PRAGUE, April 21, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Springtime usually brings talk of new offensives in Chechnya.
On April 19, the pro-independence Daymokh and Kavkaz Center websites released a video address made by Shamil Basayev, the deputy prime minister of the Chechen separatist government.
The video was shot in early February and it was unclear what took Basayev so long to release it.
In the course of his seven-minute address, Basayev once again threatened the Kremlin with new attacks throughout the Caucasus when spring comes. He also admitted to the physical hardship endured by his men.
"We were able to get ready for the winter. To be honest, this winter was a little bit more difficult [compared to previous ones]. Today is the 5th of February, yet there are still snowdrifts everywhere," Basayev said. "We had a harsh winter. However, thanks to God's clemency, our mujahedin got through it without major problems. With God's help, we hope it will go on like this [until winter ends]."
Basayev went on to detail some logistical improvements in the lives of his fighters.
"Previously we used to heat our shelters with firewood, but the smoke was helping Russian helicopters and reconnaissance groups track down our fighters," Basayev said. "Now we use gas canisters to heat our shelters. It has now become easier for us to prepare food and warm ourselves, day and night. This has made our life easier."
In an interview with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service this week, Umarov spoke of more serious problems.
Umarov, who is vice president of the separatist movement and its most senior military commander after Basayev, said that while morale remains high among his fighters, finances are tight.
"The only things our mujahedins lack today are time and money," Umarov said. "Everything else they have. We can conduct any large-scale combat operations at any time. Still, we need to ensure they will bring us political dividends [because] this kind of operation requires important financial and human resources."
Short Of Funds
Umarov said that lack of funds is preventing the separatist movement from recruiting new fighters across the North Caucasus region. It is in Kabardino-Balkaria, he said, that logistical problems are the most acute.
"The situation with funds and weapons is bad there. People there have absolutely no combat experience. They are peaceful people who are rebelling against the [state] arbitrariness that is targeting Muslims in those [North Caucasus] republics," Umarov said. "They can at any time go over our heads and get killed. We are brothers in faith and this is why we are helping them and trying to restrain them."
Umarov was considered a possible heir to President Aslan Maskhadov, who was killed by Russian troops in March 2005. Yet, the Chechen separatist movement eventually chose the more radical Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev to succeed Maskhadov.
Umarov has reportedly had troubled relations with Basayev, although both leaders continue to coordinate their military operations.
Aleksei Makarkin, deputy head of Moscow's Center for Political Technologies think tank, told RFE/RL he believes Umarov is indeed in dire financial straits and has launched what could be described as a fund-raising operation.
"Probably [Umarov] has grievances toward those people abroad who control the financial sources of the [independence movement]. There is, within this [movement], one group that advocates a radical form of Islam and that is directly linked to Arab circles," Makarkin said. "On the other hand, there are [people like] Umarov who represent Sufi Islam, which is traditional in Chechnya. As far as we understand, Arab funds go preferably to those field commanders who [like Basayev] advocate a radical form of Islam. There are indeed difficulties here and it is unlikely that Umarov, with his ambitions, can satisfy himself with a largely symbolic role of vice-president whose prerogatives are unclear. Probably he wants real money for his fighters, which could explain his rather straight comments."
Russian media has speculated that the death of Maskhadov and his replacement by Sadulayev paved the way for an Arab takeover of the separatist military leadership. But Umarov dismissed those reports as Kremlin propaganda.
"Let them show where those Arabs are and how many of them there are in Chechnya at the moment," Umarov told RFE/RL. "I could hardly count five of them myself. Those Arabs fight wherever there is a jihad. They are fulfilling their Muslim duties. We can not be free and we can not be Muslims if we don't first win our freedom. Only if we win our freedom we can be Muslims. What we are building now is a free Muslim state."
Could those simmering tensions possibly herald a rift between Umarov and the rest of the Chechen separatist leadership?
Russia expert Makarkin thinks probably not -- at least in the immediate future. He says that, unlike other advocates of Sufi Islam who chose to break with the radical branch of the underground movement, Umarov has opted for a more pragmatic approach.
"Umarov's anti-Russian feelings are even stronger than his concerns about the Arabs," Makarkin said. "He and Basayev are rivals, including on the financial level. But, as of today, they remain together."
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