Accessibility links

Breaking News

Russia Report: March 18, 2005

18 March 2005, Volume 5, Number 11
By Liz Fuller

The death on 8 March of Chechen President and resistance commander Aslan Maskhadov has not resulted in the split within the ranks of the resistance that some Russian and pro-Moscow Chechen officials predicted. On the contrary, within 36 hours Akhmed Zakaev, Maskhadov's envoy in London, announced in a statement posted on, that Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev (or Saidullaev), chairman of the Sharia Supreme Court, will serve as president and military commander until such time as free elections can be held in Chechnya. Senior field commander Shamil Basaev pledged his support for Sadulaev on 10 March.

In announcing that the presidential powers now devolve on to Sadulaev, both Zakaev and Basaev referred to an extended session of the State Defense Council that allegedly took place between late July and late August 2002. That session, according to Zakaev, was attended by representatives of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria (ChRI) government and parliament and by all field commanders of senior rank. They adopted a resolution according to which in the event of Maskhadov's death or capture, Sadulaev as chairman of the Supreme Sharia Court should succeed him.

No details of such an extended State Defense Council session were made public at the time, however. reported one Defense Council meeting that summer on 5 May, at which an alim named Abdul-Khalim read the appropriate verses from the Koran to mark the death of field commanders Khattab and Aidamir Abalaev; and a second between 27 June and 3 July, at which Basaev was readmitted to membership of the Defense Council.

Maskhadov's son, Anzor, was quoted by the Azerbaijani online daily on 11 March as saying his father informed him one year ago that Sadulaev, in his capacity as "vice president," would succeed him in the event of his death. But neither Zakaev nor Basaev referred to Sadulaev in that capacity. In addition, the twin announcements on 10 March identifying Sadulaev as the new acting president contradict statements made the previous day by the State Defense Committee and the government of the ChRI. The former statement said that, in accordance with the constitution of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria, the State Defense Council assumes supreme executive powers following Maskhadov's death and then elects a new president. The 9 March statement by the government of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria, posted on, similarly said that in accordance with the constitution of the ChRI, executive power now lies with the State Defense Committee, "which should elect a new president in the very near future." And "Kommersant-Daily" on 9 March quoted Zakaev as saying that the State Defense Committee would elect a chairman to replace Maskhadov in his capacity as chairman of that body; but Zakaev did not mention electing a replacement for Maskhadov in his capacity as president.

The most probable explanation for those seeming contradictions is that the Chechen resistance forces considered it imperative to present Sadulaev as a legitimate leader, and as enjoying both the approval of his slain predecessor and the support of those bodies, both military and civilian, that are subordinate to him. Doing so would counter arguments, such as that advanced by Timur Aliev in "Izvestiya" on 11 March, that "whoever succeeds Maskhadov as leader of the moderate wing of the guerrillas is bound to have less status, simply because this person will be an appointee rather than a popularly elected president like Maskhadov." In addition, it may well have been deemed prudent at the time of the State Defense Council meeting in the summer of 2002 not to reveal publicly that Sadulaev had been chosen as Maskhadov's successor, given that doing so would have exposed him to unnecessary risk.

On 13 March, posted a biography of Sadulaev intended to refute Russian media portrayals of him as either a native of Saudi Arabia or a militant wahhabi, or both. ("Kommersant-Daily," for example, alleged on 10 March that "Abdul-Khalim is from Saudi Arabia. According to media reports, he trained suicide bombers and led the Wahhabi network in Chechnya.") According to the biography posted on, Sadulaev was born in 1967, took part in hostilities during the 1994-1996 war, and "studied with well-known Chechen theologians." He continued his religious activities between 1997-1999, when Maskhadov named him a member of the State Committee tasked with bringing the Chechen constitution into line with Islamic law at the insistence of Basaev and his supporters, who in early 1999 began their concerted effort to undermine Maskhadov's authority. During the current war, Sadulaev has headed a detachment of fighters from Argun. The biography further notes Sadulaev's appointment as Sharia Court chairman at the State Defense Council session in 2002, as a result of which he became "the legitimate head of the Chechen state from the moment of Maskhadov's death."

On 14 March, six days after Maskhadov's death and five days after the official announcement that he is Maskhadov's legitimate successor, posted Sadulaev's first appeal to the Chechen people, in which he praised Maskhadov's role as president and military commander and condemned his murder. Subsequent paragraphs of that appeal combine threats against Russia with qualified rejections of the use of terrorism and warnings that the international community should not expect the Chechens to adhere to those universal democratic values that contradict Chechen spiritual values. He warned, for example, that "not a single crime by Russia against the Chechen people will remain without the appropriate punishment," and that "the Chechen people are capable of demolishing the pride of its foe in the person of Russian imperialism." He said the Chechens do not condone "every conceivable form of violence against innocent people," but went on to qualify that statement by adding that "we have the right to act against the enemy using the methods that are acceptable to God."

That ambivalence is likely to play into the hands of those Russian commentators who remain convinced that it is Basaev, whether alone or, as claimed on 13 March by "The Sunday Times," in tandem with Jordanian-born Abu Havs, who from now on will determine and coordinate military operations both within Chechnya and, it is feared, elsewhere in Russia. It may also fuel speculation that some key field commanders, including Doku Umarov, may refuse to acknowledge Sadulaev's authority. But Zakaev, in an interview published in "Kommersant-Vlast" No. 10, denied that there is any place for Basaev in the new Chechen leadership, adding that Basaev currently sees himself as leading a pan-North-Caucasus war against Russia. In that context, Zakaev also denied the existence of the slightest discord among the upper echelons of the Chechen resistance.

Zakaev too differentiated between Basaev's espousal of terrorism and Sadulaev's more moderate and considerate approach; he affirmed that "violence and terror against noncombatants are unacceptable to Sadulaev." But elsewhere in the same interview, Zakaev contrasted Maskhadov -- whom he was quoted as describing as "an idealist" and as "more of a human rights activist than a military man" -- with Sadulaev, whom Zakaev said is "more of a pragmatist" and "will be guided by his perceptions of politics as it is." Zakaev further described Sadulaev as commanding "colossal and unconditional respect" among both the Chechen population and the resistance.

By Valentinas Mite

The killing of Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov on 8 March eliminated what was for many the public face of Chechen aspirations to increased autonomy or even independence. The result is a new look that many regard as more militant, with less willingness or ability to negotiate a lasting peace with Moscow authorities.

Both the Maskhadov camp and that of radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev announced that Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev has assumed presidential powers. Sadulaev will serve as acting president until elections can be held in Chechnya, they said.

Sadulaev, who is in his 30s, is a relatively little-known figure in Chechnya and a complete mystery abroad. He is believed to have been very close to Maskhadov, who reportedly anointed him as a possible successor two years ago. Maskhadov's early backing provides him considerable credibility, but the slain former president never introduced Sadulaev to the broader public. Nor did he explain his choice.

Oleg Orlov is specialist on Chechnya at Memorial, a leading Russian human rights group. He said that Sadulaev -- and many other new Chechen commanders -- lack the authority to propose peace initiatives. "Maskhadov really had a great past," Orlov said. "He fought during the first [Chechen] war, was [Chechen president] between the wars. He was elected by all Chechens in the fairest elections that Chechnya ever had. What about Sadulaev? He has nothing even similar to that."

The new generation -- of which Sadulaev is now such a prominent member -- is different from older commanders in another crucial respect. Analysts point out that they harbor a stronger religious faith.

Aleksei Malashenko is a North Caucasus expert at the Moscow Carnegie Center. He says that many of the younger breed of Chechen leaders profess radical forms of Islam and are closer to Arab Islamists than to Maskhadov.

Malashenko said the appointment of Sadulaev highlights a general trend toward a new, battle-hardened generation: "They belong to a generation which has grown up during the war. These people -- I am not sure if they know how to read or write, but hope they do -- certainly know how to fight. These boys were 15 to 16 years old when the war began."

The identities of these young people remains something of a mystery -- and observers generally decline to name them. However, Malashenko said that other young, lower-ranking Chechen field commanders are likely to have even less political experience than Sadulaev. But he said they have been fighting Russian troops for much of their lives, and have a great zeal to continue.

Such a generational change could bode ill for any peaceful solution to the Chechen conflict. "These people will fight until the end," Malashenko said. "They are professional fighters, and I might even say that these professional 'mujahedins' will also in a way influence the [situation] in the Middle East, Iraq, and so on."

Analysts say it is difficult to predict what Sadulaev's leadership will bring or even how long he might serve as leader. "On the whole nobody knows him, he is a dark horse and seems to be a dark, temporary figure," Malashenko said.

Malashenko says that former Chechen leaders -- including the first-ever Chechen President General Djokhar Dudaev or former Soviet Colonel Maskhadov -- had the psychology of Soviet officers. That arguably made them more suitable partners for the Kremlin. Such is not the case with Sadulaev or so many other young Chechen commanders.

NOTE: For more of RFE/RL's extensive coverage of Chechnya and the impact of the death of resistance leader Aslan Maskhadov, see the following stories:

For some of RFE/RL's coverage in Russian, see

By Victor Yasmann

Many observers in Russia and abroad believe that recent events in Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova have rung the death knell for the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the fragile association that rose up in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Council for Foreign and Defense Policy Chairman Sergei Karaganov told RTR on 13 March that the CIS has essentially fulfilled its function and should be radically reformed. On 10 March, reported that National Strategy Institute Director Stanislav Belkovskii had called for "burying the CIS" and creating a new alliance of countries loyal to Moscow. Belkovskii dubbed this alliance the USSR, an acronym from the Russian words for "Commonwealth of Countries Allied to Russia."

The latest reflection of this new mindset in Russia was a proposed bill in the Duma that would have regulated the procedures for expanding the Russian Federation. On 10 March, Motherland Duma Deputy Andrei Savelev presented the bill on the creation of new constituents of the Russian Federation that would have amended a 2001 law on the Russian Federation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2001) to facilitate the incorporation into Russia of the self-proclaimed republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are part of Georgia; the Moldovan region of Transdniester; and the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan.

Under the 2001 law, regions wishing to join the federation do not have to share borders with Russia, but the consent of their present central governments is required for incorporation. The law also stipulates that acceptance of new constituents of the federation must be approved by a referendum of the entire country. In short, the expansion of the Russian Federation requires an international treaty and a complete, national domestic political process.

According to media reports, the amendments submitted by Savelev were drafted by Motherland faction leader Dmitrii Rogozin. They called for abolishing the requirement that expansion be accompanied by the consent of the foreign government involved, "Izvestiya" reported on 10 March. Instead, the proposed amendments stated that admission to the federation would be based only on "the will of the people of a region as expressed through a referendum" or by the mass acceptance of Russian citizenship. The only new condition that the amendments included was a provision that said the population of a candidate region must have voted "positively on the 17 March 1991 referendum on the preservation of the USSR." All of the regions listed above pass this standard, a fact that Rogozin mentioned in a memorandum he attached to the bill. In that message, he wrote that Georgia, Moldova, and Azerbaijan "have lately been intensifying efforts to project their sovereignty into the territories of these unrecognized republics" while simultaneously accusing Russia of "supporting 'separatism.'"

When presenting the bill in the Duma, Savelev stressed that the proposals correspond with the Kremlin's political line and its "ideology of national revanche." "President [Vladimir] Putin said last year that we gave up too much and [now] we must get it all back," Savelev said, according to on 11 March. "We do not need a new Russia of 'Yeltsinites' within the present borders, but a genuine Russia with its imperial borders."

The Motherland bill, however, attracted just 91 votes -- mainly from Motherland and its allies -- of the 226 required for passage. Thirty-four deputies voted against the bill and one abstained, with most deputies not participating in the vote. The pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, which controls more than 300 votes in the lower chamber, declined to support the bill, arguing that it could destroy "the fragile balance of the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation."

Unified Russia's position seems to follow the old dictum that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. Deputy Yurii Konev (Unified Russia) said: "The time for this law has passed. Now is not the time to think about how to break up other states but to take care about the unity and sovereignty of our own country," reported on 11 March.

Konev's concerns were echoed by Communist Deputy Leonid Ivanchenko, whose faction largely supported the measure. Ivanchenko, however, argued that the definition of "a popular referendum" in the bill "works against Russia's interests." He noted that the Myasnikovskii Raion of Rostov Oblast, which is in the district he represents, has a compact Armenian community, RTR reported on 12 March, and that it could theoretically vote to secede from Russia. First Deputy Duma Speaker Lyubov Slizka (Unified Russia) concluded the debate by saying that "adoption of the bill will mean the de facto declaration of war against neighboring states, whose territorial integrity will be violated." She added that it would be another matter if one or another of these regions gained international recognition and then expressed the desire to join the Russian Federation.

In an interview with "Argumenty i fakty," No. 10, TV-Tsentr commentator Aleksei Pushkov, whose statist views often reflect those of the Kremlin, said that Moscow is afraid to encourage separatist claims in Georgia and Moldova because it faces the same problem in Chechnya. Moreover, if Moscow legitimizes the disintegration of Georgia and Moldova, it could set off a chain reaction in Ukraine and Kazakhstan, both of which have large ethnic Russian minorities concentrated in regions bordering Russia. "It seems that the Kremlin is seriously afraid of complications in our relations with our neighbors, although as far as I can tell there is nothing to be afraid of," Pushkov said.

The introduction of the bill in the Duma indicates that those in Russia who harbor imperialist ambitions are not yet ready to surrender, despite the recent setbacks throughout the CIS. After Moscow's defeat in the Ukrainian presidential vote, political consultant Marat Gelman, who advised pro-Moscow presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych in the election there, said that "Russia should now give up its imperial project," RosBalt reported on 29 December. "But although there is no chance of realizing any scenario of the restoration of the empire, our wounded imperial consciousness remains and is posing a serious problem."

By Gulnoza Saidazimova

Mintimer Shaimiev, the 68-year-old president of Tatarstan, said he made his decision to stay in power for another term at the request of President Vladimir Putin. Shaimiev announced his decision on 11 March in the Tatar capital, Kazan, two days after meeting with Putin in Moscow.

"I had said many times that I did not want to take part in the next election [for Tatarstan's president in 2006]. Now the rules [of election of local governors and presidents] have changed, and although [Putin] told me he knew that I didn't want to work anymore and that I wanted to retire, he asked me to stay for one more term and gave his reasons for that [request]. After thinking it over, I gave him my [affirmative] answer," Shaimiev said. Shaimiev's third five-year term was due to end in March 2006.

On 15 March, Putin formally nominated Shaimiev and submitted his candidacy to Tatarstan's legislature for approval. Shaimiev's candidacy is to be considered by the republican State Council within 14 days. Under federal laws, if the Tatar parliament fails to approve Shaimiev for president, Putin has the authority to dismiss the State Council.

With the move, Shaimiev thus becomes one of the first regional leaders to support Putin's decision to abolish elections and instead appoint the heads of the 89 administrative regions.

The Russian president made the decision last autumn following the massacre in the North Ossetian town of Beslan. Under the new Russian law, regional legislatures will elect the heads of regions after Russia's president nominates a candidate for the post.

Russian liberals and many foreign governments have criticized the change, saying it is undemocratic and could lead to a consolidation of presidential power. Shaimiev has been one of Russia's most powerful regional leaders. His approval rating in Tatarstan, around 70 percent, is one of the highest in Russia.

Shaimiev's move is seen as a success for Putin. Aleksei Titkov is an expert on Russian policy and federalism at the Carnegie Moscow Center. He told RFE/RL that Putin was keen to get Shaimiev's support.

"I believe from Putin's side, there was a very strong desire to have such a strong regional leader as Shaimiev set an example for other regional heads on how to transfer to the new system of relationship with the federal authority," Titkov said. "Because so far, the first 10 governors who got or, in a few cases, didn't get reappointed as governors were either weak politicians with unstable positions in their regions who simply wanted to secure themselves [by getting the president's support] or those whose terms were about to expire."

What made Shaimiev support Putin's legislative change? Shaimiev himself says his step was related to maintaining stability in the republic. He said he should now be able to ensure the continuity of economic and social reforms.

Many in Tatarstan do see Shaimiev as a guarantor of stability. Rafiq Mukhametshin, a doctor of political science at Kazan's Institute of History, said: "I'd say that Mintimer Shaimiev is on the list of the 10 most prominent politicians of Russia. And until now he has had a consistent policy of stability. Today, as Russia goes through a complicated political period, removing him [from power in Tatarstan] would be unnatural."

Moscow-based Titkov told RFE/RL that Shaimiev is an experienced politician known for his ability to calculate a few steps ahead. He said Shaimiev benefits from the deal as much as Putin does.

"I think [Shaimiev] carefully considered all the possible consequences of his decision and is confident there are no risks for him, that his position won't worsen. Shaimiev is aware of his personal importance and of the importance of Tatarstan as a big republic with a large electorate, property and finances for Putin in the future [until the next presidential elections in 2008]," Titkov said.

Shaimiev occupied ministerial and other high positions in Tatarstan starting in 1969 and has been Tatarstan's president since 1991. He became a well-known politician espousing nationalist ideas in the late 1980s. It was Shaimiev who presided over a 1992 referendum on Tatarstan's status within the Russian Federation and the adoption in November 1992 of a new republican constitution. He also played a key role in the negotiations with Moscow that culminated in the signing in February 1994 of a power-sharing treaty with Moscow that granted Tatarstan greater autonomy than almost any other federation subject.

He is also known outside Russia, particularly in Central Asia, for his efforts to secure more rights for the Muslim-dominated republic.

Many believe Shaimiev's latest decision is in line with his policy of bargaining with the Kremlin and gaining more favorable terms for Tatarstan. Rafiq Mukhametshin told RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service that he believes Shaimiev agreed to stay in power and maintain stability in exchange for a new treaty with Moscow.

"[Announcing Putin's request for him to remain in power, Shaimiev] underlined the importance of a bilateral treaty to maintain federal relations in Russia. The permanent political struggle between Tatarstan and Russia is still going on, of course, within a legal, constitutional framework, and if a new agreement keeping some of Tatarstan's interests is reached, it might determine the strategy [of keeping federative relations between Kazan and Moscow] both for Shaimiev and Tatarstan itself for the future," Mukhametshin said.

Experts say Shaimiev's approval by the local legislature will go smoothly and that Shaimiev is likely to have close relations with Moscow for the next few years.

(Rim Guilfanov of RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service contributed to this report.)

19 March: President Vladimir Putin to visit Kyiv

20 March: Legislative elections in Voronezh and Vladimir oblasts

20 March: Mayoral election in Chelyabinsk

27 March: Mayoral elections in Surgut and Omsk

27 March: City of Saratov to hold a referendum on whether the city's mayor should continue to be directly elected

27 March: Legislative elections in Amur Oblast and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug

April: Term of Tula Oblast Governor Vasilii Starodubtsev to expire

April: Russian Soyuz spacecraft to bring new crew to the International Space Station

13 April: Duma to review implementation of law on monetization of in-kind social benefits and to hear report by Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin

15 April: Duma expected to vote on second reading of amendments to the law on forming the State Duma that would introduce the proportional-representation system and eliminate the single-mandate districts

17 April: Krasnoyarsk Krai to hold a referendum on the question of merging the krai with the Taimyr and Evenk autonomous okrugs

9 May: Commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II

23 June: Yukos shareholders meeting

4 July: 750th anniversary of the founding of Kaliningrad

6-8 July: G-8 summit in Scotland

September: First-ever Chinese-Russian military exercises to be held on the Shandong Peninsula

2006: Russia to host a G-8 summit in St. Petersburg

1 January 2006: Date by which all political parties must conform to law on political parties, which requires at least 50,000 members and branches in one-half of all federation subjects, or either reregister as public organizations or be dissolved