Aslan Maskhadov, the elected president of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, appealed on July 21 for international support for Chechnya’s "conditional independence" under international protection. His statement, published on chechenpress.com, his government’s official news service, came as Russia and its puppet administration in Chechnya, under Ahmad Kadyrov, prepare for presidential and parliamentary elections called for October 5.
In his statement, Maskhadov, who won Ichkeria’s first and only free elections in 1997, repeated proposals first made by Ichkerian foreign minister Ilyas Akhmadov earlier this year. He argued that in the light of the continuing brutality inflicted on Chechens by Russia over the last two years, and Russia’s repeated and categorical rejection of his offers of peace talks, only international involvement could end the conflict.
Akhmadov had made his proposal in Washington on March 18, shortly before the referendum staged by Russia on March 23 to approve their new constitution for the occupied territory. He proposed the withdrawal of Russian troops form Chechnya, their replacement by a UN peacekeeping force, and the holding of a free referendum on Chechnya’s future governance under international supervision.
While arguing that Chechens were capable of maintaining military resistance indefinitely, and defeating the Russians eventually, Maskhadov said that Chechens viewed independence not simply as an end in itself, but as the ending of 400 years of confrontation and conflict with Russia, and that international involvement would enable the achievement of that goal without further bloodshed.
He also addressed Western fears of Chechnya becoming a base for "Islamic terrorism", saying they were unfounded, and that under international protection Chechnya would become a centre of stable democratic development for the entire North Caucasus.
Maskhadov’s appeal landed, of course, on deaf ears. The West has long since decided to allow Russia a free hand in Chechnya, regarding it as an internal Russian matter despite the immense brutality of Russia’s rule and the suffering of the Chechen people. The Russians, meanwhile, continue to insist that they are capable of solving the "problem of Chechnya" without international involvement.
As Maskhadov made his appeal, Chechnya’s Russian authories were pressing ahead with the process of "constitutional reform" they launched with the referendum in March, which is scheduled to culminate in the election of a president to replace Maskhadov in October. It is yet another attempt to impose the semblance of peace and normality on an area where popular and military resistance to Russian rule is still rife, and where mujahideen operations against Russian forces, and Russian brutality against Chechen civilians, both remain routine occurrences.
The process is being overseen by a ‘State Council of the Chechen Republic’, which was announced in June to perform legislative functions pending the elections. Although Russian official and media sources reported that the Council had been elected by Chechens, there was no sign of any polling in Chechnya. Human rights organizations pointed out that all meetings, gatherings and debate are currently banned by order of the Kadyrov administration.
Officially, the October elections are being held in response to an appeal to Russian president Vladimir Putin by this State Council, whose chairman, Hussein Isaev is now regarded as Chechnya’s co-ruler along with Kadyrov. Kadyrov’s standing has fallen in recent years because of his administration’s failure to pacify Chechnya.
The early favourite to win the presidential election is Malik Saidullaev, a Moscow-based Chechen businessman who was elected head of an earlier, Moscow-based Chechen State Council in 1999. He confirmed his candidacy on July 24, saying that if he was successful he would be able to secure investment of about $7 to 8 billion in Chechnya from business associates in the US, Britain and Russia. He also suggested that he would contribute to Chechen coffers from his personal funds, estimated at $500 million.
Other potential candidates include Aslan Aslakhanov, who represents Chechnya in the Russian State Parliament, and is regarded as an ally of Saidullaev; former Russian Supreme Soviet speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov; and Kadyrov. A poll among pro-Russian Chechens published in the Izvestiya newspaper on July 22 put Saidullaev as favourite among the potential candidates, with 20.1 percent support. Over 60 percent of those polled stated categorically that they would not vote for Kadyrov.
Meanwhile, the real struggle for Chechnya’s future continues, not among the opportunistic pro-Russian Chechen politicians in Moscow, but at the hands of Chechen mujahideen who still operate freely in most of the country and continue to target Russian occupation forces on a daily basis. Russian authorities in the Chechen capital Johar-Gala (‘Grozny’) said on July 28 that six Russian soldiers had been killed and another six injured in a mujahideen ambush near the town of Dyshne-Vedeno in the mountainous south-east of Chechnya earlier that day.
They also claimed to have foiled a major bomb attack on the main Russian government compound in the heart of Johar-Gala the previous day, saying that they discovered a car packed with about 120kg of explosives parked near the compound’s entrance.