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MASKHADOV IS DEAD. WHAT IS NEXT?

RIA Novosti

Moscow. (Boris Kaimakov, RIA Novosti political commentator) -

In 1993, Alexander Korzhakov, the chief of the president's security service, reported to Boris Yeltsin that the rebellious parliament had been put down and placed the pipe of the hated Chechen speaker, Ruslan Khabulatov, on his table. Yeltsin angrily flung the pipe at the wall, the dismissed bodyguard later said.

When Nikolai Patrushev, the director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), smoothly, as if reading, reported to President Vladimir Putin that Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov had been killed, Mr. Putin listened with a stony face. Yet his voice faltered a little when he ordered that everyone involved in the operation be decorated.

Mr. Yeltsin hated Mr. Khasbulatov as a political opponent and someone who had offended him in public. Watched by millions of TV viewers, he accused the president of being an alcoholic.

Maskhadov was a more serious adversary for Mr. Putin than the former professor Khasbulatov was for Mr. Yeltsin. Maskhadov posed a threat to Russia's territorial integrity, a threat that took the form of operations to destabilize the country. Maskhadov was obsessed with the idea of independence for Ichkeria, as he called Chechnya. The separatists saw two ways to gain independence. They either had to kill Vladimir Putin or bring about Russia's collapse.

In 1994, I interviewed Maskhadov in his office in Grozny. Before me sat a former Soviet colonel, and now chief of staff in President Dzhokhar Dudayev's Ichkeria. Even in that interview it was absolutely clear that this Chechen, who had forged a brilliant career in the Soviet army, was not capable of political thinking. He was a typical chief of staff, reasoning in categories like "if the enemy comes from there we will meet him like this and like that." When I asked whether he understood how much the Chechen people could suffer if full-fledged military operations were launched in the republic, Maskhadov replied immediately, "A slave that is not seeking to be free deserves double slavery." Later I learned that it was Dudayev's maxim used to answer all similar questions.

There is no point debating whether Maskhadov was in any way involved in terrorist attacks on Russia. Even if we believe that the testimony of arrested terrorists about Maskhadov's involvement is fabricated, we can certainly expect that in the future more solid evidence of his active role in terrible terrorist attacks will appear. It cannot be otherwise, as Chechens' longing for independence has fostered a willingness to sacrifice, and this always fosters terrorists. Terrorism degenerates into banditry. And however cruel the accusations against Mr. Putin of his dislike for Chechen separatists might be, he is absolutely right in one thing. No state can acknowledge that terror is right. This is the tragedy of Maskhadov and the tragedy of Russia. Western humanitarian thinking, which accuses Mr. Putin of brutality, is not trying to bring the two parties closer. In sympathizing with separatists, the West simultaneously demonizes Mr. Putin as a cruel despot, closing the circle of mutual hatred.

Maskhadov is dead. His death was strange. It is still unclear whether he was killed by his guards and his body given to the task force servicemen that surrounded the underground bunker. This is how Yemelyan Pugachyov, the leader of a peasant revolt, was given up, albeit alive, by his closest associates who wanted to save their lives and to be pardoned by Empress Catherine the Great. Or, perhaps, he chose to drink his hero's cup dry and died from the enemy's hand.

For eight long years the special services hunted for Maskhadov, but to no avail. And then came this easy gain. Questions remain not only about his death, but also about how easily the FSB found the bunker. Apparently, the security services had begun arresting terrorists from Maskhadov's inner circle and they disclosed his whereabouts.

Does the Kremlin see Maskhadov's death as a solution to the Chechen issue? The death of this important leader may cause a crisis among the Chechen fighters. This is how it always happens. Terrorists will not be able to unite around another leader, Shamil Basayev, who claimed responsibility for the Beslan school massacre. He is good for a fight to the death, not for life. Maskhadov's end proved this well: his bodyguards chose to live.

Maskhadov died almost alone. He was even hiding in the village of his enemies, bearing the Russian name of Tolstoi Yurt. He hoped no one would find him there, as his Chechen enemies would not have let him hide there. However, it was his friends that eventually betrayed him. So few of them remain alive. It is not so much Maskhadov's death that is important, but rather the clear signs that the separatist movement in Chechnya is tired and exhausted.



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