Eurasian Politician

The Eurasian Politician - October 2003

The Background of Chechen Independence Movement VI:

From the Dubrovka Theatre to "Black Widows"

Anssi Kullberg, 6 Oct. 2003

Exploiting the Dagestan provocation in summer 1999, Russia launched a second full-scale war against Chechnya, which was even more destructive than the previous war had been. The consequence was, however, that the Chechens, who had been ready to start fighting the Wahhabis - even in a common front with the Russians - now again had to unite their forces against Russia. The Islamists again had to be tolerated and even respected, for with their new weapons and financial resources they could provide efficient military resistance against the Russian invaders.

All reliable sources, who visited Chechnya in 1998-1999, have agreed that most Chechens were in 1999 so tired to the constant instability, to the repeated clashes between troops supporting Maskhadov and the Wahhabis, and to crime, that they would have been ready for compromises. Maskhadov's government would have been willing to co-operate with Russia against the Islamists. By launching a new massive war, directly targeting Chechen civilians and Maskhadov's government, "Russia ensured that the overwhelming majority of the Chechens belong to the enemy", as remarked by Emil Pain, a Russian analyst and former advisor to President Yeltsin.

Russia lost even more of the population's tolerance, when the not completely baseless rumors spread in Chechnya that the Russian secret services had been behind the Dagestan provocation, and that Russian agents were co-operating with the worst and most hated gangsters of Chechnya. In 1998-1999 the Maskhadov government had ordered the notorious Arbi Barayev to be imprisoned for murders and kidnappings. When Russia launched a new war and occupied most of Chechnya, it did not issue a warrant against Barayev, although Barayev was the very criminal who was known to have committed kidnappings and murders of even Westerners.

Instead, Barayev possessed an FSB free-pass document, and when the Russians arrested him, he was instantly released by the demand of Bislan Gantemirov, who acted in a leading position in the pro-Moscow puppet government. The Ahmadov brothers and Salavdi Abdrazakov were operating freely in those areas that were in strictest Russian control, and for example the Russian human rights activist Sergei Kovalyov suspected that the FSB had purposefully protected and financed their criminal activities for years. Abdrazakov had a license for maintaining a mobile phone network in Chechnya, issued by the Russian Ministry of Interior, and when arrested, he was carrying personal identification document issued by the Ministry of Interior in Moscow.

In summer 2000, while war was raging throughout Chechnya, the Russian secret service armed Barayev's gangsters, who were raised into a rebellion against the Maskhadov government. In autumn 2001, Barayev was reportedly killed in uncertain circumstances, probably in a Chechen blood-feud. In October 2002, his nephew Movsar Barayev led the hostage-taking of the Dubrovka Theatre in Moscow.

Also the hijacking of the Dubrovka Theatre had an apparent connection with the internal power-struggle among Chechens, between the actual independence movement and the radical Islamists. At the time, a peaceful Chechen Congress assembled in Copenhagen, organized by the Maskhadov government together with its European sympathizers. Basayev and the other Islamists were left outside the Congress, and the Congress agenda was clearly directed against Islamist extremism. For the pro-Western Chechen leaders, the main purpose of the Congress was to adopt a solid stand against terrorism and other forms of Islamist extremism, and to clean the reputation of the independence movement in Western eyes.

Russia's reactions to the theatre hostage drama, however, greatly contributed to the strengthening of the Islamist position and information hegemony, because they showed once again that the moderate pro-independence government had not achieved anything with peaceful means, while terrorism once again had been beneficial, as Basayev's Islamists gained all the attention to themselves with the Dubrovka theatre operation, whereas the Copenhagen Congress was hardly noticed, let alone the contents of the Congress agenda. Although Maskhadov's representatives in the Congress were outspoken to condemn terrorism and radical Islamism, Moscow targeted exactly them in its propaganda, and demanded first Denmark, then Britain, to hand over the Congress participant, Maskhadov's special envoy, Ahmed Zakayev - the same stoutly pro-Western Zakayev, who, in 2000, had written a book against the Wahhabis, calling them "enemies of Chechen independence".

The appearance of "Black Widows" and suicide terrorism in the Chechen conflict does not mean that the Chechen independence movement has joined the front of international terrorism. Instead, it means that due to the isolation and lack of anybody's real support, the moderate, secular, national, and Sufi independence movement of Chechnya has increasingly lost its control over the radical Islamists, who are fighting Russia for their own reasons, not for the national independence of Chechnya. "They have defined us as Muslims, not as Chechens. They fight for their own reasons, but they operate outside the Chechen taip system", explained the Chechen Foreign Minister Ilias Ahmadov, interviewed by Professor Williams.

For these reasons, the true independence movement should not be too concerned of the fact that in August, 2003, the United States added Basayev to their terrorist list. Unfortunately, the independence movement is forced to tolerate anyone who helps in the struggle against the cruel Russian occupation. Only Western support, at least moral, could release the Chechen independence movement to launch more direct actions against the radical Islamists, and to sideline them and the minority supporting them, and gain the over hand in the Chechen internal politics. Roman Khalilov, a close assistant to the Chechen pro-Western minister of foreign affairs Ilias Ahmadov, told to a journalist of Helsingin Sanomat, that Maskhadov's government would be willing to struggle against Islamist extremism, if only the war could be stopped, so that the Chechens would no longer be compelled to fight for their survival against Russian troops.

For the "hawks" of Moscow, as well as the Russian security services and army units profiting of war, looting, oil business, blackmailing etc. in Chechnya, it has suited well that anti-Western Islamism has strengthened its position in the armed resistance. Russia is not fighting a war against terrorism in the Caucasus, but against separatism. Because of this, it has suited Russia's interests to divide Chechen resistance, but yet indiscriminately brand it all as "terrorism" in its propaganda, which is so easily echoed by Western media, due to Russia's successful liquidation of all alternative media coverage. However, adopting the same line in regard to the conflict in Chechnya, or national independence movements in general, does not serve the interests of the Western countries, or the international community. It only contributes to the efforts of radical Islamists in trying to polarize and monopolize all legitimate Muslim resistance, and turn it against the West.

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