The assassination of Shamil Basayev marked a watershed of success for Russia’s counter-terrorism efforts in…
The assassination was certainly a major victory for Russian security forces – both politically and militarily. Basayev has had a direct impact on Russia and the Russian government for over ten years. Thus, a powerful, clever and truly resourceful adversary had been eliminated. In addition to Basayev’s assassination, 739 militants, including 24 terrorist leaders were arrested. Over 70 militants and five faction leaders surrendered voluntarily to the federal authorities.
The political victory is situated in the fact that Basayev was not killed by members of an enemy Chechen faction, but rather by the Russian Special Forces in a carefully planned operation. This proved the capabilities of the Federal Security Forces to complete the list of Chechen leaders who were targeted by the Russian government five years prior to Basayev’s assassination on July 10, 2006. This list included the infamous terrorists Basayev, Hattab, Gelayev and Barayev. These terrorist leaders received direct political and financial support from international Islamist terrorist organizations. The other group of Chechen leaders, eliminated by Russian forces since the early 1990s, – Dudayev, Yandarbiyev, Maskhadov and Sadulayev – adhered to a separatist, guerilla warfare ideology and posed a lesser immediate terrorist threat to Russia.
Which terrorist leaders remain in North Caucasus? Firstly, Dokku Umarov, the so-called president of Ichkeria, a dangerous terrorist capable of conducting attacks against local civilian targets. Only two other prominent terrorist leaders, Rappani Halilov and Magas, remain at large in Chechnya. Suleiman Imurziyev, a.k.a. Hairullah, was killed by Russian-backed Chechen security forces prior to President Kadyrov’s inauguration on April 4, 2007.
It is important to note that the operation to assassinate Basayev allowed the Russian authorities to intervene in the attempt by Kadyrov’s security forces to seize complete control of counter-terrorist operations in Chechnya until all terrorist leaders would be either arrested or liquidated. In short, by assassinating Basayev, Russian security services regained the confidence and legitimacy to exercise their authority in Chechnya.
Despite the importance of this counter-terrorist operation, the assassination of Basayev did not play the main role in the resolution of the Chechen conflict. The issue is that, during the period of Chechnya’s de-facto independence, Chechen separatist leadership became ideologically divided. One part of the Chechen leadership believed that the chief goal of national liberation has been achieved and efforts need to be invested in the construction of the new sovereign Chechen state. The other group of leaders favored the principles of Islamic extremism and pursued to expand the influence of these principles through military means. Since the interwar period (1996 – 1999), Russian authorities successfully supported the nationalist side of the Chechen political spectrum against the Islamist elites and managed to prevent the latter from seizing political power.
Another important factor of shrinking Islamist activity in North Caucasus is the decreased flow of funds to radical Islamic organizations in Chechnya. In late 2006, Russian security forces obtained the secret archives of the international terrorist Abu Havs – an Arab mercenary who acted as a middle man for Islamic charity organizations in Chechnya. The archives provided evidence that Chechen rebels received funding from Islamic communities in Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Europe. According to the archive, the flow of funds to radical Islamic groups in Chechnya decreased in 2006. Reportedly, the late Abu Havs complained to his contacts that the flow of funds for insurgency in Chechnya subsided, as financing was being redirected to the Iraqi front. The shift of Saudi funding away from Chechnya is furthermore supported by Saudi Arabia’s recent pursuit of a closer relationship with Putin’s Russia, which may have been strengthened during Putin’s visit to the Gulf nations in March 2007.
Today, Chechen national elites have consolidated their position: Chechen leadership will seek to maximize their independence, while Chechnya will formally remain within the framework of the Russian Federation. Upon close analysis of authority structure in Chechnya, it is apparent that the Chechens themselves make the rules of the game. The internal policy remains under Chechen control. Furthermore, ambitions regarding foreign political influence seem to have been eliminated among other disastrous ramifications of the two recent wars.
The situation in Chechnya is still best described as ”transitional”. Although stability is not the most striking characteristic of Chechnya, many positive developments have taken place. The springboard for change has been constructed after Kremlin came to realize that the conflict could not be resolved by purely military methods. The term “Chechenization” emerged in Moscow to depict the need to allow Chechens to resolve their own inter-factional conflicts, while supporting the most favorable faction for Russia.
This policy is not new – in the past, Russian authorities supported Zavgayev, Labazanov and Gantamirov. Members of Yeltsin’s administration maintained connections with Dudayev. From time to time, Kremlin supported Maskhadov, who was regarded as an anti-Islamist and a trustworthy negotiator. Putin however, decided to refine the concept of Chechenization. Already in 2000, the former separatist Mufti, Ahmat-Haji Kadyrov, was pulled into the Russian sphere of influence. Kadyrov became the president of Chechnya in 2003. Ahmat-Hadji stated frankly that the war in Chechnya would not be over in at least twenty years, which was contrary to the numerous statements of Russian and Chechen officials regarding the swift resolution of the conflict. However, it was Kadyrov who managed to de-escalate the military conflict and to begin the cease fire negotiations. In addition, Kadyrov reportedly despised Basayev and his Wahhabist surroundings.
Following Ahmat Kadyrov’s assassination in May 2004, his son, Ramzan Kadyrov was nominated and finally inaugurated as Chechnya’s president in 2007.
In spite of his unscrupulous methods – from terror and corruption, to brutality and falsification of elections – even his fiercest critics find it difficult to argue with the scope of Ramzan Kadyrov’s achievements.
Firstly, and most importantly, the situation in Chechnya has improved considerably. Large scale stabilization projects are currently taking place in both economic and social realms. In this case, Kadyrov acts as a supervisor and a distributor of federal funds and other resources issued for the reconstruction of the republic. As a confidant of Moscow, Kadyrov is interested to stabilize the political and economic environments in Chechnya and to minimize the levels of corruption. His ratings among the Chechen population are rising steadily, in addition to the increase of confidence that he receives from officials in the Kremlin. It is furthermore noteworthy that Kadyrov employs “traditional” Chechen methods of control in the region. His is known for his contacts with separatist militants and for employing former militant leaders in key security posts. This allows Kadyrov formidable leverage in negotiations with the few remaining terrorist factions that operate in Chechnya.
Secondly, Kadyrov has managed to achieve military-political stabilization in Chechnya. It is safe to assert that Chechnya is becoming a model region for stabilization in North Caucasus. Kadyrov exercises tight control over regional decision making processes – his recent initiative to conduct special counter terrorist operations in the nearby republics of Ingushetia, Dagestan and Karadino-Balkharia should be understood in precisely this context. In point of fact, the majority of Chechen terrorists moved their operation bases out of Chechnya – where all their retreat routes have been cut off – into these adjacent republics. Many experts consider Kadyrov’s initiative as a feasible plan for large scale precision strikes against the remaining Chechen terrorist groups in North Caucasus.
The revival of civilian life is another deterring factor for separatist militants in Chechnya. Most militants have families and clan relatives. Seeing that the decision to continue the armed struggle becomes increasingly costly and unpopular in an environment of economic restoration, many of the militants choose to return to a civilian lifestyle.
Vladimir Putin recently signed an executive order to withdraw Defense Ministry and MIA personnel from Chechnya in 2007 – 2008. This development holds principal importance for Ramzan Kadyrov. Following the withdrawal of federal forces from Chechnya, only the local security apparatus, which is loyal to Kadyrov, will remain in Chechnya. The Chechen president is confident that his own forces are capable of independently controlling the situation in the republic, and possibly in the whole region.
In order to become a fully functional leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov needs to fortify his authority with the economic component. He aims to receive federal permission to command Chechnya’s fossil resources. If he succeeds in winning this dispute for economic sovereignty, even his most ardent opponents will have to accept Kadyrov’s leadership in Chechnya.
The Chechen president’s rapidly increasing political weight could be explained by a number of factors, including his relative youth. Kadyrov is a versatile politician: sometimes he acts as an Islamic leader, sometimes as an elegant technocrat. Some Chechens see him as his father’s successor, others view him as the most powerful chief of his clan, and yet others consider Ramzan Kadyrov a gangster.
However, the Chechen society does not readily accept the culture of autocracy. Kadyrov’s absolutist pretensions are irritating to those Chechens who did not support the separatists during the two wars. They are upset with Russia’s decision to support their former enemy.
Although externally Kremlin’s position seems homogeneous, it is clear that not everyone in Moscow is excited about supporting the Chechen leader. Russia’s “siloviki” treat him with distrust. Basayev’s assassination was conducted without the involvement of Kadyrov’s men – an insinuation that the FSB are not dependent on Kadyrov’s help in Chechnya. Furthermore, many officials in Kremlin are unhappy with Kadyrov’s course towards economic independence, his control of Chechnya’s budget and his pursuit of autonomy regarding Chechen natural resources.
Moscow seeks to keep Kadyrov’s power under control, which is the reason for Kremlin’s active support for constitutional institutions in Chechnya. Chechnya’s parliament members would be equally responsible to their president and to the federal party officials. Putin noted the importance of the Chechen parliament during his visit to the region following the 2005 parliamentary elections in Chechnya.
In spite of Kadyrov’s constant interference with Kremlin’s interests – statements about reemergence of Ingushetia, proposals of unification with Dagestan (in line with Basayev’s Islamic Caliphate ideology) and demands to limit federal authority in Chechnya – Vladimir Putin strongly prefers to include Kadyrov’s Chechnya into the Russian Federation.
In short, Kadyrov has accepted Russian rules of the political give and take. Chechnya remains part of the Russian Federation. Political developments in Chechnya are currently very similar to the ones in Moscow. In both places there are young, energetic leaders, growing authoritarianism, fabricated elections and half-baked adherence to human rights. In regard to these issues, it is safe to conclude that deep and meaningful reforms will take place in Chechnya only when such reforms will be conducted in the rest of the Russia. However, terrorists – especially the involvement of international terrorist organizations – has been substantially reduced in Chechnya since Shamil Basayev’s assassination.
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