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Russia Report: February 9, 2006

9 February 2006, Volume 6, Number 4
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.

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.

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.

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."

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."

Two weeks later, on 30 December, posted what was billed as a statement from Sadulayev's administration expressing 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. (Liz Fuller)

Chechen separatist leader Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev on 6 February announced a government reshuffle, which targets several top rebel representatives abroad. One of those affected was former Deputy Prime Minister Akhmed Zakayev, a separatist envoy based in London. Sadulayev also ordered that all government ministers must reside on Chechen territory, with the exception of Zakayev, who retains his other post as culture minister, and Foreign Minister Ilyas Akhmadov. RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Andrei Babitsky spoke to Zakayev about the reasons for the restructuring, ideological splits within the Chechen leadership, and the West's position on the disputed region.

RFE/RL: On the pages of a website called Kavkaz-Tsentr [Caucasus Center] there was a discussion between yourself and [Movladi] Udugov [eds. dismissed as information minister and named head of a "national information service"], in which you were trying to transpose the Chechen system of views and values onto the European system, while Udugov was saying that he believed in Shari'a law and that, on this basis, he was an anti-democrat. Many see the recent orders, which have restructured the government and resulted in the firing of the majority of ministers abroad, as President Sadulayev's way of ending this discussion in favor of Movladi Udugov. Do you think this is a valid interpretation?

Akhmed Zakayev: No, I completely disagree. The discussion about what you are speaking about right now has no relevance in connection with the recent orders. This option [the restructuring] has been in preparation for a long time already. There were initially several reasons for the creation of a political humanitarian bloc that I supervised outside the Chechen Republic. One reason was that outside the Chechen Republic there were over 100,000 Chechens. Moreover, the humanitarian-oriented ministries and institutions struggled to function effectively, given the current situation in Chechnya. Thus, the decision was made to create this political humanitarian bloc.

Eventually, we realized that our calculations were incorrect, because the institutions on which we counted on to work openly and publicly, as well as safely, failed to do so. We must emphasize that as it stands today, the situation is such that, to our great disappointment, the West and the European Union have virtually sanctioned a long war in Chechnya. As it turns appears that neither the West nor the EU are interested in a peaceful Chechnya. That is to say, the current situation in Russia and in Chechnya is convenient for many people for many reasons. Given this, it is unsurprising that our ministers were unable to operate their respective ministries and institutions fully and effectively. Now that it is the general belief that the Chechen conflict can only be resolved militarily, the president [Sadulayev]has taken steps to strengthen his own authority, as well as and the capabilities of his executive agencies within the Chechen Republic. This is all the more relevant now that the conflict has transgressed national borders. There is a new political reality, which the current Chechen government must be conscious of.

RFE/RL: The statements made by President Sadulayev since [Chechen separatist leader Aslan] Maskhadov died and he became his successor have essentially conveyed that, from now on, all forces will be concentrated on internal struggle and that, presently, the Chechen resistance is far less interested in Europe than they were during Maskhadov's reign. Are the recent structural changes associated with this change in policy?

Zakayev: Absolutely. This is all based on the new reality, which has formed not because of our or our president's view of Europe, but rather Europe and the West's position on the Chechen issue. Given this, I believe it is completely justified and logical to commit our political and military forces directly to the conflict zone, where the question of long-term and lasting peace will be solved between Russia and Chechnya.

RFE/RL: In an accompanying note on Kavkaz-Tsentr, there is an indirect "invitation" to those abroad to return home and participate in the works of the Ichkerian [Chechen separatist] government. Do you think that this is somehow directed at you?

Zakayev: In [Sadulayev's]recent order, it is directly said that two ministries -- Foreign and Culture -- will remain abroad. Naturally, if the ministries are staying abroad, so are the ministers. If this issue is not yet clear, I am sure there will be updates and clarifications concerning the order we have today, especially about the role of the culture minister. In the future, if I receive necessary orders, I will make appropriate changes. In general, though, I believe it is right that Chechen ministers are returning home. (Andrei Babitsky)

President Vladimir Putin returned this week to a favorite theme: national security and the role of Russia's border guards in securing its frontiers. Putin praised the success of the border guards, who form part of the Federal Security Service, in preventing terrorists and drug dealers from infiltrating Russia -- and he singled out for particular praise their work in the North Caucasus, which borders Georgia and Azerbaijan.

This was Putin at his most comfortable -- addressing an audience of like-minds, the board of the Federal Security Service (FSB).

The security service is oozing in confidence after its recent revelations of British intrigue and a year in which its role at the center of the state has gone from strength to strength.

But it was the Federal Border Guard Service that he singled out for praise. The security of Russia's borders has been a preoccupation of Putin's presidency.

"I visited the border this year and saw what was going on there," Putin said. "You're doing a good job. Simply good. And the border guards feel completely different now and their efficiency is different. And you should work like this in carrying your main task, which is fighting terrorists: strike decisively in the right place, at every cave, find those caves and exterminate [terrorists] hiding in them like rats."

Putin said the border guards have prevented numerous attempts by international terrorists and drug smugglers to enter Russia illegally.

The Russian president's comments reflect his evident satisfaction that the reorganization and refunding of the border guards are bearing fruit.

In December, Border Guards Service head Colonel General Vladimir Pronichev said 14.8 billion rubles ($523 million) had been allotted toward strengthening Russia's problematic North Caucasus border alone.

By the end of 2006, he said, that would translate into 72 border-guard bases, nine command centers, and one training center in the North Caucasus. Putin is clearly satisfied. "As a result, a number of routes that allow international terrorists to smuggle weapons and drugs onto Russian territory have been blocked," he said. "One of the consequences is that the operational capacities of the border guards working along the most difficult border, that in the North Caucasus, have increased."

The Russian perception of the North Caucasus as a potential weakness reflects the conflict in Chechnya and the growing fear that the fighting in Chechnya is spreading to Daghestan and Kabardino-Balkaria.

The mountainous border with Georgia and Azerbaijan is particularly hard to defend and in the past has proved notoriously porous. Moscow has often accused Georgia of allowing Chechen fighters to use the mountain passes as a supply route.

Quite how significant a problem this was is unclear. In neighboring Georgia there is a strong suspicion that Russia prefers to keep the border in a state of constant instability. Why, the Georgians ask, were the Russians so determined to end the border-observation mission run by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)?

"It [the OSCE mission] served as some kind of impartial observer in conflicts between Russia and Georgia," said Gia Nodia, director of the Georgian-based Caucasian Institute for Peace, Democracy, and Development. "Russia has often blamed that terrorists from Georgia have trespassed the border and entered Russia. Georgia has disagreed with that and it was very hard to find out what was reality and the OSCE mission was very important to bring impartial information for the international community on this issue."

Nodia sees Russia's refusal to sign off on a border demarcation treaty with Russia as part of the same problem.

"The Russian political elite is in general annoyed by Georgia and they tend to prefer to have as many problems in relation to Georgia as possible in order to have leverage against Georgia," Nodia said.

One of those levers is South Ossetia, one of Georgia's two breakaway provinces bordering Russia. The Georgians have long accused the Russian peacekeeping force in South Ossetia of using their control of the province to smuggle goods and people back and forth across the Russian-Georgian border.

Little wonder then if Georgia regards the buildup of Russia's border-guard force in the North Caucasus with less enthusiasm than the Kremlin. (Robert Parsons)