Aslan Maskhadov, a colonel of the Soviet Army, a cadet of the Tbilisi Artillery School and a graduate of the Leningrad Military Academy named after Kalinin, who served in the Far East, in the Southern Group of Forces (in Hungary) and in the Baltic Military District (Vilnius, Lithuania), became chief of the general staff of the Chechen armed forces in 1994. In 1996, he became prime minister in the coalition government of the Chechen Republic, and was elected president on January 27, 1997.
It was not long before Maskhadov realised that his associates of yesterday were not going to leave power entirely in his hands. They continued to be field commanders in peacetime and divided the republic into spheres of influence, playing from force and taking advantage of their family connections. Those who trained warriors for a new jihad with the money of foreign sponsors and under the slogan of "pure Islam" were not going to cede their positions either. All of them were closely watching the president lest he should take a step to meet Moscow halfway. Maskhadov himself who fought in the war with his former compatriots and classmates was not going to abandon the idea, which became a lodestar in that war - the idea of an independent Chechen Republic. As to the official Moscow authorities, they appeared to have taken a time-out not believing it possible to actively interfere in the internal processes in the Chechen Republic after the signing of the Khasavyurt agreement.
On June 30, 1998, the Kommersant Vlast magazine wrote that a few days earlier President Maskhadov of Chechnya quelled the first armed uprising in the republic since the end of the war. Vladislav Yerofeyev, the author of the article, suspected that the uprising would not be the last one in the republic: Chechnya split into apanage principalities taking no orders from Grozny. Mass unrest among Moslem fundamentalists late in May and a riot by Raduyev's supporters on June 21, 1998 again testified to the weakness of Aslan Maskhadov's authority.
During the year that followed the war, Salman Raduyev held innumerable rallies, parades and press conferences where he railed at Maskhadov and his government and constantly threatened to organise a public disobedience campaign. Raduyev fulfilled his promise on June 20, 1998. He went on local TV to call on the Chechens for active actions against the republic's authorities. On the same night, Lecha Khultygov, director of the national security service, also went public. He tried to dissuade the Chechens from taking part in the campaign, but Khultygov's voice fell on deaf ears.
A huge crowd gathered in downtown Grozny for a rally on the following day. Inspired by such support and guided by revolutionary logic, Raduyev ordered the seizure of the TV station and the mayor's office (both located in the same building). In the meantime, special government forces assembled around the square with instructions to prevent "provocations". In the ensuing shoot-out, Khultygov, his bodyguard (a relative of Shamil Basayev) and Vakha Jafarov, chief of staff of Raduyev's squad, were killed.
The authorities maintained in an official statement that the three died in action while discharging their official duty. That was a sheer lie, as well as the report citing that Salman Raduyev was in hiding. Everybody in Chechnya knew that after the failed coup of June 21 Raduyev went to his relatives in Gudermes or Gordali. But Maskhadov would never issue an order to assault a house where Raduyev was staying, the author of the article writes, since any blood shed at that time would entail a real war with the family of Dudayev's ex-son-in-law.
Having left the chief rebel alone, Maskhadov clamped a state of emergency on Chechnya on June 24.
According to the Baku-based Panorama newspaper (July 1, 1998), in his TV address to the people, Aslan Maskhadov said that he was full of resolve to put an end to the criminal sway in the republic while the state of emergency was in effect. He named efforts against kidnapping, drug trafficking and illicit production, the processing and embezzlement of oil and oil products among the priority areas where the Chechen authorities would take measures. All residents of the republic, irrespective of their nationality, would be under protection of the state, "there will be no room for criminals on Chechen soil", he said. Speaking about the state of emergency and curfew introduced in the territory of Chechnya (from June 25 to July 18), Maskhadov said the following: "We have not introduced the emergency measures because of the incident which occurred in Grozny on June 21 when Lecha Khultygov, chief of the Chechen security service, died while discharging his official duty". According to the Chechen president, the political situation in the republic was calm and fully controlled by the Chechen authorities. "Any military coup is out of the question, and such rumours are deliberately disseminated by the opponents of Chechen independence", Maskhadov indicated.
Emergency measures were introduced to step up efforts against criminal gangs, particularly against those who were abducting and holding people for ransom, the president said. He also said that "such phenomena cannot be tolerated any further. The people are tired of bandits and lost all hope of receiving protection from the authorities". Maskhadov called on the people of Chechnya to rally behind the leadership and use every method possible to resolutely fight criminal gangs. Speaking about personnel policy, Maskhadov underlined that the heads of ministries and agencies would be held strictly accountable for their performance, and no war merits would be taken into account. The main qualification for holding a managerial position would be professionalism, integrity and loyalty to Chechen independence.
Vladislav Yerofeyev wrote in his article published in Kommersant that Maskhadov needed the state of emergency to prevent a new action by the Wahhabis. Apparently, if Raduyev took several hundred people to the square without any problems, it would be an even easier task for the Wahhabis who had gained a foothold in Urus-Martan and had already come out against Maskhadov three weeks earlier.
The anti-government action by the Wahhabis took place outside Gudermes on May 31. The rift began a day earlier at a rally in Urus-Martan where zealous Moslems gathered after Islam Khalimov, leader of the Wahhabis and minister of Shariah security, was sacked. Following that action, Maskhadov's supporters re-enforced security at all important facilities in Grozny. About three thousand well-armed allies of the president arrived in the capital. Some of them even suggested raiding the Wahhabi headquarters in Urus-Martan. Maskhadov decided not to do that, as he feared that the conflict might escalate in the event of bloodshed.
Vladislav Yerofeyev notes in his article that Raduyev's and the Wahhabis' actions would not have been so dangerous for Maskhadov if both had not been supported by Chechnya's acting premier Shamil Basayev.
Late in April 1998, the first congress of Chechen and Daghestani fundamentalists, Islamic Nation, was held in Grozny with Basayev's assistance and at Movladi Udugov's initiative. Basayev was elected chairman of the congress and immediately announced that it was necessary to merge Chechnya and Daghestan into a single state.
Maskhadov's response to that challenge was also styled as another diplomatic warning: "I ... will not allow any parties, movements or congresses to heighten tensions in Chechnya and perform actions which can complicate relations with the neighbouring states..." How else could Maskhadov reply to the person to whom he had to delegate part of his constitutional powers following a mild palace coup in January? And he did that because Basayev actually had the backing of a third of Chechnya which had never recognised Maskhadov as their president, the author of the article concludes.
Over the past year, the article runs, Maskhadov never succeeded in becoming a national leader enjoying unreserved authority in the republic. This is one of the main reasons why the talks between Moscow and Grozny were ended. Moscow is gradually beginning to realise that there is no one in Chechnya it can bank on. Today, it does not make sense for the Kremlin to agree on anything with the "legitimate authorities" of Chechnya. The government and power structures are evenly divided between Maskhadov and Basayev. Yandarbiyev's supporters take their time to master the parliamentary vocabulary, they do not interfere in anything and just sit and wait to see who is going to win the upper hand.
The article points out that family ties have a strong influence on the life of Chechen society. Historically, there have been more than 130 teips in Chechnya. The strongest of those are "Alleroi" (Aslan Maskhadov, Turpal-Ali Atgeriyev) and "Melkhi" (Kazbek Makhashev, Ruslan Gelayev, Ruslan Khaikhoroyev). The following teips are also rather well organised: "Khalkeloi" (Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, Vakha Arsanov), "Borzoi" (Ziyaudi and Balaudi Beloyev), "Kharachoi" (Ruslan Khasbulatov, Umar Mezhidov) and "Galai" (Dzhokhar Dudayev, Lecha Dudayev).
According to the author, Moscow's policy, which during the past two years had been built on supporting Aslan Maskhadov, collapsed because of the failure to understand national Chechen traditions. Expectations that the war with Russia would be followed in Chechnya by a period of feud from which the strongest would emerge victorious, establish control over the entire republic and become a responsible party to negotiations proved to be unfounded. In Chechnya, someone who is a Shamil Basayev three times over cannot possibly become anything greater than just "the first among the equals".
The Kommersant-Vlast magazine (June 30, 1998) published a map of influence of the Chechen politicians, indicating their teip affiliation:
1. Aslanbek Abdulkhadzhiyev, an MP - Shali;
2. Said-Khasan Abumuslimov, ex-vice president - Argun
3. Turpal-Ali Atgeriyev, first vice-premier - Alleroi
4. Vakha Arsanov, vice-president - Dolinski, Goragorsk, Pervomaiskoye;
5. Shamil Basayev, acting premier - Vedeno, Shali
6. Balaudi Beloyev, an MP - Shatoi;
7. Ziyaudi Beloyev, head of the Kavkaz TV company - Shatoi;
8. Ruslan Gelayev, field commander - Komsomolskoye, Urus-Martan, Achkhoi-Martan, Shatoi;
9. Lecha Dudayev, mayor of Grozny - Grozny;
10. Akhmed Zakayev, minister of culture - Urus Martan, Goiskoye;
11. Aslanbek Ismailov, minister of construction - Shali;
12. Khunkarpasha Israpilov, head of the anti-terrorist centre - Gudermes, Vedeno;
13. Kazbek Makhashev, vice-premier - Shatoi, Bamut;
14. Umar Mezhidov, businessman - Gudermes, Vedeno;
15. Abu Movsayev, acting minister of Shariah security - Shali;
16. Aslan Maskhadov, president - Grozny, Alleroi, Znamenskoye, Shelkovskaya, Naurskaya;
17. Salman Raduyev, field commander - Gudermes, Gordali;
18. Ruslan Khaikhoroyev, field commander - Bamut;
19. Movladi Udugov, foreign minister - Germenchug;
20. Islam Khalimov - ex-minister of Shariah security - Shali, Vedeno, Urus-Martan;
21. Ruslan Khasbulatov, professor - Tolstoi Yurt;
22. Khattab, field commander - Vedeno, Shali;
23. Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, ex-president of Chechnya - Starye Atagi, Novye Atagi.
The Riga-based Business&Baltia newspaper (July 22, 1998) reported a bloody clash between the pro-Wahhabi armed units and the troops of the Gudermes National Guards Regiment which occurred in Gudermes on July 14-15, 1998. The reason for the sanguinary shoot-out in Gudermes killing about 50 people was more than prosaic, Olga Lychkovskaya, author of the article, wrote. On July 13, soldiers from the Islamic Special Force Regiment commanded by Brigadier General Barayev roughed up two men from the Gudermes battalion of the Chechen National Guards. The fight between the Guards and the men of the Islamic regiment escalated into an armed conflict.
On July 15, Barayev's regiment supported by other Wahhabi armed units attacked the Gudermes battalion of the National Guards.
On July 17, Chechnya was shocked to learn about yet another confrontation between the criminals and the authorities: an attempt on the life of the prominent field commander Sulim Yamadayev was made outside the city of Argun 12 km from Grozny. He was seriously wounded but survived the attempt. Actually, the act of terror was associated with the developments in Gudermes since Yamadayev and the unit under his command were actively involved in the fighting on the side of the authorities, the Paris-based Russkaya Mysl newspaper reported on July 30, 1998.
The same article (Valentin Yeliseyenko "Chechnya: War After War") stated that on the following day lively discussions took place in Chechnya concerning the news of a daring escape from Grozny's remand cell of 32 dangerous criminals sentenced by the Supreme Shariah Court to death, life imprisonment or long terms in prison for murder, kidnapping and other serious offenses. A. Arsayev, minister of Shariah security, did not even try to conceal the fact that the prison guards helped the fugitives by giving them the keys to the main gate and all prison cells.
The wardens (members of the Shariah Guards!) escaped together with the criminals. (Business &Baltia, July 22, 1998)
After those events, President Maskhadov issued a special decree to take power structures implicated in the incident out of the system of law-enforcement bodies. The Shariah Guards and the Special Islamic Regiment were disbanded. General Abdul-Malik Mezhidov, deputy minister of Shariah security, and Arbi Barayev, deputy commander of the National Guards, were relieved of their offices and degraded, because the two and their respective units took part in the Gudermes military operation on the side of the "non-government entities". (Aina-Zerkalo, Baku, July 24, 1998)
On July 19, Aslan Maskhadov signed a decree mobilising war veterans to fight crime. According to the presidential press secretary, the president's decision was supported by "all field commanders" who shortly before that held an emergency meeting and called on Maskhadov "to rely only on war veterans in all of his actions". (Russkaya Mysl, Paris, July 30, 1998)
Shamil Basayev again took one of Ichkeria's top government offices. By Maskhadov's decree, he was appointed deputy commander-in-chief of the republic's armed forces. Trud (July 22, 1998) wrote on that occasion that the observers linked that appointment to the president's desire to enlist the support of prominent field commanders who still had a lot of respect for the "hero of Budennovsk" in dealing with the civil rift. Maskhadov's calculations had proved to be correct so far. Such eminent military commanders as Ruslan Gelayev, Akhmed Zakayev, Turpal Atgeriyev, Khunkarpasha Israpilov, Ruslan Khaikhoroyev and others took the president's side.
Maskhadov announced that the state of emergency would be extended for another ten days. Official Grozny found "traces of Wahhabism" in the conflict and took radical measures, Baku's Aina-Zerkalo wrote on July 24, 1998. Maskhadov ordered prominent field commander Khattab out of the republic within 48 hours. (It turned out later that the order was never complied with.) "We are no longer going to tolerate in our land foreign nationals who are trying to enforce their rules", Maskhadov said. "All Arabs, Tajiks, Pakistanis and others who arrived in Chechnya not to promote the law of Allah in the republic but rather to split Chechen society into different groups, movements and parties so as to prevent the building of an independent Chechen state will be expelled from the territory of Chechnya". But before they left, the President added, they would have to face the Shariah court and take punishment for the attempt to ignite a civil war in Chechnya. "We will not have a replay of the Afghan or Tajik scenario here, the West is just wasting big money on that", Maskhadov emphasised. The president called on the residents of Chechnya, the parents whose children were lured by vicious propaganda into Wahhabi movements, armed units and other entities to bring them home.
According to Riga's Business & Baltia newspaper of July 22, 1998, that was not the end of the incident. On July 21, 1998, following an order of ex-president Yandarbiyev, armed units consisting of personnel of the disbanded Guards gathered outside the Starye Atagi village. In that connection, all main thoroughfares of Grozny, all entrances to and exits from the Chechen capital, were cordoned off by the law-enforcement agencies. According to A. Arsayev, minister of Shariah security of the republic, all members of the units disbanded by the presidential decree found in possession of IDs of such units and carrying arms would be detained or killed if they tried to offer resistance.
Kh. Berbiyev, prosecutor general of Chechnya, and Chechnya's mufti A. Kadyrov called on Yandarbiyev to stop the unlawful actions. A. Kadyrov blamed the tragic developments in Gudermes on the ex-president. According to the mufti, Yandarbiyev, when he was still president, invited to Chechnya a certain Baudin from Daghestan who later headed the Wahhabi movement in Chechnya. Thereby, Yandarbiyev "fused a time bomb" which later went off in Gudermes.
In the morning of July 23, a powerful explosion shook downtown Grozny when Aslan Maskhadov and his entourage were driving along one of the streets. The explosion killed one and injured four bodyguards of the Chechen president. Maskhadov himself escaped from his burning car virtually unscathed, Russkaya Mysl reported (Paris, July 30, 1998). The explosion occurred when the president's cortege was next to a parked UAZ truck. The car was loaded with about 200 kg of TNT and several high-explosive devices.
According to the newspaper, no matter how hard Maskhadov tried to appear to be brave and convince the journalists of the Chechen people's unity, and look for the perpetrators of the act of terror among foreign secret services, the attempt on his life clearly testifies to the chaos ruling in Chechnya. Maskhadov said at a press conference that had he died, much blood would have been spilt in the republic, as "power struggle and religious conflicts heated up by secret services of the hostile states would have ensued". Local observers indicated that the attempt on Maskhadov led to "a greater unity of the people". Even political opponents of Maskhadov stood by him once they felt the real threat of war.
The President of Russia sent a telegram to Maskhadov where he expressed profound concern and indignation over what had happened. In his message, Boris Yeltsin emphasised that the opponents of the peace process in the Chechen Republic would never stop in their attempts to hamper the efforts of the leadership of the republic to normalise the situation and bring about a peaceful life where there would be no room for terrorists or bandits. The President of the Russian Federation indicated that all of the relevant Russian agencies had been instructed to provide the necessary assistance to Maskhadov in investigating the act of terror. Boris Yeltsin voiced support for Aslan Maskhadov's efforts against war-mongers in the republic.
Anatoly Mikhailov in his commentary published in Krasnaya Zvezda (July 25, 1998) expressed doubts that Maskhadov would accept assistance from Moscow. According to Mikhailov, the President of Chechnya and his entourage were too slack in achieving rapprochement with Russian government entities. It appears that they had no "connecting" lines to the "mainland" other than demands for financing, which was a major mistake. It would have been easier to win the fight against criminal sway in cooperation with Russian law-enforcement agencies. At issue was cooperation, which was practised rather than preached. If the Chechen leaders failed to realise that this time, too, disaster would follow. Then it could have been assumed with a high degree of probability that the republic would ultimately turn into an uncontrolled gangland where anyone could rob, take hostages and settle scores with the help of bazookas and explosives. Russia did not need that. Mikhailov thought that the Chechens did not need that either.
After the war in Chechnya official military structures coexisted with the non-disarmed squads of field commanders. An article in Moskovsky Komsomolets (April 20, 1998) named only the largest and most powerful ones: Khaikhoroyev's Squad consists of those who held the Bamut village throughout the war. The total strength is about 300 men. About one hundred of them are constantly based in Bamut ready for combat. They control the Achkhoi-Martan and Sunzha areas and the adjacent villages of Ingushetia. It is a stark fact that they kidnap people.
Yelkhoyev's Squad consists of about 50 militants who live in the Znamenskoye village. They are on friendly terms with the Bamut militants since they control the neighbouring territory farther to the north.
Bogurayev's Squad is based in the Ishcherskaya village. It consists of more than 100 people, most of them hailing from the Naursky district.
Ruslan Gelayev, one of the best commanders in Chechnya, has his own squad of 500 people, with headquarters in the Gikalovsky village on the southeastern outskirts of Grozny. They make their living by providing security for columns of trucks carrying various cargoes.
The Dzhokhar Dudayev Army commanded by Salman Raduyev has up to 5,000 men, according to its commander, but in fact, its strength is probably around one thousand. The backbone of the army is formed by two hundred combat-tested "black berets". The army is headquartered in downtown Grozny and has a base in the Gudermes district. Raduyev controls the Marsho TV channel.
Yamadayev Brothers' Squad consists of about 150 men with headquarters in Gudermes. Correspondingly, they control the Gudermes area.
Geliskhanov's Squad has about 100 men, Nozhai-Yurt area.
The Khattab training centre has pride of place in this armed realm. Located near the Serzhen-Yurt village, the centre comprises three camps situated one close to another. The trainees study the Arabic language, Shariah and combat skills, including guerrilla tactics, combat in a city and on mountainous terrain, demolition techniques, and organisation of acts of terror. The course lasts from one and a half to three months, depending on specialisation. There are from two to three hundred militants permanently based in the training centre. The camp has tanks, three APCs and three armoured combat vehicles.
All in all, there are about 2,200 "unofficial" armed Chechens.
Observers have repeatedly voiced the supposition that Maskhadov would hardly be allowed to get close with Moscow in any area, including in anti-crime efforts in Chechnya. Thus, Shamil Basayev appointed deputy commander-in-chief by Maskhadov's decree, promised to fulfil any order of the president. At the same time, Basayev linked the aggravation of the situation in the republic to frequent visits by Sergei Stepashin, Russia's Interior Minister, to the North Caucasus, wrote Kommersant-Daily on July 22, 1998. Having recalled that Stepashin was one of those who designed for Yeltsin a "strategy for unleashing" a war in Ichkeria, Basayev described the developments in the region as "a struggle for Daghestan between Chechnya and Russia".
It should be recalled that Basayev and Udugov have more than once expressed their readiness to come to the rescue of their Daghestani brothers, if they are oppressed for their adherence to "pure Islam," i.e. Wahhabism. Therefore, Basayev's statement also sounded as a warning to Maskhadov not to resort to Moscow's assistance in his zeal to do away with the Wahhabis in Chechnya.
In the meantime, the advocates of traditional Islam were prepared to support Aslan Maskhadov in fighting the Wahhabis.
On July 25, 1998, a congress of Moslems of the Caucasus was held in Grozny at the initiative of Chechnya's muftiate. The congress attended by delegates from Daghestan and Ingushetia passed a resolution stressing the need to prohibit Wahhabism in the region, seize literature distributed by its proponents, and keep young people out of theological institutions in the region and abroad which conducted propaganda of radical Islam.
Milrad Fatullayev wrote in his article (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, July 28, 1998) that the anti-Wahhabi tonality of the forum and its unexpectedly rapid convocation in the context of the recent developments in Ichkeria suggested that the congress was to provide ideological justification of sorts for Aslan Maskhadov's efforts to install order in Ichkeria and to fight the Wahhabis and radicals acting under the religious banner. Unlike in Chechnya where the Wahhabis were only recently declared unwelcome guests, the spiritual board of Moslems of Daghestan has always urged the authorities to take tough measures against radical extremists.
On the eve of the congress, official Makhachkala did not conceal its displeasure with the fact that the congress of Moslems of the Caucasus was held without notice to the republic's authorities. The authorities were afraid that the idea of a single Daghestanian-Chechen and North Caucasus Islamic state might be re-animated, as happened at the Congress of Moslems of Daghestan and Chechnya organised by Movladi Udugov, foreign minister of Chechnya patronising the Wahhabis. But their apprehensions proved to be groundless. According to a statement made by mufti Akhmad-Khadzhi Kadyrov, the forum of Moslems of the Caucasus was designed to lead to the stabilisation of the region and liquidate Wahhabism as a movement alien to the 14-century- long history of Islam.
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