Leader of the Chechen separatists Aslan Maskhadov (right) and his associates say prayers in a camp in the mountains.
Aslan Maskhadov: An Appeal to the Russian President
// The leader of Ichkeria tells Kommersant why he ordered peace
At the end of last week, news of a ceasefire in Chechnya had a powerful impact on Russia and the world. It was commented on with pleasure by politicians and law-enforcement officials. The essence of the reaction of Russian officials was that all such announcements are nothing more than cheap PR. Many even said that the ceasefire declaration was a forgery. In light of this, Kommersant considered it possible to ask the author of the order himself, Aslan Maskhadov, for commentary, presenting the questions to and receiving the answers from his general representative Umar Khambiev. Maskhadov has confirmed the authenticity of this document.
What was the goal of your ceasefire declaration?
It is a gesture of goodwill, an attempt to show a commitment to peace and to bring the Russian leadership to its senses. In my view, the processes that are taking place today in the Caucasus are leading to catastrophe. In this situation, I consider it my duty to make maximum efforts to avoid the real threat faced not only by my people, but by the Russian people and all the peoples of the Caucasus. In addition, I am not sure that President Vladimir Putin is being reliably informed about the deep abyss of catastrophe that Russia and the whole of the Caucasus are being dragged into. I believe that the political will of the presidents of Russia and Ichkeria can put an end to this bloodbath. Therefore, my appeal is first of all to the president of Russia, and then, of course, to everyone whose conscience has not degraded hopelessly.
Why in February?
There is no symbolic reason here. It could have been December or January. But February is the last month of winter and the battle usually heats up with new force in spring.
Is the ceasefire connected with the desire to free your relatives, whom your supporters claim have been kidnapped by Russian law-enforcement bodies?
No. Many citizens of Chechnya have been kidnapped and killed in the last six years. Therefore, I do not feel that my familial sensibilities should prevail over my sense of duty to my people.
Which European politicians did you discuss the idea of a unilateral ceasefire with?
Similar suggestions had come from a number of human rights institutions and leading politicians. I refused them, because there are no independent organizations inside Chechnya at present that could monitor the ceasefire. That is bad for us, but we have taken that step any way. I repeat that the goal of the ceasefire is not an attempt to show anyone our soundness. It is a gesture of goodwill. It is the latest invitation to the other side to come to the negotiation table.
What kind of reaction from the Russian authorities are you counting on?
I am hoping for an adequate reaction. Therefore, right after issuing the order for a temporary halt to offensive combat action, I issued instructions for the appointment of a delegation for contact with the Russian side. I appointed Umar Khambiev, the minister of public health of Ichkeria and my general representative abroad, to head the delegation.
What will happen when the ceasefire ends?
Everything is in the will of the Almighty, and His mercy is boundless. If the sober minds of our Kremlin opponents are ascendant, we will end the war at the negotiation table. Otherwise, most likely, blood flow for a long time still, but we will not bear the responsibility for this insanity.
Immediately after your order, rumor arose of the death of field commander Shamil Basaev. What would you say about that?
I believe that it is his fifth of sixth death in the last six years.
After the [terrorist act in Moscow in October 2003 at a performance of the musical] Nord-Ost, Basaev stated that he would no longer be subordinate to you. What would you say about that?
Shamil Basaev has not been part of the structure of the armed forces of Ichkeria since that time. It is no secret from anybody that we have disagreements, mainly due to his choosing combat methods that are unacceptable to the Chechen people. Basaev considers himself to have the right to use such methods, to which I am unable to agree to on principle. I have said it many times and will not repeat myself now. After the terrible, tragic events in Beslan, I declared to the world that, after the end of the war, we will officially hand over to the International Tribunal all persons involved in crimes against humanity, including Basaev, who is suspected in the seizure of the theater in Dubrovka [where Nord-Ost was playing] and the school in Beslan. Until then, I will resist attempts by him and other commanders to take action against the civilian population of Russia. If Basaev abides by my ceasefire order, I will consider myself to have had great success in avoiding many terrorist acts that are not acceptable to our side.
At the end of last week, again, immediately after the declaration of a ceasefire, the Office of the Prosecutor General of Russia announced new accusations against you, including for Beslan. Can you respond to them?
The accusations of a procuracy that well-known for its infallibility do not worry me. When I think of those tragic events, I often ask myself if I had not waited for an answer from the Russian side to my suggestion that I come to Beslan, but had made some independent attempt to make my way to the school, would I have been able to prevent the cold-blooded and cynical murder of the completely innocent children who were sacrificed for the ambitions of monsters. I haven't found the answer to my question yet.
They Don't Trust Aslan Maskhadov
Chechen President Alu Alkhanov has called Maskhadov's ceasefire a bluff. “We have no basis for taking his [Maskhadov's] latest pronouncement about an end to the terror as the whole truth,” Alkhanov said at a press conference in Moscow on Saturday, noting that “if Maskhadov and Basaev are really ready to stop the terror, they don't need to set conditions, but must give themselves up to law-enforcement organs.” Alkhanov did, however, acknowledge the possibility that the terrorist Basaev is dead. “According to information we received seven or eight months ago [when Alkhanov was head of the Ministry of the Interior of Chechnya], Basaev had problems with his kidneys and his leg that had been operated on,” Alkhanov said, hinting that the terrorist may have died of his illnesses.
Representatives of the command of Russian military groups in Chechnya immediately began to deny Maskhadov's intentions, and even the authenticity of the rebel leader's statement. “Law enforcement organs know for certain that the information posted on the extremist sites by the ideologues of the illegal armed formations has to relationship to the statements purportedly made by Maskhadov and Basaev,” Kommersant was told at the Regional Operational Headquarters for administering the counterterrorist operation in the North Caucasus. A representative of that office stated that 12 terrorist acts were committed on the territory of the republic between January 10 and February 3 (Maskhadov's ceasefire went into effect on February 1).
The claims of the Russian and Chechen official representatives are, in turn, denied by Umar Khambiev, the general representative of the Ichkerian president. “That simply want to present us as irreconcilable bandits,” Khambiev told Kommersant yesterday. He added that there were no grounds to doubt the authenticity of the Ichkerian president's order to cease combat activities. “I have spoken to him [Maskhadov] personally about this matter,” Khambiev said. “And the resistance fighter will strictly adhere to the requirements of the presidential order on a unilateral halt to combat activities. As of February 1, there has not been a single attack from our side. That has been acknowledged by all who are observing events in Chechnya.”
All the Article in Russian as of Feb. 07, 2005