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ERA OF TERRORIST-PRESIDENTS IN CHECHNYA ENDS WITH MASKHADOV

RIA Novosti

MOSCOW, (RIA Novosti political commentator Yury Filippov)

"The international terrorist and bandit formation leader, Maskhadov, has been killed." This is how Nikolai Patrushev, the director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), chose to phrase his report to President Putin on Aslan Maskhadov's death in Chechnya. Leading Russian politicians and the majority of media sources described Maskhadov in similar terms, such as "the terrorist leader," "a terrorist on an international scale" and "a source of evil."

In the past three years, Maskhadov, the former president of the self-proclaimed republic of Ichkeria, compromised himself so much with his links to international terrorism and involvement in terrorist attacks on peaceful civilians that any other words would hardly be suitable for him. The name of Maskhadov surfaced after every major terrorist attack in Russia: the Nord-Ost hostage taking in Moscow in fall 2002, the bombing of two airliners in August 2004, and the massacre of children in Beslan in fall 2004.

However, there were times when Maskhadov was not a terrorist. He did not make a career in the international terrorist movement and did not dream of bin Laden's laurels. In January 1997, Maskhadov, a former Soviet Army colonel, was Chechnya's best commander, who had taken Grozny from the federal forces and began his political career as Ichkeria's president. He secured many concessions from Russia, the main one being Chechnya's "suspended" status. He signed official agreements with Alexander Lebed, the secretary of the Russian Security Council, and Viktor Chernomyrdin, the prime minister.

However, a good commander is not necessarily a good politician. After coming to power, Maskhadov failed to appease the opposition - Basayev, Udugov, and Yandarbiyev - and was led by the nose by radical Islamists and blatant criminals. He alienated Russia with his militant statements. As a result, he failed to reestablish relations with the federal center,which is mainly why the independent Republic of Ichkeria with Maskhadov as head of state never came into existence.

During all those years, the Ichkerian president did not have either a strategy, or tactics, or a true team. Although in most cases the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria rather than an international Caliphate inspired Maskhadov's terrorism, his means discredited the ends.

After the Nord-Ost tragedy, Mr. Putin declared that it would be immoral to negotiate with such people as Maskhadov.

Aslambek Aslakhanov, a presidential adviser who participated in the negotiations with the terrorists in Moscow and Beslan, says that parliamentarians tried to get in touch with Maskhadov on each occasion, and asked him to come and do everything possible to prevent another tragedy. Maskhadov then had every opportunity to demonstrate his political skills, act as a state leader, and give up the image of a horrifying terrorist from a mountain cage. However, nothing came of the attempts. Every time, the president of self-proclaimed Ichkeria could not be reached.

"If Maskhadov had truly cared about his people, he would have left the political stage with his head held high. Then many of his mistakes would have been forgiven," Mr. Aslakhanov believes. "Even if he had been killed, it would have been a decent end."

Unlike his predecessor Dzhokhar Dudayev, Maskhadov did not die as a president but as a terrorist. As a president, he will not have a successor. His vice president, Vakha Arsanov, is now in a Russian prison, and new elections are absolutely unimaginable. Nobody, however, is aspiring for Maskhadov's seat now. Perhaps some warlords, such as Shamil Basayev, might try to replace him as the main political coordinator of Chechen terrorism. But this succession in terrorism will have nothing to do with either independent statehood for Chechnya or with the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.

Even as a potential idea, the latter vanished completely with Maskhadov's death.

However, Chechnya remains a republic, a state within Russia without Maskhadov. It has its own constitution and elected president, Alu Alkhanov, who recently drafted an economic treaty with Moscow and submitted it to the office of Russia's Southern Federal District, which is accepted practice for those who value good relations with Russia and are ready to develop them consistently.

Mr. Alkhanov is the successor and heir of Maskhadov as a president and political leader of the Chechens in the same way as the Bolsheviks were the heirs of Russian emperors in the beginning of the last century, and then democrats succeeded the communists 80 years later.

The main thing for such heirs is to correct their predecessors' mistakes and ensure that they are never committed again.

The era of Chechnya's terrorist-presidents probably ended with Maskhadov's death.



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