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RIA Novosti

MOSCOW (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Romanov) - Aslan Maskhadov, the former president of Ichkeria and separatist leader, was killed in Chechnya during a special operation on March 8.

Chechnya is not the best place to be a president. A missile targeted by the Russian security services killed Dzhokhar Dudayev. Vice-president Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, who replaced him, died in a car explosion in Qatar. Aslan Maskhadov, who was elected president after Dudayev's death, died yesterday. Akhmad Kadyrov, the elected president of Chechnya as a constituent republic of Russia, was killed in a terrorist attack organized by Chechen militants.

It is not clear yet exactly how Maskhadov died. To all appearances, those who carried out the special operation did not intend to kill him. According to Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya's vice premier, one of Maskhadov's comrades killed him by accident during the attack. But the regional HQ of the counter-terrorist operation says that Maskhadov died when explosives specialists tried to blast their way through to his bunker. The explosion was not directed at the ex-president and everyone else in the bunker is alive and talking. So, it was probably Lady Bad Luck.

What has Russia gained or lost as a result of Maskhadov's death? Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was one of the first Western political scientists to react to the news, is convinced that the Maskhadov's death has left Chechnya without a moderate leader. Moreover, he presumes that Chechens will view Maskhadov as a symbol of their resistance now, which will reinforce their secessionist aspirations.

I agree that it would have been better to take Maskhadov prisoner, but not for the reason cited by Mr. Brzezinski. Maskhadov has long been more of a political than a military figure, whose authority was plummeting. Every presidential election in Chechnya (there have already been two of them) reduced the ex-president's political significance to almost zero. The shrinking balloon of Maskhadov's image was inflated outside Chechnya, which means that he will not become a new resistance symbol. Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev did not become such a symbol, though there was similar speculation that he would.

Maskhadov's "moderate stand" was overplayed too, including by Ichkerian spin-doctors that wanted to diminish the damage done by Shamil Basayev in the eyes of the Western public. This "good cop - bad cop" game was not important to Moscow, because both men were guilty of terrorism and upheld the secession of Chechnya, which is not acceptable to the Kremlin.

In other words, the West may be hit harder than Chechnya by the death of Maskhadov. The pro-Ichkerian forces will have to search for a new figure for the part of "the good cop," but replacements are nearly always weaker than the original actors. After all, Maskhadov had a past, though it was murky.

I think Russia has lost from the death of Aslan Maskhadov for two reasons. First, its security services have lost a vital source of information: nobody knew as much as Maskhadov did. It is another matter that his information, especially concerning the first Chechen campaign and the Khasavyurt talks, could have been a bombshell for many Russian politicians. So, many of the once heavyweight Russian politicians probably heaved a sigh of relief when they heard about his death.

I am sure that the truth, even if very bitter, about the reasons for Russia's failures in Chechnya would have benefited Russia, even if the detained Maskhadov had defended himself as smartly as Slobodan Milosevic is doing. And lastly, putting Maskhadov on trial would have helped to expose many stubborn myths in the West about that period in the history of Ichkeria when it gained independence under his guidance. It covers the long time between the 1996 Khasavyurt agreements and the Chechen invasion of Dagestan in 1999, which provoked the beginning of the second Chechen war.

The materials of the Russian and Ichkerian prosecutors of that period (I have seen them) provide irrefutable proof of genocide against the Russian people, unjust decisions by the Shariah courts, and robberies by warlords and even the security forces of the president of Ichkeria. Archive materials show that many funds channeled from Russia to Chechnya at that time (for example, to pay pensions) ended in the numerous accounts of Maskhadov, which society did not control, in foreign banks or were spent on developing the "family business."

It was at that time that the shameful, inhuman business - the slave trade - flourished in Chechnya. The first videotapes of the decapitated heads of hostages came during Maskhadov's tenure in power. In short, I am very sorry that the leader of such "independence" escaped our questions. Maskhadov became president of a republic that did not build a stronger state or restore its economy, but became a highway robber.

A brilliant officer, Maskhadov turned out to be an inept politician. In point of fact, he died twice: first when he lost control of his country, and second when he was killed. And he will not rise from the ashes as a symbol; he is not suited for this part.

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