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RIA Novosti

MOSCOW (Dr. Sergei Markedonov, head of the interethnic relations department, Institute of Political and Military Analysis, for RIA Novosti).

Aslan Maskhadov's death has helped generate a myth about missed opportunities. His supporters believe the demise of the "moderate" Maskhadov means the end of the negotiation process between Moscow and the separatists in Chechnya.

What is the criterion for judging the moderation and radicalism of Chechnya's separatist leaders? Was Maskhadov moderate compared to Dzhokhar Dudayev, who issued a decree instructing all Chechens living in Moscow to turn the city into "a disaster zone?" Or should the comparison be drawn with the terrorists Shamil Basayev and Salman Raduyev. Indeed, Maskhadov was moderate in comparison with Arbi Barayev, who demanded $8 million for the heads of Britons Peter Kennedy, Darren Hickey, Rudolf Petschi, and New Zealander Stanley Shaw. They had been kidnapped while working for Chechen Telecom Co. in Grozny. However, can Maskhadov, who was chief of staff of "the Armed Forces of the Chechen Republic," and masterminded and controlled military operations against the federal authorities, i.e., sabotage, terrorist attacks, and military operations, be seen as a moderate?

Even if we agree with the description of Mr. Maskhadov as a moderate figure a priori, events in Chechnya's recent history disproved the idea promoted by Russian and European human rights activists that the late leader could be party to peace talks with Moscow.

Maskhadov was not opposed to turning Chechnya into an independent Muslim state or imposing Sharia law on the republic, which contradicted the 1996 Khasavyurt agreements he signed. In point of fact, the "moderate" Maskhadov was busy preparing for presidential elections in the de facto independent republic at the time.

In January 1997, he won the elections, securing 60% of the vote. His main rivals, Basayev and Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, received 20% and 10% of the voterespectively.

However, in the absence of the common foe, Russia's central authorities, and the common threat, Russian troops in Chechnya, the separatist elite split. Warlords regarded the new Chechen president as the first among equals, rather than as the head of state.

"In reality, Maskhadov was confined to being a mouthpiece of the parallel centers of military-political power, balancing between a civil war and a military conflict with Moscow," says Abdul-Khakim Sultygov, a political scientist and public figure. "The warlords' rule nurtured the emergence of totalitarian and theocratic organizations and bodies like military bases, punitive bodies, and ideological centers that disseminated religious extremism, militarism, and aggression," he says. If in 1996 Maskhadov supported the idea of secular ethno-nationalism, in different circumstances he later began evolving into an advocate of "political Islam."

In 1997, the president of an unrecognized Chechnya announced plans to create an Islamic state. The same year, Chechnya's parliament amended the Constitution (Article 4) and declared Islam the official religion of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. Did any Russian or overseas human rights activist point to the spirit and the letter of the Khasavyurt agreements at that time? Did they indicate that Maskhadov, "a moderate negotiator," had violated them again?

Therefore, "President" Maskhadov could not be party to negotiations even in 1997-1999, when the Russian Federation's jurisdiction did not actually extend to Chechnya. "The president of a teip (clan)," who was squeezed between warring groups, did not have enough power to start (or end) a war or launch peace talks. He did not have political control over all armed groups active in Chechnya at that time.

After 1999, Maskhadov continued losing his influence. Russian troops entered Chechnya, which led to a final split in the Chechen "resistance movement:" armed groups began fighting for their "warzones," where they were not subject to law and made money by conducting raids, rather than for Chechnya's independence or Islam.

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