MOSCOW, March 13 (UPI) -- UPI's Moscow correspondent Peter Lavelle interviews Robert Bruce Ware, noted expert on the North Caucasus and Chechnya, concerning the death of Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, killed March 8 by Russian forces. Ware is an associate professor of philosophy at Southern Illinois University.
UPI: How would you describe Maskhadov's political career? Was he a "moderate," as he was commonly described?
Ware: As compared to a monster such as Chechen commander Shamil Basayev, Aslan Maskhadov might have been described as a "moderate" up to 1998. In January 1997, he became the first and last legitimately elected president of Chechnya.
His incapacity to cope with pressures endemic to Chechen society led to his drift toward radicalism beginning in the latter part of that year. In 1999 he disbanded the Chechen parliament and abolished the same Chechen constitution that legitimized his presidency.
He replaced it with an Islamist code similar to that of Sudan. Under the ensuing Sharia rule, there were public executions, amputations, and other punishments for offences, including adultery and homosexuality. Those who were punished included pregnant women and children.
Later that year, Maskhadov did not repudiate Basayev's invasion of Dagestan while it was in progress, let alone assist the Dagestanis in resisting it. Then Maskhadov declined Vladimir Putin's requests to extradite Basayev, to close his al-Qaida-connected training camps, and to renounce terrorism -- essentially the same three requests that President George Bush made of the Taliban in the autumn of 2001.
In the summer of 2002, Maskhadov stated publicly that all Chechen fighters were directly under his control, and warned of an upcoming campaign to wage war on Russian territory. That October, the leaders of the Dubrovka hostage atrocity clearly stated in three separate press interviews that they were acting under Maskhadov's direction. Yet Maskhadov failed to condemn the Dubrovka atrocity while it was in progress.
On June 22, 2004, bands of terrorists from Chechnya killed approximately 100 people in the neighboring Republic of Ingushetia. About 60 of these fatalities were police officials. About 40 were civilians, some of whom were hacked to death. The terrorists took approximately 20 hostages. The raids had no military targets. A few weeks later Aslan Maskhadov publicly claimed responsibility for the Ingushetia raids.
When bin Laden killed police officials and civilians in the World Trade Center, there were no Western analysts who failed to call him a terrorist. When Timothy McVeigh killed law enforcement officials and civilians in an Oklahoma blast, no Americans failed to label him a terrorist. Why do people insist that Maskhadov is anything but a terrorist after he claimed responsibility for the slaughter of police officials and civilians in Ingushetia?
It is revealing that those people who claim most loudly to care about the suffering of Chechen civilians seem to care nothing at all about the suffering of Ingushi civilians. The same might be said about Dagestanis, since Maskhadov claimed to control the terrorists that have killed more than 50 of Dagestan's political and law enforcement officials in the last three years. Why is it that our Western journalists and "observers" seem to care about the suffering of only those North Caucasians who are fighting the Russians?
Whatever Aslan Maskhadov may have been in 1995 or 1997, he was a terrorist on the day he died.
Q. How does Maskhadov's death change the internal dynamics of Chechen society, or the Chechen resistance to the Kremlin? A number of observers claim that warlord Shamil Basayev is a net winner from Maskhadov's death and that resistance will become more "radicalized."
A. Aslan Maskhadov was a symbol of all that was legitimate and worthy in Chechen aspirations toward independence. Unfortunately, he was no more than a symbol. Whether because he was unworthy of his cause or because his cause itself was unworthy, he quickly proved unable to lead a semi-independent Chechnya, and was himself led into radicalism.
Because of his symbolic appeal, Maskhadov retained the sympathy of as much as 30 percent of the Chechen population. Yet he was also widely blamed by Chechens for their problems. Had they been given the chance to do so, it is unlikely that more than 10 percent would have supported him in last year's presidential election. In any case, many Chechens had sworn vendettas against Maskhadov, so that he surely would have died soon after attempting to resume any sort of public life.
Maskhadov had no more than this symbolic value to the Chechen resistance. He controlled no more than a few people around him, and some days he barely controlled his own bodyguards. He was not the "moderate" ballast to radicals such as Basayev, as has sometimes been suggested. On the contrary, after 1997 Maskhadov devoted much of his energy to preserving the illusion that he maintained some sort of control over Basayev. Negotiations with Maskhadov would have had no effect upon Basayev or other radical leaders.
Hence, Maskhadov's death will have only three consequences for Basayev. First, without his political front man, Basayev will suffer further reductions in external funding, by which however he will be undeterred. Second, Basayev's own demise will become more present to him. Basayev does not fear death, but the narcissism of his personal mythology is a significant part of his pathology. Third, Basayev may proclaim that one of his upcoming atrocities is vengeance for the martyred Maskhadov, even though Basayev has spent the last eight years undermining Maskhadov.
Q. What are the immediate implications for the Kremlin's approach to Chechnya? Vladimir Putin is using Maskhadov's death to legitimize what is often called his "stay tough" approach. Asked differently, is Putin's approach working?
A. Because of his iconic status, Maskhadov's death was necessary for the stabilization of the North Caucasus, but it is far from sufficient. In all but his iconic status, Maskhadov will be quickly replaced, as indeed would Basayev. In order to begin stabilizing the North Caucasus, the Kremlin must support genuine democratic procedures throughout the region beginning with the upcoming Chechen parliamentary elections. Instead of consolidating corruption, the Kremlin, secondly, must strive to reduce it. Finally, Russian officials must stimulate dramatic and widespread economic development. Otherwise poverty, unemployment, corruption and despair will continue to nourish radicalism, alienation, and instability in the region.
Q. How does the death of Maskhadov impact the legitimacy of the Kremlin-backed Chechen president, Alu Alkhanov? Should we expect the much feared deputy minister Ramzan Kadyrov (and his "private security forces") will feel empowered?
A. It's hard to imagine Ramzan Kadyrov feeling any more empowered, though his pompous depiction of Maskhadov's death as a gift to Chechen women would suggest that this is the case. Following his flawed election, Alu Alkhanov unfortunately can draw legitimacy from nothing but his own political efficacy. Many Chechens perceive him as making an earnest attempt to improve political stability and public services, but the task has ultimately defeated all of his predecessors.
Q. How do you think the West will now try to engage the Kremlin with a view toward changes in its Chechen policies? Many in the West had strongly supported Maskhadov as the last hope for peace.
A. Those who supported Maskhadov as the last hope for peace have been without either insight or influence. Some of them have already exploited Maskhadov's death as an opportunity, like every other, to bash Russia and its leaders. This does nothing but further reduce the likelihood that Russian officials will respond to informed critics who recognize the genuine complexities of the situation when urging Russian officials to attend to human rights and democratic procedures.
One can only wish that Western critics would put their money where their mouths are. If they truly care about the peoples of this region then why don't they offer to assist Russia in programs targeted to provide for the region's economic development? Such programs would, of course, raise problems of corruption and oversight that are daunting but not insurmountable.