Monday, July 10, 2006

Russia: Chechen Rebel Leader Killed

According to Interfax, Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev was killed by Russian special forces in Ingushetia last night. Nikolai Patrushev, head of Russia's security service (FSB), said Basayev was killed while preparing a terrorist attack in Ingusheti capital of Nazran on occasion of the St. Petersburg G8 Summit this week.

Apparently, Basayev and his fellow insurgents were caught in the act, riding an accompanying car to a lorry filled with explosives intended to blow up the republic headquarters of the Interior Ministry in Nazran. However, it was only after Russian troops had blown up the lorry that Basayev's body - decapitated by the blast - was found and identified. An initial impression is thus that Russian troops came across Basayev more by chance than by anticipation.

President Putin was quick to congratulate "all members of the special unit that prepared and carried out this operation" and continued saying that "this is a well-deserved retaliation against the bandits for our children in Beslan, in Budennovsk, and for all the terrorist acts that they have performed in Moscow, and in other Russian regions, including Ingushetia and the Chechen republic."

Basayev's predecessor as Chechen rebel leader, Aslan Maskhadov was killed in March last year. This broke Russia's apparent tendency to avoid killing leading Chechen guerilla leaders. Until then, it was simply more worth keeping them alive as a threat and an object of hatred, motivating the Russian people to continue their support for the war in Chechnya.

Basayev's death will most likely mean little for the conflict. With Moscow-backed Ramzan Kadyrov as leader of Chechnya, criminality as a form of government has been institutionalised. When Kadyrov turns 30 in October, he will most likely succeed puppet president Alkhanov to rule Chechnya without much restraint from Moscow.

Who will succeed Basayev as rebel leader is too early to say, but guesses are that this will have little significance for the continuation of the conflict. A potential candidate is obviously Doku Umarov, who recently was appointed president of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria - the rebel government, although Basayev in reality was the man in charge.

Basayev was the man to change the the goals of the Chechen insurgence from national liberation movement to the formation of an Islamic caliphate in the Caucasus. He also changed tactics from conflict within Chechnya by bringing warfare to Russian soil by terrorism in Moscow and other parts of the country. His justification was tit-for-tat: Russian troops targeted civilians in Chechnya, why Chechen resistance should target civilians in Russia.

The coincidence that Basayev's corpse was decapitated only serves to symbolise the decapitation of the Chechen guerilla. Basayev's combination of strategist, military commander, and ideologist will be hard to replace. However, one should not forget that without leaders there is nobody to negotiate peace with.

Thus, by the death of Basayev, Russia will get even less of a counterpart in the Chechen conflict. The effect might be that the fragmentation, criminalisation, and proliferation of warfare to other parts of the Caucasus as the rebels will lack cohesion to contain the conflict. However, Moscow lost the interest in any negotiated settlement of the conflict in Chechnya long ago and by the death of Basayev, it appears that this has become a policy of no return. The Kremlin thus gives the Chechen people little hope of peace in an increasingly self-perpetuating conflict.


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Herodotus said...

Do you think that the blowback from the death of Basayev will be the fact that the "Chechen Cause" may now acquire leadership that is of non-Chechen origins? Meaning that although Basayev was driven in later years to fight for the Islamic caliphate in the Caucasus region, he was a supporter of independence for Chechnya early on. Now with his death is the leadership more likely to be of foreign origin.

Thanks for the opportunity to post. I enjoy your blog.

moonlitetwine said...

This is very sad news. I was not aware that you could be so insightful. I will ammend my opinion of you immediately.

I am aware, that democracy has its price. This terror of monopolizing power must remain foreign in the mind, however. How else will we know the alternative?