Chechen leadership, among whom there are learned alims [scholars], does not see any contradiction between Islam and the doctrine of an independent Chechen state with all the appropriate official institutions." It followed with a thinly veiled warning to "ideologues occupying official positions in the Chechen government" not to mislead the Chechen people and international community on fundamental questions of domestic and foreign policy." The statement reaffirmed the imperative for Chechen resistance forces to abide by international law, even if Russia declines to do the same.

In his follow-up article on 14 January, Zakayev rejects the accusation leveled against him by his opponents that he, together with other unnamed ministers and deputies to the Chechen parliament elected under Maskhadov in 1997, fears Shari'a law, and that he gives precedence to democracy over Islam. (The article is entitled "I Am A Democrat Only To The Extent That Islam And The Traditions Of My People Permit.") Zakayev accuses his ideological opponents of being in cahoots with Kremlin, specifically of having plotted the ill-fated invasion of Daghestan in the summer of 1999 that furnished Russia with the pretext for a new incursion into Chechnya."

Zakayev repeats that Chechens are being killed not because they are Muslims, but because they want an independent state, and he warns that at crucial junctures in Chechnya's history Russia has invariably sought to defuse Chechen demands for an independent state by offering them the alternative of living under Shari'a law, but within Russia.

Zakayev goes on to claim that the opinions Udugov espouses are his personal opinions, and that "in all questions concerning the basic foundations of the Chechen state the leadership of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria adheres to a single, agreed position based on the Chechen constitution and taking into account the norms and principles of international law." But his demotion and the summons to return to Chechnya casts serious doubt on that affirmation.

Questioned on 6 February by RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, both Zakayev and Udugov declined to comment on their ideological disagreement or on any possible link between that dispute and Sadulayev's decree reorganizing his government. Zakayev told RFE/RL's Russian Service later the same day that his polemic with Udugov has no relevance whatsoever to Sadulayev's government restructuring.

Zakayev did, however, admit that "the internal situation in the republic -- political and military -- has changed." Whether Sadulayev has agreed to what he envisages as a purely tactical concession, as his predecessor Aslan Maskhadov was constrained to do in early 1999 under pressure from Islamic radicals, or whether he does see himself as the imam of the Caucasus, remains as yet unclear. His decree of 22 January creating a Council of Alims of Peoples of the Caucasus to advise him would seem, however, to corroborate the latter hypothesis.

The Chechnya Conflict

The Chechnya Conflict

The aftermath of a December 2002 Chechen resistance attack on the main government building in Grozny (epa)


The fighting in Chechnya has raged, with short breaks, since 1994. It has brought misery, death, and destruction to the North Caucasus republic and to Russia as a whole. View an annotated timeline of the conflict.


RFE/RL's complete coverage of Russia's war-torn Republic of Chechnya.